Social Media Tree

The thin veneer of one-click approbation

Years ago, I joined LinkedIn because someone said it would be a crucial “networking” tool for my career. The Facebook of the workforce, as it were. And that was when I was just only beginning to realize the vapid futility of Facebook, so I took their advice, and have been receiving emails from LinkedIn ever since. The problem is that anyone who has ever engaged with LinkedIn for fifteen minutes and has even a shred of honesty left in their soul can immediately recognize the service as completely useless.

In my first weeks on LinkedIn, I friended connected with most everyone I “knew” from both my in-person and online life who had also already joined. In the many years since, I have added three times that many contacts. Most of these people I have never met, and certainly never worked with. Of the ones I have met, 3/4 are friends, family, or people I have only encountered in passing. Again…never worked with them. And yet, now every time I visit the site (sucker!), I am asked to vouch for their professional abilities. In a broad range of fields in which I am not qualified, and so cannot judge their aptitude. Assuming I had ever even seen their work. Which I almost never have. Which should make it an easy pass…and yet so many of them have endorsed me, it feels awkward. Note that: I have been endorsed for everything from Graphic Design to Storytelling, and I actually do both of those quite well, but more than 20 people have endorsed me for Graphic Design and no more than eight of them have ever seen my work. Honestly, most of my endorsements are from people who have never seen what I can actually do, and while I refuse to endorse anyone for anything for which I have not seen the proof of their work, it pains me to skip screen after screen of acquaintances who I know have already blurred that line for me.

The bigger problem is that this is systematic of our culture: we’re all so happily playing pretend online that we dilute any sense of truth when we try to apply online activities to the physical world. We have “friends” and “colleagues”, we “support” causes and give “gifts” with neither longevity nor meaning, nor even the value of our time and considered thought in choosing them. As someone who spends much of every day focused on the world online, I’m only too aware that social media is the new God. Everything we build, every effort we make in the online world is marketed to it. We gauge the value of our ideas by it. We make or break businesses based on it. And yet, at the end of the day, it doesn’t measure real opinions, real values, or careful thought…it measures whether something had enough punch to grab our short attention spans for long enough to hit “share” or “like”.

Social media, in all its forms, measures exactly one thing: poor impulse control.

It doesn’t have to be this way; online interactions in no way are defined by being shallow or full of false premises. But if we’re going to save ourselves from this slippery slope of one-click approbation, we need to rethink the way we view and use social media. We need to stop pretending that a click is anything more than a momentary impulse, and come up with better metrics of gauging interest, support, and value. Systems that require processes of thought and time spent in reflection or analysis. Putting the effort into building those next-wave interactive online tools is well worth the rewards in our physical world processes, and possibly even in our own characters and storylines. Imagine if we had tools that actually capitalized on the wisdom of crowds, increased understanding and tolerance, and promoted empathy and careful thought.

Perhaps you think this sounds like a faerie tale, and perhaps it is. Perhaps I just never got over those early, star-struck days of the Internet, when we were all going to become one enormous, interconnected family, with hope, tolerance, and opportunity for all. Or something like that. But the possibility of building an online world that nurtures some of the better human traits is not ridiculous, nor even out of reach. We just have to stop looking for the fast solution, the one-click answer, long enough to craft a better set of tools.

2 thoughts on “The thin veneer of one-click approbation

  1. Yeah, not a big fan of social media, though I recognize the marketing potential it has. It just kinda rings hollow 99% of the time. The other 1% is actually useful, fortuitous events, like when folks with whom you have lost contact (and it was not intentionally done) find you via FB, LinkedIn, what have you.

    But, unfortunately, the 99% does exist, a wasteland populated with inane (though sometime humorous) “quizzes” (which superhero/rock star/actor/professional base jumper/etc are you most like), updates on those folks who you did intentionally lose contact with (and in a moment of allowing one’s impulse to click the accept button and who does not like being accepted or considering themselves accepting of others … except now you are connected to the folks from your past that you had managed to escape), eleventy billion cat/kitten/dog/puppy/cute animal videos (missed jumps, slick floors, kitty psychosis … though personally I did like the “No Mr. Bear, leave my kayak alone” video), and the various memes of the week (“Soon!”, “Ermahgerd!”, “I took an arrow to the knee!”, etc). The scary thing is that you probably recognize a good number of the things I just mentioned … and can consider yourself a victim of social media marketing. 😉

    tl;dnr

    Social media is 99% worthless … unless you are a marketer, and then it’s value fluctuates from day to day.

  2. Part of the problem is we’re all positioned to focus on social media now for everything we do (whether it’s documenting our vacation with selfies or launching a non-profit campaign), but it’s really hard to quantify its value. 1,000 “likes” on FB means…what, exactly? People’s one-second impulse was to approve (or want to seem approving), but if they “liked” 15 other brands/pages/ideas in the next 2 minutes, what was your impact? The more I think about it, the more it bothers me. Obviously, we can track some things (i.e. conversions for specific actions) via Analytics and the like…but long-term impact, brand impression, not to mention the actual value of ideas is all ephemeral, and therefore we’re no longer thinking about it, much less focusing on it. Which leads to all our online actions becoming more and more shallow.
    Which makes us shallower people.
    Which will probably lead directly to the end of the world.
    The End.
    🙂

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