Wednesday 21 October 2020

Book Review: Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now

Book Review: Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now

Review Written by Casey Douglass

Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now

Jaron Lanier, the author of Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, breathes technology. He’s attributed with first using the term “Virtual Reality” and has had a hand in many technological industries. What makes him even more interesting though, is his concern about the effects technology has on the user, what it means for how we interact with each other and how we view the world. As you might imagine, Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now focusses his gaze on the world of social media, and he has some interesting things to say about it.

The book opens with a fairly light-hearted introduction expounding the virtues of cats, their intelligence and unpredictability. He also admits that in some ways, his book is about how to be a cat, particularly when it comes to how we might use the internet. He also states that he hopes the reader will consider the issues he raises and make a decision to best suit their circumstances. This isn’t a preaching book in which the author assumes it will change your mind. He just hope it helps, which I think is a fine way to open a book.

Jaron presents his notions in the form of ten arguments, each hoping to shine a light on an aspect of social media that he thinks is problematic. When I started to write this review, I began some note-taking after finishing the book and soon found I was getting bogged down. Ten Arguments is a reasonably short book, but I found so much that I wanted to note down, I had to stop for the sake of brevity. With that in mind, I'll look at some tidbits from two of the arguments that I found particularly fascinating, but they did all contain something well worth thinking about.

Argument One is “You are losing your free will”. Jaron begins by talking about the ubiquity of the smartphone in almost everyone’s pocket, not to mention the other smart devices in our homes. He then explains how algorithms “gorge on data about you, every second” and how they correlate what you do with what everyone else is doing. He says that the algorithms don’t really understand you, but when your data is compared to the data of everyone else, things can be noticed. Maybe you listen to a certain kind of music. Maybe the data shows that other people who listen to this kind of music typically react negatively to a certain word in a headline. The chance is, when seeing that same word, you will react that way too.

Jaron goes on to explain how advertising might take advantage of this, showing you individual content that it thinks will engage, or alter, you the most. He says that, rather than being called advertising, it should be understood as “continuous behaviour modification on a titanic scale.” He explains why he thinks this is a problem with how social media websites operate, and explains how topics like addiction, punishment and reward, and “mystery” or unpredictability, keep people engaged with their feeds. He also explains how the manipulation of social emotions (or social pressure) can supply the punishment or reward needed to keep someone posting. There is yet more to his first argument but I think you get the idea.

The other argument that I wanted to talk about is argument three: Social Media is Making you into an Asshole. In this argument, Jaron points out how people who use social media a lot can display the same personality changes as junkies, gamblers and other addicts. He says that a couple of the ways this manifests in social media use is someone becoming increasingly quick to take offense or showing more aggression, to avoid being the victim themselves. Jaron then explains how he became aware of his own inner troll in the 1970s, in the early stages of the internet. He realised that he would often get into arguments with individuals or other groups, and they devolved in such a way that it became about the most petty and silly stuff. He hated how he’d ruminate on the debate between posts, and how, on the flip side, to avoid this petty stuff, he felt he had to become “fake-nice”, which was even worse. So he decided to stop using the kinds of services and sites that required this type of behaviour. Jaron says that of all the arguments in the book, this one is the one he feels the most strongly about, saying “I don’t want to be an asshole. Or a fake-nice person”.

Sadly, he observes that since social media became the behemoth that is it today, assholes are having more say in the world, and that the biggest ones get the most attention. He goes on to explain the idea of a Solitary/Pack switch in the mind, and the way that it relates to how wolves operate, being a lone-wolf or part of a pack. He then points out the similarities with our internet behaviour and mentality. He comes down on the side that, for most people, the switch should be kept in the Solitary Wolf position, as it fosters unique thinking and varied perspectives on what is happening in the world. He says that democracy fails when the switch is set to Pack. Again, this argument does contain more meat than what I’ve skimmed over here, and it all provides some tasty food for thought.

Jaron’s other arguments are just as fascinating as he touches on issues of economic dignity, politics, happiness and even spirituality. He writes about these things in a concerned, but optimistic way, circling back to why deleting your social media accounts is, in his opinion, the way to bring about the change that we need to see in the world. Did he convince me? I agree with much of what he says, but I will be staying on social media for the foreseeable future. A large part of this is that my health problems limit my life, and even though there is a lot to dislike about social media, my life without it would lose a little something. I’ve always tried to use it mindfully and minimally, and I will continue to do so. I don’t use it to get my “news”, and I have no interest in arguing with people... about anything. I post about the things I enjoy or that I created, and interact with some of the people who create the books, music and films that fill my eyes, lugs and mind. I’d just like more content in my meat-space life to complement the virtual one. But enough about me.

Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now is a book that gives you fresh stuff to think about every few pages. It’s an easy, swift read, and even if you get to the end and don’t feel inclined to leave social media, I think you will have learned or heard something that will stay with you as you move on with your algorithm-fuelled life.

Book Title: Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now

Book Author: Jaron Lanier

Publisher: Vintage

Released: 01 August 2019

ISBN: 9781529112405 

Current Price: £6.73 (paperback) / £5.49 (Kindle) (As of on 19th Oct 2020)