You have often heard the saying around free online services like social media and search engines: if you are not paying for the product, then you are the product. The business model of the companies making the social media applications involve selling the users’ attention to third party advertisers. The advertisers are the ones paying Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc, for the work they are doing, and what these advertisers want in return is YOU, the user. The free aplications are crafted to keep us always engaged, for longer periods of time. A lot of subtle psychology research is involved in the design of the apps to make them more engaging and so the negative side is that when we get addicted to the application, we begin to lose touch with all the wonderful things the world has to offer.
Personalization of information means we only see what we like to see. Each individual has a different stream of information fed to them, and since this information can be quickly assumed to be truth, society becomes more polarised. The nature of these applications also make it possible that fake news and conspiracy theories travel faster than the truth. People like conspiracies. I see this as what will naturally happen whenever people form close, isolated communities to engage with their passions.
I think that the problem is not going to be solved easily by advocating that people quit social media platforms. If I dump all my social media accounts today and start to live a life in total harmony with nature and the universe, would I not become an outcast of my generation? It would be healthier and maybe more rewarding, but I would find it difficult to fit in socially. Social media has woven itself around and inside our daily lives. I realized a while back that WhatsApp is the most important app on my phone, more important even than the phone app. I do many basic things on it, including organize todos. Voice calls with WhatsApp, especially with someone in another country, are cheaper than normal phone calls. So I cannot just dump WhatsApp overnight. Or Facebook either. Mheee. Twitter maybe.
It boils down to a need for regulation. Social media is not all bad. Social media companies have to make money one way or the other. Putting regulations in place will ensure they do not carry on with this to the detriment of human society. It will be interesting to see what those regulations on social engagement look like. It is our social dilemma.