(Friday Filosophy 6/09/23)
Happy Freakin’ Friday!
Welcome to another Friday Filosophy, my weekly postcard to you with a question, topic, or challenge to contemplate. This week let’s explore the danger social media poses to your health, happiness, and prosperity.
Do you know anyone who has experienced a strange or even radical personality change over the last five to ten years? Do you know more than a few? If you do, it's a pretty safe bet that the changes you've seen have been in the negative direction. Symptoms include being more argumentative, strident, judgmental, narcissistic, jaded, distrustful, cynical, depressed, fearful, and prone to conspiracy theories. In my case, I've seen at least 15 friends and loved ones go down this rabbit hole. (Sixteen, if I count myself.) Sometimes, symptoms like these are a medical issue that should be checked. But I'll posit that the majority of these cases are the direct result of manipulation by computer algorithms, with the biggest dose of it coming from social media platforms.
We've made great gains in mental health over the last few centuries. Unfortunately, social media has wiped out decades of those advancements. And the rate of mental health deterioration in our society is increasing almost exponentially. If this continues at the current rate, most of the first- and second-world countries will be warring tribal societies on the Mad Max level by 2035. Only those people with the highest levels of wealth (and critical thinking) will be able to escape to fortress-like enclaves of the Galt's Gulch variety.
Social media is causing more societal decay than any other factor in the world right now, and by a huge margin. And it's doing it by destroying your ability for rational reasoning, civil discourse, and critical thinking. It is causing brain decay in hundreds of millions of people.
If you're like most people, you foolishly believe you're inoculated against being manipulated to do things against your will that are harmful to you. And if you are like most people, you're wrong. I've written extensively about the computer algorithms marketers are unleashing on you in this post, and a deeper dive in my book Radical Rebirth, so I won’t repeat that information here. As dangerous as that mind manipulation is, it pales in comparison to what is being done to you on the social media platforms today.
Most of the corporate world today is incestuous, quick to jump on a trend their competitors are doing successfully and social media platforms are no different. There is a proven model that works magnificently. Offer people free access, then track every click and interaction they do to find out:
Once that data has been accumulated, you will be subject to the most sophisticated mind viruses, mental manipulation, and brainwashing ever developed in human history. The only way those platforms can give you those free memberships is by selling your eyeballs to advertisers. At that moment, the profit moment kicks in and an army of marketers, computer scientists, copywriters, phycologists, and the aforementioned computer algorithms spring into action to feed you content that makes you feel virtuous, attractive, angry, afraid, and outraged. (Usually, all of the above.) If you think this is just a manifestation of blood sport political issues like vaccines, masks, and MAGA vs. woke, you're being hopelessly naive. The situation is way bigger than that and it affects every area of your prosperity.
There is not a single human on earth, no matter how self-aware you are, who can resist this onslaught of programming. Not you, not me, not anyone. If you think you're the exception because of your Mensa IQ, then you're a bigger idiot than someone with a room temperature one.
The launch of the new Apple Vision Pro this week starkly drives home just how sophisticated the technology is becoming. It can detect your mental state based on data from your body and brain. This is done with measurements like eye tracking, electrical activity in the brain, heart beats and rhythms, muscle activity, blood density in the brain, blood pressure, skin conductance, etc. They can even predict when you're going to click on something before you do it.
Quoting from Sterling Crispin who served on the development team for ten years, " Generally as a whole, a lot of the work I did involved detecting the mental state of users based on data from their body and brain when they were in immersive experiences.
"So, a user is in a mixed reality or virtual reality experience, and AI models are trying to predict if you are feeling curious, mind wandering, scared, paying attention, remembering a past experience, or some other cognitive state. And these may be inferred through measurements like eye tracking, electrical activity in the brain, heart beats and rhythms, muscle activity, blood density in the brain, blood pressure, skin conductance etc.
"There were a lot of tricks involved to make specific predictions possible, which the handful of patents I’m named on go into detail about. Your pupil reacts before you click in part because you expect something will happen after you click. So you can create biofeedback with a user's brain by monitoring their eye behavior, and redesigning the UI in real time to create more of this anticipatory pupil response."
Those short three paragraphs speak to the breathtaking breakthroughs that are happening in the space. And they should also scare the shit out of you...
