How Social Media Became Suffocating In a Decade

Social media emerged out of a few needs of humans, which were not yet tapped — the need to share their thoughts, and the need to connect with each other. That’s exactly why it became successful with very little effort.

In its initial days, I remember Facebook undergoing multiple face-lifts, each more hideous than the previous one, but people stuck around, just because they enjoyed sharing their vacation photos, their funny stories, whining about their jobs with people they knew in one place, unlike the limits imposed by emails. Twitter was fun because it allowed you to be creative with the 140 character limitation.

In due course of time came along Instagram, Whatsapp, and all the other places to while away your time. Thus emerged more ways to share, and an unequal amount of content to share. Not everyone had anything “interesting” to share every other day. Thus started the trajectory of social media becoming a place to show how interesting you are to other people, rather than actually doing something interesting or enjoying it. Very soon, people started going to places, doing things only to show that they are doing something “cool” on Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp.

The perceived “demand” of content to be shared was far greater than the amount of “updates” people had to share. But no one liked admitting to this gap. It made them feel like losers, so they started doing things to bridge that gap. Thus arrived the “social media show off” culture and personalities, who always look adventurous, Bollywoodish & happy on social media, but dull, boring and insipid in person.

But that was not it. That was the start of the end.

More people kept signing up on social media in the “rat race,” so they wouldn’t be left behind, so the platforms kept growing. This insane growth in the user-base led to one of the most important and catastrophic aspect of social media — publishers & advertisers. Facebook, especially, kept signing on publishers & advertisers, as they brought in a rising revenue stream. After all, Facebook was not for charity. It was for business. They gotta rake up the $$$.

Soon, algorithm changes on Facebook made sure that organic reach was hacked off to 1/10th of its original size, and you were shown “promoted posts” from political speeches to pet shops to events to everything under the Sun. Hyperlinks slowly dwindled into nothingness. Facebook started showing news, so their version of news caught on, even if it was not the “right” one.

So Facebook served the following purpose: show off your “achievements,” coolness, read altered news, see ads & promoted videos — lots of them.

Twitter invited users who found not just creativity, but the option of anonymity a good way to pour hate, criticism, abuse, obscenity and everything else that is frowned upon in a civilized society. The fact that you could interact with literally anyone, made this even more enticing! Celebrities could now be reached directly. Very soon, a big chunk of twitter users were wearing invisibility cloaks of anonymity and doing everything they ever wanted to do — which was now allowed in this one platform. Twitter became the platform for everything you loathed about the world, and opened the Pandora's box of hate & deepest disgust.

As time moved on, both the platforms got embroiled in political and legal trouble, suffered some measure of financial losses for misusing the user data, swinging elections, banning accounts, and other activities which are not yet classified as “crime,” but should be.

People with a certain political bias were suppressed, others were openly supported. The idea of “free speech” slowly evanesced into legal terms & conditions and funding sources of the platforms. Who pulls the purse strings, pulls all other strings!

Fast forward to 2019, most people are no longer interested in social media, they just live with it, because it is just there, like the rain clouds over your head, which you can’t “delete.” Users now find social media to be suffocating, depressing, uninspiring and often require timed breaks from it. It is no longer the thing we take a break with — it is the thing we need a break from, for our mental health.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that unless these social media platforms reinvent themselves to actually add meaning to people’s lives, they maybe growing in numbers, but definitely not in popularity. Addictions are bad for you, everyone knows. Just because users have been addicted to social media does not mean it is good for them — or for social media. More and more people have been deactivating their profiles, deleting their history data, and becoming inactive on social media to deal with the real life troubles in their lives.

If social media does not reform — and re-form — itself, it might soon become one of those things that grew too much too quickly, and then died an ugly, repulsive death of its own making.

Economics, data science, technology, innovation. Author of “Cownomics.” IIT, MIT Alum. Publication: arandomvariable.com Holler at artiagarwal@pm.me

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