When humans want to spend time ignoring the people around them, they engage in an activity called social media.
This is a pastime that started out as a bit of fun, a harmless sharing of news and so on; virtual gossip, if you will. But at some point in the twenty-first century, it took a turn in a different direction when Earth’s social media companies finally realized that they wouldn’t have to compete in the worlds of commerce and industry, providing goods and services that people might find genuinely useful, if only they could find a way to monetize everyone’s leisure time.
Thus social media was born, and downtime became a thing of the past. Humans who had previously been content to laze in hot baths, take relaxing strolls in the fresh air, or simply doze in a comfortable armchair, were suddenly convinced that they couldn’t afford to rest because they had an inordinate amount of social media tasks to catch up on.
To maintain a social media account, each human must check in at regular intervals, tapping, swiping, reacting, commenting, and generally working up a head of steam about the opinions of people who they will never meet.
Most humans stopped hunting for their prey thousands of years ago, but they’re still searching for something to give them the same dopamine hit as an accurately hurled spear. Social media fulfils this basic craving, but crucially only for a second at a time. A sense of success in terms of social media becomes more fleeting with each passing iteration, and unlike the hunt for fresh meat, there isn’t even a decent lunch at the end of it.
I know that my fellow Gloabons will be wondering what the social media companies get in return for providing their platforms to the humans, and the answer, of course, is power.
At the heart of each social media platform there are algorithms tapping into the tide of human activity that flows through their welcoming portals. What was once known as data streams became data lakes and then data oceans. Dipping into a data ocean can yield all kinds of actionable information, and since the social media giants are the medium, they get to control the message. While humans blissfully tap and swipe, they are like fish swimming with their mouths open: primed and ready for the baited hook. A nudge here, a nudge there, whether in the shape of a prominently-placed image or a piece of text that is demoted by an unseen algorithm, and the human audience is quietly wooed, molded into shape, manipulated.
And what will humans pay to have even the briefest access to such powerful platforms? As much as they can afford. High-powered politicians and corporations engage in a daily bidding war, all parties eager to win, each group desperate to be the ones who will have their messages sent out into the world.
It sounds dangerous, doesn’t it? And yet, it’s so easy to be dragged into it, and so compelling to stay once you’ve begun to interact with the complex systems involved, that as far as the humans are concerned, social media is here to stay.
And look – you’re doing it now.
Until next time,
You may comment below, but any foolishness may well result in you receiving a visit from a member of the Earth Liaison Unit. You have been warned. Thank you.
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