Jaron Lanier, BUMMERs and Being Human

I’ve just finished reading Jaron Lanier’s 10 arguments for deleting your social media accounts. Some are more persuasive than others, but they’ve made me decide to delete my Facebook account for 2020.

The arguments are all linked and as follows:

  1. You are losing your free will thanks to the addictive nature of much of it and the behaviourist focus of the coding (Facebook gurus Sean Parker and Chamath Paliyapatiya would seem to agree)
  2. Quitting social media is the most finely targeted way to resist the insanity of our times. (Enter the BUMMER machine. BUMMER stands for “Behaviours of Users Modified and Made into an Empire for Rent”. It is not smartphones per se, or the few companies that control the cloud, or that online environments can bring out the worst in us – instead, he suggests, it is all of those when combined with a business model that amplifies negative emotions more than it does positive ones.Quitting social media doesn’t mean quitting the internet, just stopping blindly trading your data for their gain)
  3. Social media is making you into an asshole. (Essentially, everyone has an inner Solitary/Pack switch and social media amplifies the Pack part. If I’ve understood it, Lanier is saying that the longer one spends on social media platforms, the more prone one is to behaviours like those in the Asch conformity experiments)
  4. Social Media is undermining truth. (“You might think you’ve never interacted with a fake person online but you have, and with loads of them. You decided to buy something online because it had a lot of good reviews, but many of those reviews were from artificial people. You found a doctor by using a search engine, but the reason that doctor showed up so high in the search results was that a load of fake people linked to her office.”)
  5. Social Media is making what you say meaningless. (To get a sense of this, he suggests comparing what is written in social media to podcasts. Podcasts are still “genuine” – there is a palpable sense of personality and experience the author intends is largely similar to the experience the audience receive.)
  6. Social Media is destroying your capacity for empathy. (Empathy requires at some level a common, shared space. That’s partly why sporting events, gigs, and places of worship are popular. Filter bubbles and being more interested in sharing one’s status than a smile with a neighbour fragment that space)
  7. Social Media is making you unhappy. (The opening two paragraphs of this chapter are bleak but worth quoting in full: The cheerful rhetoric from the BUMMER companies is all about friends and making the world more connected. And yet science reveals the truth. Research shows a world that is not more connected, but instead suffers from a heightened sense of isolation. // The pattern has become so clear that even research published by social media companies shows how they make you sad. Facebook researchers have practically bragged that they could make people unhappy without the people realising why.)
  8. Social Media doesn’t want you to have economic dignity. (BUMMER machines operate on a free at point of service/we get your data deal. This is good short-term but poor long-term. They also try to persuade you it is the only way. Netflix and HBO are evidence that it isn’t. Their paid-service, and the resulting “peak TV“, might also be evidence that their is a better way)
  9. Social Media is making politics impossible. (Shitposting is a thing. While it may be viewed as the equivalent of Dadaist art, Lanier points to far grimmer problems, such as Facebook’s links to Myanmar and genocide.[The first link is his, the second is one I found following up])
  10. Social Media hates your soul. (“Whatever a person might be, if you want to be one, delete your accounts.”)

There are plenty of other ways to enjoy the internet and all it provides – and I’m quietly hopeful. My plan is to phase this all in rather than go cold turkey. Step 1: Facebook and WhatsApp. Step 2: Gmail. And then depending on how it goes, Step 3: Twitter.

7 comments on “Jaron Lanier, BUMMERs and Being Human”

  1. I’ve been thinking about deleting my Facebook account for a while but have found it great to stay in touch with family. One thing that I have found surprising are subject groups which have been useful. I have moved to Tweebot for Twitter and it has been very pleasant! Lanier always has really interesting things to say so thanks for flagging his book up.

  2. Pleasure – I’m a little concerned about the losing touch part too! I’ve been umming and ahhing about deleting it for a while but the book plus the timing (and being able to slipstream some New Year’s Resolutions) made me think now was a good time. It may end up being more of a “dry January” than a quit.

  3. Recognisable, although I opted for different strategies.
    Facebook: deleted my account and started over 2 yrs ago. FB is still the path to stay in touch with a number of people (for some FB is the internet, the only way the get online). I did remove the FB app from my phone, and I am always logged out. Making checking FB a deliberate act that I often skip (haven’t logged in for a month)
    Twitter: I post there but only through my own blog (the blog syndicates to T). This includes replies to other Twitter messages, etc. The interaction on T comes back to my blog and I read it there. I also use Tweetdeck to follow specific topics and events. I’ve never stumbled into a Twitter shit storm or hate spewing wave (yet).
    Gmail: I’ve left Gmail in 2014. It was hard to figure out what to do as alternative for my situation https://www.zylstra.org/blog/2016/07/how-to-leave-gmail/ . But a simple replacement would be Protonmail attached to a domain name you own.

    My lists to get away from are mostly not of the social media kind: Google Calendar ( switch to NextCloud), and Evernote. The last one is still tough to come up with an alternative for myself.

    Happy to have a conversation sometime soon to explore together what it actually is we’re trying to do, and how to do that.

  4. As ever, you’re way ahead! 😉

    I suspect I may end up going back to your sort of version of FB use – actively having to log in etc – but it’s an obvious way of freeing up some time.

    Twitter I have fewer problems with as it’s not a walled garden. I find it useful for professional development as a teacher and I don’t use it for anything else. It also still, for me, surfaces interesting people I might not have come across. Just as blogging surfaced you, Twitter surfaced Nick (the earlier commenter).

    The de-Googling/Evernoting project is a larger one and ties in to two areas, I think. One is productivity (calendar, as you say, receipts filing etc); the other, and perhaps more interesting, links to your post on threads. I suspect, if I’m honest, a chunk of the move from facebook is part and parcel of a niggle that I’m not actually sitting back and thinking enough on what I read.
    A stumbling move back to blogging is one effort in that direction, but I’d love to find a richer solution around the threads part.

    Would be great to chat about it all. Am actually looking at coming over to Holland for a weekend in the near future and would be great to catch up.


  • Nick Dennis

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *