How To Lose Control Of Social Media
Suddenly, I cannot escape non-fungible tokens.
These digital things — works of art, sports clips, tweets — that, to prove their authenticity, are linked to the blockchain, feel as though they are everywhere. Endlessly discussed on Twitter. Espoused on Tik Tok as a new way to make easy money. Cramming the digital news pages. They are increasingly difficult to ignore, particularly when they’re being sold for tens of millions of dollars. Equally, it seems, not only are a lot of people talking about NFTs, but a high percentage of them seem to already have opinions about NFTs — fully-formed thoughts, decisions, perspectives, about their utility and meaning.
And I inevitably start to wonder, what is my opinion on NFTs? But, then again, why do I need one?
“The driving cultural force of that life that we call ‘modern’ is the idea, the hope, the desire, that we can make the world controllable,” sociologist Hartmut Rosa writes in The Uncontrollability of the World. Rosa argues that for what he calls “late modern human beings” — that’s us — the world has become “a point of aggression.” Everything, he writes, “must be known, mastered, conquered, made useful,” and that our current technologically-driven society has pushed this to a new extreme, in which we continually strive for growth and optimization. “Consider our relationship to our own body,” Rosa writes. “We climb onto the scale: we should lose weight. We look into the mirror: we have to get rid of that pimple, those wrinkles. We take our blood pressure: it should be lower. We track our steps: we should walk more.”
Social media don’t grant you control, they create a need for control.
All things in our world “take on the character of a challenge,” Rosa continues. “Mountains have to be scaled, tests passed, career ladders climbed, lovers conquered, places visited and photographed (“You have to see it!”), books read, films watched, and so on… More and more, for the average late modern subject in the ‘developed’ western world, everyday life revolves around and amounts to nothing more than tackling an ever-growing to-do list.” We might add to this list: Opinions formed.
The compulsion to engage and the desire to control what we see on social media is not just a byproduct of how platforms feed us information, it’s also built on the promise they offer us of a personalized, aggregated glimpse of the world. But this promise of control is actually the gateway to a paradox, for the more we try to reign-in the information we see online, the more likely we are to feel we can’t. And in fact, it may be that, as Rosa also suggests, we can actually gain more control by letting go of the need to assert it.
“The point of twitter is to say things youre 20 percent sure of,” Twitter user @disxpix posted last week, earning over 200,000 likes, 21,000 retweets, and hundreds of replies, largely all agreeing. And it certainly does feel true — especially when you consider how many people end up so frequently saying very stupid things on social media like Twitter for no reason other than they’ve simply offered an opinion on a topic they know little about.
This compulsion is clearly driven in part by the addictive structure of social media and its design. The space the platforms almost universally afford for a post encourages pithy, off-the-cuff remarks. But taking a cue from Rosa, we might conclude there is more going on. That perhaps this compulsion to constantly say something, to weigh-in to all debates, is also likely a response to social media’s inherently chaotic, and therefore challenging, flow.
The way information comes at us online, and particularly on social media — decontextualized and randomly — makes us feel like we need to control it somehow. Creating, and offering, an opinion, no matter how ill-informed, is a way to do that. Posting that opinion and kick-starting the positive feedback loop of validation social media offers, and on which it survives, solidifies the structure we’ve created for the chaotic information we’ve received (that is, our opinion). Maybe this is why, online, people tend to dig themselves so deep so quickly, frequently absurdly sticking their guns no matter what. Once something has been controlled, it’s very difficult to let it become uncontrollable again.
Giving up this need to control may mean you don’t weigh in. It might also mean you feel less obligated to do so.
Happily, there’s a way to prevent this. It’s not easy, but it’s possible to say nothing. Even more difficult is to do nothing — which is to say, to control nothing. But this is also not only possible, but necessary, if we want to free ourselves from the influence of social media. Because, as it turns out, social media don’t actually grant you control; they create a need for control – the feeling, as Rosa described, of having to master the information flow, to conquer it and to compartmentalize it.
Releasing yourself from the need to control the information flow of social media — to not engage — sounds passive. It’s not. Instead, it’s an active rejection of a fabricated need created by social media — one that keeps you returning in the mistaken belief that by being obligated to control information about your world, you will understand it better. You won’t.
Giving up this need to control may mean you don’t weigh in on the topic of the day. But it might also mean you feel less obligated to do so. Eventually, you might conclude there’s really no need to be on social media at all. At the very least, it will probably mean realizing you don’t have to have an opinion on NFTs.