Social media and social groups

Two pieces of internet content prompted me to write this post. This discussion on HN and a post by Alexa Kirchner on Minus in which she said:

When considering the question “why is social media so bad?” I always have in the back of my mind the worst case scenario: maybe people are just no good. Maybe we’re not capable of handling communication at the scale and speed of the internet and there is no form of social media that could be a net benefit. Better to just shut it all down, take all the computers and throw them into the sea.

I don’t want it to be true and I don’t even think it’s true. But it’s tough to disprove. And I think it’s useful to establish the outer border on your thinking. That’s the worst case scenario, anything short of that allows for some hope.

I'd encourage you to scroll through the comments on that HN post because there's some interesting thoughts in there. Alexa’s question was why is social media so bad? And to that I'd answer with another question: is it really?

I think it's important to establish what we mean by being bad in this context. If she meant bad for the human race as a whole then she's probably right. It is bad. I'm no fan of social media as you probably know. But as a web project? Social media platforms are all but bad. They're some of the most successful internet projects ever made. They are good, but not for the things we probably care about.

The fascinating question is why that is the case. I think I said it already, but for me, the main problem is scale. I strongly believe that human beings are not equipped with the tools to deal with a plethora of other human beings all at once. That's not something that happens in the "real world". But social media allows precisely that. It pushes social multitasking to the extreme and humans are terrible multitaskers. Discussions with people take time and requires effort while social media is trying its best to make it as effortless and as mindless as possible.

And I partly agree with the conclusion Alexa reached in her post. Maybe there is no form of social media that could be a net benefit. At least not a centralised and widely distributed one. What I do believe is possible to create, though, is pockets of sanity—small bubbles on the web, where reasonable people, motivated by good intentions can gather and share their thoughts and opinions on whatever topic they fancy.

But these have to stay small. We must reject this idea that the end goal is indefinite growth of everything on the web. One must be content to have a newsletter with 100 subscribers, a blog with 150 readers if the goal is to have meaningful connections. You can't connect meaningfully with 600,000 people. You just can't. That's the reality. Internet fame can't go hand in hand with deeper human interactions.

We need to scale down, to slow down. That's the only antidote to the madness of social media and today's web.

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