Best for: People looking for a push to consider leaving social media.
In a nutshell: Silicon Valley veteran (seriously, he worked on internet stuffs in the early 80s) attempts to make the case that social media — in its current form — is harming us and society, and tried to get us to quit. Mixed results follow.
“Yes, being able to quit is a privilege; many genuinely can’t. But if you have the latitude to quit and don’t, you are not supporting the less fortunate; you are only reinforcing the system in which many people are trapped.”
“The core of the BUMMER machine is not a technology, exactly, but a style of business plan that spews out perverse incentives and corrupts people.”
“You know the adage that you should choose a partner on the basis of who you become when you’re around the person? That’s a good way to choose technologies, too.”
“When we’re all seeing different, private worlds, then our cues to one another become meaningless… Can you imagine if Wikipedia showed different versions of entries to each person on the basis of a secret data profile of that person?”
Why I chose it:
I’ve been spending time this year focusing on how I spend my time – I read “How to Break Up with Your Phone” and “Silence” in quick succession. I’ve also been more and more frustrated with how much time I find myself checking Facebook and Twitter, so I thought I’d see if this book helped push me one way or the other.
Author Lanier’s premise is that the internet is not bad, but our current social media options (most, at least), are. He uses the abbreviation BUMMER throughout as shorthand for what he calls “Behaviors of Users Modified, and Made into an Empire for Rent.” He makes some good arguments, but his writing leaves a lot to be desired. Part of my issue is seeing the word BUMMER multiple times a page (it feels like I’m being shouted at) and part of my issue is that the editing of this book is not great. There are a lot of ideas slotted into a lot of subcategories that makes it difficult to follow at times.
Lanier makes some great points. He discusses how our empathy for others has eroded because it is based on knowing a bit about what they experience, but the algorithms mean we all are seeing different things. It’s hard to respond to someone talking about something you’ve never been exposed to, or that is the complete opposite of what you’ve been exposed to. He also — and I think this is his strongest point — suggests we look at the type of person we are when we’re on different social media platforms.
As I said above, he’s not saying that it’s *the internet* that is to blame, but instead the business model that sells the consumer as the product. It’s not so much about malice (although the people behind the bots that helped sway the US election were certainly full of malice from my perspective), but about subtle adjustments to what we see so that we then do what makes the advertisers the most money. It’s obnoxious and is hurting our society.
Lanier has issues with some of the big companies — mainly Facebook, Google, and Twitter. And the companies owned by them, including WhatsApp and Instagram. I have to admit I’m confused by his disdain for WhatsApp, because they don’t do ads and the content of the messages is encrypted.
So where does that leave us? Yesterday I deleted my Facebook account … sort of. I’m trying to make a career out of writing, so I kept my blog’s Facebook page, which needs to have an administrator, so I created a new Facebook account that has no friends. I also deleted all the tweets from my personal account, and am now only posting things I write to @AKelmoreWrites on Twitter. I’d love to delete it all, but I also would love to figure out how to have a writing career, and the two things seem diametrically opposed.