As you might have guessed from the subject matter of my blog posts of late, I’ve been thinking a lot about social media and the role it plays in my life. Which is actually just a piece of what I’ve actually been thinking about recently. And by “recently” I mean “for most of my adult life but in a new sort of context.” I’ve been thinking a lot about my time, my attention, my effort, and how I spend all three of those things. The recent focus of this mental exercise was inspired by a thread I saw on Twitter a couple weeks ago (that I unfortunately can’t find again) that made some bold claims about the amount of money and energy spent on advertising to people against their consent. I mean, all you need to do is look at how many ad-blocker programs exist for web browsers and phones to see how much people want to avoid it, and so much money gets spent on not only bypassing those things, but filling as much of the world with advertisements as possible.
I mean, I stopped watching broadcast TV and listening to the radio because I couldn’t stand that 3 out of every ten minutes of my time was spent watching or listening to commercials for shit I don’t want. I don’t spend money. Mostly, you know, because I’ve been on the verge of being broke for almost my entire adult life rather than because of some high-minded ideals, but the point still stands to a degree that’s arguably unhealthy these days when I can actually afford things. Anyway, I don’t enjoy spending my time listening to advertisements because I value my time enormously. I rarely end a day feeling like I had all the time I wanted and I frequently find myself wishing I had just another hour or two of effort or energy to spend before I need to stop for the evening, so why would I waste a single one of my precious minutes listening to an advertisement? I mean, the whole reason I got Spotify premium initially was because I was absolutely sick of listening to ads. Awful, shitty adds implying people going bald weren’t “real men” that gave me no option to prevent said ads from forcing their way into my day other than by buying Spotify Premium. Which, you know, probably worked out pretty well for Spotify.
Anyway, one of the most internet-savvy people I follow on Twitter (Hank Green) once made the claim that the thing being bought and sold on social media to provide revenue was the attention of its userbase. Since he pointed that out, I’ve found a lot of other people who study social media, the moderation thereof, and the patterns pertaining to both, make similar claims. Given the way that things tend to go viral for being worse more often than they go viral for being good, the idea explains so much of what I see and experience while using social media that I can’t argue against it. Outrage fuels interaction on the internet, more than anything else, and outrage is easy to spend your attention on. To counter that in my own life, I’ve long maintained a policy of not retweeting shitty people and taking the time to make sure I understand the context of something before I like or share it. I work to not be reactive, which mostly feels like I’m trying to be a responsible user of social media and the internet in general, but it also means I’m spending my time and attention in a way that no one profits from.
Except, you know, all the advertisers who scrape my data off the internet and use it to figure out what ads to put in front of me when I use an app or browser that doesn’t allow me to safeguard my experience from endless advertising. Since advertisements are how most websites and apps make their money these days, most of them prevent their users from avoiding those advertisements. They need every eye they can get on those ads after all, since a single ad view is almost worthless these days after a several years of google ad service driving the price so low that I don’t think I’d have even made a dime on all of my blog’s views since I started it back up last summer if I allowed ads on my blog. After all, views are only worth something when you measure them in the thousands these days.
Anyway. You can’t drive anywhere in the US without seeing billboards. You can’t walk down a street without seeing at least a lawn sign advertising some kind of lawncare service. There’s advertisements everywhere and even my inbox for the super-secret gmail account I’ve got for highly personal business gets advertisements even though I’ve literally never used it to sign up for anything other than services that include causes prohibiting them from providing my data to anyone but themselves and their affiliates for services I’ve requested or indicated a willingness to receive. It’s practically inescapable and I’ve done just about as well as anyone can at escaping it other than deliberately blinding and deafening myself. Which would be a bit too far given that the problem isn’t my ability to perceive so much as society’s acceptance of this much clutter taking up our attention.
I like to deliberately spend my time and my effort. I’ve been working on figuring out how to manage my attention in a similarly healthy way, though I’ll admit that it has become more of a struggle than it used to be as Twitter slowly cirlces the drain of relevance. I’ve lost 5% of my followers in since Musk took over and about 50% of my engagement. Almost all of the people who spent their attention on me via Twitter have left it now, turning elsewhere to spend as advertisements grow more common, old systems about who sees what break down, and hateful rhetoric/literal hate speech are on the rise. It’s slowly becoming a less interesting place to be. Even if I’m still willing to spend my attention there, I’m seeing fewer posts by people I liked to interact with, people who had interesting things to share. It’s drying up as people start to look for what’s next as Twitter slowly becomes everything every other failed social media platform from the past four years became.
I don’t know if I’ll move anywhere else. I have a cohost and I’m still considering tumblr, and whatever other new thing shows up (though admittedly in a much more cautious manner after the recent disaster from Hive), but I’ll admit that I’m not sure I want to spend my time and attention in any of those places. I worry that taking the step away from the one social media site I still use, the main source of my connection with other people online, will push me closer and closer to the total isolation I fear is my eventual fate in an increasingly digital world where the only way to connect is to hyperfixate along with everyone else. I just have so much stuff I want to do that isn’t scrolling twitter or watching YouTube Shorts. I don’t have any good answers yet, just a lot of questions I’m still working through. I just hope I figure it out before Twitter disappears for good and I decide to fade away from the internet along with it.