• Patrick McAndrew

Our Transformation Into Data

We Are Enlisting for Social Media

It’s difficult to imagine what Facebook used to be like. I’ve been on the platform for about 12 years now, which is crazy, and it’s interesting to reflect back on what Facebook was when I first joined back in 2007. Wall posts were the big thing, there were no cover photos, no like buttons, and there was no newsfeed in existence. The ads were minimal, and it resembled more of a messaging platform than a social hub to find out all the going-ons.

Fast-forward to today and Facebook has become a virtual reality of sorts. We spend so much time on the site and app and it shapes our lives on an unconscious level. We also have other social media platforms where we can broadcast ourselves for all the world to hear.

Ads Are Changing Our Minds

How does this shape our thinking? When we get ads tailored to us, how does this affect the way we process our lives, our behaviors, and our decisions? I’m very much into personal and professional development and, because of this, I receive ads, unasked for, on my newsfeed out the wazoo! These ads are telling me how I should take advantage of this product and this service so as to live my best life.

I’m sure I’m not the first to say that this can take a toll. I start believing that my life has to be a certain way in order for me to be happy. Social media redefines what happiness is supposed to mean, instead of defining it for ourselves. These advertisements sell us on a vision that can better our future. There isn’t much room for introspection online.

The Unconscious Influence

Because social media has become so prevalent in our lives over the past decade or so, there is no telling how much of an influence it has had over our lives. Has it made us happier or much more depressed? General conversation may tell us happier, as we are able to stay better connected with those in our network. But research would argue otherwise, as depression and anxiety are through the roof.

This is why I have been hesitant to step into other platforms besides Facebook. I had a Twitter for a hot second thanks to some friends who created my profile. I’ve never had Snapchat. And I just got a smartphone in the later half of last year. Instagram has been this dance as to whether or not I will join it. I might bite the bullet eventually. Sometimes I think I am so aware of technology use and the impact that it has on our thinking and thought-processing that I would be fine if I got an Instagram account. Other times, I understand that I am still human and may be no match for the platform’s temptations.

An Alternate Path

If social media did not exist, how would your life be different? We would of course be unaware of this unknown power. Those who have quit social media cold turkey, however, claim that they have never felt better. Still, is a social media presence required nowadays when you are trying to get a message out? That’s where everyone’s attention is, so one would think that it should be a requirement to be on these platforms.

But when your message is encouraging the population to come back to human relationships and engage less with technology, how do you create that balance? Never before has technology and society had such a grip on our emotions and behaviors. Sure, humans have always cared about what others think and have always wanted to be noticed to a certain degree, but it has never been at these extremes before.

The Data Revolution

Yuval Noah Harari has written an incredibly insightful book called Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. I highly recommend this book, as it gives some interesting perspectives on how we humans adopt certain ideas about ourselves and the world. In his last chapter, Harari discusses how it is a real possibility that humans will see data processing as a new religion of sorts and that we are already heading in that direction through our infatuation with technology. He argues that humans may start to find meaning in data rather than themselves. He quotes, “Humanism holds that experiences occur inside us, and that we ought to find within ourselves meaning of all that happens, thereby infusing the universe with meaning. Dataists believe that experiences are valueless if they are not shared and that we need not—indeed cannot—find meaning within ourselves.”

This begs the question: In the direction we are going, do experiences mean anything if they are not posted, shared, or liked with the online population? If I have an amazing trip doing community service in an African village, is it more meaningful if I post and share it with others on social media?

We are beginning to mold ourselves into data through social media platforms. We are becoming one with them. And, as we go through this process, it changes our thought processes, often without us even realizing it. How far are we willing to trust ourselves to data? Can we pull back, or has society made it so essential that it’s already too late?

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