We've always had trolls, crazy uncles, and kooks in society and we always will. What we didn’t have was the internet, media, and social media seeking them out and amplifying them to keep you on their sites and apps for longer and longer times. And the best way to do that is speak to your dark, basest instincts: Making you fearful of other people, causing you to feel lonely, alienated and under attack, and sucking you down the rabbit hole of tin-foil hat conspiracy theories.
Think of the most batshit crazy conspiracy theory you can think of: e.g. There is a shadowy international cabal of terrorists who are using red Toyotas to assassinate schoolteachers. Make a post on Facebook or Twitter asking your followers if they know anything about it. Your followers will start sending you replies relating to suspicions they had about a schoolteacher who died, someone they heard about getting run over by a red Toyota, and someone they saw at Red Lobster who looked like a terrorist. You'll start to see some "Big, if true…" style posts, then some, "It sure seems crazy, but I'm seeing a lot of information about..." posts, and the race will be on. Each of these peoples' followers will see the posts and start contributing their own and sharing some links. "Schoolteacher dies in mysterious circumstances." "Red Toyota stolen from Town and Country mall." By the time you or any of these people click on the fourth link, the algorithms will have a specific profile of clickbait links to trigger you. Within 120 days, there will be sizable group of people in the world who believe there really is a shadowy international cabal of terrorists who are using red Toyotas to assassinate schoolteachers. (And you'll probably be a member.)
Of course, computer algorithms can be used for good. Of course, they can drive humanity forward. But it sure as fuck isn’t going to happen on social media. Don't let that potential benefits of technology (and there are many) distract you from the threat you're facing now.
Currently, there are no free-market profit incentives for employing social media for good that are even of fraction of the profit incentives to use it for evil. (And I'm not using the word evil casually or by accident.) As a result, there are no current social media platforms that have a ratio of beneficial content higher than 25 percent. I estimate most are hovering around 15 percent positive, helpful, and entertaining content – and 85 percent of toxic, harmful, and polarizing. Note: This is most true of Twitter, Facebook, and Truth Social. Other platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and Tik-Tok have less of the political divisiveness but replace it with a different flavor of harm: More vapid, superficial virtue signaling posts that foster narcissism, depression, and low self-esteem.
Social media is decaying your ability to think rationally and every hour a week you spend on it will only make this worse. For developed nations it is the seminal issue of our time. (And as broadband access improves, it will be the same for every nation.) Almost any other issue you might suggest is more acute – the frightening levels of suicide, depression, isolationism, political polarization, obesity, loneliness, and poor self-esteem – I'll argue that issue has been dramatically exasperated by social media. Even the worldwide perils of things like possible nuclear conflict and climate change are worsened, because social media is degenerating our abilities in areas such as critical thinking, civil discourse, building consensus, and problem solving. You can't work with the people on the other side of difficult issues if you've been driven to fear, hate, and demonize them on social media. They're simply another enemy you believe needs to be defeated. Social media has created such schisms in our society, it's even killing our ability to work together against mutual threats we face.
The social media platforms are not going to fix this because they aren't willing to take the revenue loss. The only answer is for you to break your addiction. If you can, remove the apps from your phone and go cold turkey. If you use social to promote your business, consider setting up biz only accounts. If you're going to stay on, set a limit of no more than ten minutes a day and set a timer. If you just want to exchange baby pix with your family, create an account on family-album.com. If you're using social to stay in touch with a group of family or friends, create a shared blog, Signal group, or private chat you can use instead.
Finally, counter-program. I estimate that for every hour you spend on social, you'll need three to four hours of positive programming to compensate. (You can start by subscribing to my Power Prosperity Podcast or Prosperity TV.) Conversely every hour of social media use that you subtract from your schedule improves your life in multiples. Really. You'll be calmer, happier, healthier, enjoy better relationships, drink less, eat healthier, exercise more, and notice a lot more beauty around you!
P.S. It's never positive to only criticize something (even something evil) without talking about possible solutions as well. I do have some ideas on how a social media platform founded on the principles of prosperity could be both viable and profitable. But that will take up an extensive amount of extra space than this already long post. Look for that other essay in the future.
Previous Post: The Secret of Transformation