Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now
By Jaron Lanier
Henry Holt and Company, 2018
Jaron Lanier is not just a VR pioneer. He’s also one of the earliest critics of the technological and economic conditions that have led to our current social media-instigated malaise. His book You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto (2010) was more than prescient: it diagnosed the broken fundamentals of the advertising business model years before most of us understood the pernicious effects of moving important social interactions to environments that are financed by attention-mongering.
Lanier’s latest book doesn’t pull punches. True to its title, it consists of ten short arguments for quitting social media cold turkey. Quoting the back cover, these arguments are:
- You are losing your free will.
- Quitting social media is the most finely targeted way to resist the insanity of our times.
- Social media is making you into an asshole.
- Social media is undermining truth.
- Social media is making what you say meaningless.
- Social media is destroying your capacity for empathy.
- Social media is making you unhappy.
- Social media doesn’t want you to have economic dignity.
- Social media is making politics impossible.
- Social media hates your soul.
Some of these are more effective than others. (For me, at least — Lanier offers several YMMV disclaimers.) While the overall impression is that we do have a problem with social media, I’m put off by the book’s overly confrontational approach. For example, early on, Lanier proposes an acronym to describe advertising-supported internet companies: BUMMER. From then on, he refers to companies such as Facebook and Google as BUMMER companies.
This is a short book and something of a rant, so I didn’t expect nuance. That said, the argument could’ve been stronger if it acknowledged more of the genuine value people get from some of these information environments. One of the book’s underlying premises is that we become addicted to these environments by design. That’s truer of some than others. For example, WhatsApp is where my family and I catch up with each other. I’m not compulsively drawn to that environment in the same way that I am to Twitter and Facebook. Yes, there are other reasons why WhatsApp may not be good for me, but I do find some value there. The book doesn’t delve enough into these types of distinctions.
The combined effect of the confrontational stance and ranty nature of the work detract from the seriousness of its subject. That said, it’s a short read, and well worth your while: It will make you think about the way you approach your online interactions, and where.