In The Future, Our Attention Will Be Sold
There are three common complaints against social media and the internet in general: 1) that it’s making us all narcissistic and shallow,2 2) that it’s crapping on our ability to maintain meaningful relationships and therefore making us lonelier,3 and 3) that it’s interfering with our ability to focus and get quote, unquote “more important shit” done in our lives.4
Interestingly, after quite a bit of research, it turns out that none of these claims are completely accurate. Social media doesn’t necessarily cause people to become more narcissistic, it just gives narcissistic people more opportunities to indulge their narcissism, and to a larger audience.5 It’s not interfering with either the closeness we feel to others or how many people we feel close to, it simply expands our network of casual acquaintances and the quantity of our casual social interactions.6 And while technology does present more opportunities for distraction (which we’ll get to), it also presents easier transmission of information, tools for collaboration and opportunities for organization.7
What I’m saying is that the whole “the internet is ruining us” argument is a big whiff. It’s likely just the anxiety that’s always wrought by new technologies. When TV and radio were invented, people complained that everyone’s brain was going to go to mush. When the printing press was invented, people thought it was going to destroy our ability to speak eloquently. Complaints about the minds of children being ruined by technology are as old as technology itself.8
Modern technology isn’t changing us. It’s changing society. There’s a difference. One is how we are, and one is simply how we react every day to the world around us. The social media age is changing the basic economics of our day-to-day lives. It’s changing them in profound ways, ways that most of us likely don’t notice. And surprisingly, it’s people like Kim Kardashian who are taking advantage of it.