Loneliness and Junk Social Media

I keep thinking about this video Jason Kottke linked to:

The health effects of loneliness are well documented, but I’d never actually thought of it in biological terms. We hunger for connection in the same way we hunger for food, and we hurt when we are shunned in a very physical way.

Jason’s analogy to sugar really got to me:

Like our affinity for sugary foods, the feeling of loneliness turns out to be another one of those things that served humans well when we lived in small hunter-gatherer groups tens of thousands of years ago but often works against us in our individualist modern world.

I think that a lot of online social networking is the social equivalent of junk food. Call it junk socializing. Everyone knows a “Facebook friend” isn’t a friend; otherwise why would it be qualified with “Facebook?” But we still feel like we’re connecting with people when we like their pictures on Instagram.

If Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are bad, then podcasting, YouTubers, and streamers are worse.

"how it feels to listen to podcasts" with image of a guy socializing with an ad

After listening to a “two guys talking” podcast I feel like I’ve just hung out with some friends, even though the podcasters don’t know me at all! Maybe I feel less lonely, in the same way I feel full after eating a Quarter Pounder w/ Cheese: I sated my hunger but not in a sustainable way.

As a society, we need to work a lot on social isolation. I’m not 100% in on Cal Newport’s “delete your social media” proscription, but it’s starting to make a bit more sense every day.

I keep thinking about these tweets from Derek Powazek:

I’m not really watching Twitter these days, but haven’t gone so far as to delete my tweets. Since I mostly read (past tense) on Tweetbot and that’s going away, I have a bit more space between me and Twitter. Just in time too, because today is the day to stop reading twttr.

Mastodon is interesting. I am on a server at @georgeh@mastodon.social (3 toots this year!) but there are other Mastodon instances that kind of mean something. You can be on photog.social for a photo-specific feed, or mhz.social for ham radio. There are more.

I have different Slacks for different contexts. Slack for work, sure. My coworking Slack doubles as a local online community. That’s where I would ask for a plumber or electrician. I have a few Slack with friends and a few more. I’d probably be on some Discords too if I could ever figure out how their UI distinguishes between text and voice.

I’m reading more blogs too. My RSS reader isn’t a Skinner box, trying to mete out dopamine hits. It’s just a list of posts, in reverse chronological order. Like with Twitter, I’m focusing on people I know or would like to know, and who don’t post a million times a day.

A million years ago, I ran an Ann Arbor blog aggregator called ArborBlogs. It was basically a Planet site, showing all the posts from a curated list of blogs. Curation seems to be the key, and curation doesn’t scale. Is that a bug or a feature?

Maybe the way forward, away from toxic interactions and anonymous trolls, isn’t the public timeline but the small groups. Facebook’s need to connect everyone to everyone continues to be its cruel mission, but its groups are the thing that keeps people from leaving.

I’ve never been someone who looks at hashtags or trending topics on Twitter. Someone looks at that stuff, right? That’s the kind of thing that needs a giant public timeline, algorithmically pruned, collapsing all contexts. I’m looking for good stuff from people I know or would like to know. Introverts of the world: unite!

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Slashdot Comment Spam

On Slashdot (which I am likely dumber for reading) comment spam takes a slightly different form. Instead of earning PageRank, commenters earn karma. The end result is that instead of creating links to sites in order to screw with search engines, the spammers try to post good comments with the least amount of effort.

Take a comment on a new largest prime number for example. It sounds pretty good, but the tone of the comment is familiar; a rote collection of facts with a neutral point of view. Sure enough, I found the exact same text in the Wikipedia article on prime numbers.

While it’s questionable whether the comment adds value to the discussion, plagiarizing the Wikipedia is certainly deceitful. I guess whenever you create something of value like karma, some people will ignore social norms to do whatever they can to get it. Someone should come up with a name for that behavior, and then someone else should come along and add the word “freak” to the beginning of that name.