Subscribe or Die

Get paid $2500 to quit social media for 25 days, seriously, click image. Can’t do it? Read on.

Does it feel like dying to go without social media for 25 days? Not all of you will answer yes. If no, then click the image above and collect $2500.

Still reading, uh? Thought so. If honest and under 30, you’ll probably answer yes. Maybe even if not under 30. Well, if you don’t do something quick, you might die anyway.

The Wall Street Journal created a thousand fake users to decode Tiktok’s recommendation algorithm. It rabbit-holes everybody eventually, leading them into very narrow domains that are typically negative and depressive, often fake or inaccurate, and reduces the user’s attention span dramatically. If all you get is feedback reinforcing your most negative thoughts, and those thoughts are cut too short to think your way out of the hole, how’s that going to affect you? Well . . . you’ll die, of course.

At the end I’ll post a link to the WSJ’s video mini-documentary. First allow me to make my case about attention span, because WSJ doesn’t address that. Here are some comparative statistics on popular social media sites:

TIKTOK – 1 billion users – 9 to 15 seconds typical – 52 minutes/day – since 2016
INSTAGRAM – 1.4 billion users – 26 seconds average – 28 minutes/day – since 2010
FACEBOOK – 3 billion users – 20 seconds for video – 2.24 hours/day – public since 2006
YOUTUBE – 2 billion users – 7 to 15 minutes (no limit) – 29 minutes/day – since 2005

Much of YouTube’s longer viewing is movies. It is famous for how-to videos and various special interest topics, like airplane crashes, science explanations, dance or music videos, and so forth, most of which are much shorter but quite a bit longer than TIKTOK or Instagram videos. As TIKTOK and Instagram and similar services appeal to younger people, who do not usually migrate to older platforms, the average “attention span” seems to be declining. These addicted users are looking for some kind of quick hit.

Facebook is only 15% video at present so there is not a direct comparison. Facebook owns Instagram, and is launching a new virtual reality social media service whose characteristics are as yet undetermined and whose success is undetermined as well.

With those caveats, and considering the start date for each service, it appears the attention span of the human race could be driven down very quickly, to nearly zero in just another decade or two. To a value too small for anyone to seriously think about anything. And I haven’t even mentioned Twitter. I would argue such a shortening of attention span approximates death.

I would also argue the narrowness of rabbit-holes, those narrow ranges of recommendations any modern internet platform from Kindle books to Google customized search results will trap you in, if sufficiently narrow, approximates death. On YouTube about 75% of views come from those algorithm-driven recommendations. The rest come from your specific searches or from content producers you subscribe to. Thus you need to either search and subscribe, or die one of the approximate deaths I’m defining. Since search can always become limited by algorithms, maybe you better subscribe while you can still choose. On Tiktok, 90-95% of views come from recommendations, so the rabbit-hole converges much faster. WSJ blames this on the algorithm, but I am not sure. Who is going to spend half a minute searching for 9 second content? Relying on recommendation is the only practical way on Tiktok. The algorithms may be not that much different.

Kindle is of course not video, but I noticed several years ago my recommendations – at first very useful back in 2011 when I started reading eBooks – have become so narrow, they are nothing but carbon copies of the last two books I read. Truly suggestion-free browsing, even on the website with a large screen, is much harder and less rewarding than browsing a physical bookstore, and there are hardly any of those left.

Instead of me describing what a rabbit hole is, and how this works to produce depressive and negative results, just watch the WSJ mini-doc. They do a much better job. If you wish to read a dissenting opinion, then come back after watching and read below the image, but do not skip the WSJ video because this discussion is not complete without it.

Click image for WSJ mini-documentary

Dissenting opinion: My friend Matt, who is so habitually contrary I sometimes cannot tell if he is serious, writes:

Social media hopes to hold users on their platform so they can expose them to the ads they get paid for. 

In the 21st century, Neilson ratings are not needed to rate capture material effectiveness (I.e. didn’t switch channel while watching “Lost”…). 

The Internet is certainly a better mouse trap because it can select content for the individual instead of the 20th century content of television that targeted population demographic proclivities. 

My response . . . On YouTube, which is the only one I use to any degree, one can pay a fee and escape the adds. In that case, it is only a matter of whether the recommendation algorithm is personally useful. It is a service that one is paying for.

On Kindle, it is less clear. One is searching for books, and buying them. So the ads and the things sought are related. It is a similar situation on search engine ads IF ads are presented for the thing one is searching for. But the results in each case are different.

  • On Kindle, it doesn’t work! The more and more rabbit holed recommendations result in my buying less and less books. And giving lower and lower ratings to the ones I do read, which may discourage others from buying them. In this case I think it would be in the corporation’s interest to change the algorithm. Trouble is, they have no clue what a better algorithm would be. That would require real, not artificial, intelligence. Or perhaps emotional intelligence.
  • On search engines, it only works in response to the search query. LATER incidental ads after the search come after I bought whatever I was looking for, and are too late. Again it would be in the interest of the corporation to change the algorithm, it’s just too complex.

On YouTube, as well as Kindle, it works AT FIRST, until the recommendations get too narrow. You’d think they could fix this. Again it would be in the corporation’s interest, as I’d spend more time on the platform if the recommendations were better.

I cannot comment directly as a user of the other platforms. While I have a Facebook account, I only use it to post notifications of my music or blogs that I primarily post here or on YouTube. I have all mail from Facebook optioned off and never browse it. Just seems like a rathole and doesn’t interest me.

Just looking at documentaries on Instagram and Tiktok, I cannot figure out why I would ever use them. They are very intrusive. My time would not be my own. And mostly, I cannot say what I want to say. I post my vacation pictures for friends and relatives on Shutterfly. I compose a long collection of the pics I like to tell a story. At the end of the year I print several calendars from them, from which Shutterfly makes a ton of money, easily enough to pay for hosting my pics. If I posted impromptu pics, I’d regret it immediately. And I’d stop doing whatever I was doing in real life to make the post (and to regret it). Most of the time I won’t even stop to take the photo because cellphones (regardless of photo quality) make very inconvenient, bad cameras. Give me an optical viewfinder I can see in the daytime and one button and I’ll take a lot more photos. I only use a phone to avoid carrying two devices. Maybe I should leave the phone at home. Actually, sometimes I do. The only reason for carrying it is so my wife doesn’t panic. Unless it is her, or a call I’m expecting, I probably will not answer. And don’t send me any texts. I use email because I type very fast, and I can contain its use to an hour of the day I set aside for that.

So again, it seems to me that from a user value standpoint, Instagram and Tiktok make no sense. No way would my music videos work on Tiktok. They are much too long. And when I’m watching a video, I hate watching on my phone. Sometimes I browse my Google feed on my phone, but if there is a video, I either just skip it, or forward the article to my email. Instagram and Tiktok don’t have me on there, so they could do better. But since they are phone oriented, perhaps there is no point to them, and I understand that and ignore them.

I do not have a very addictive personality, I suppose. I can’t drink, it makes me sick. I can only take half a pain pill a day, they make me sick. Etc., etc. I understand some people are addictive, and maybe these are the ones who get in trouble with the depressive rabbit holes on Tiktok?

If that is the case, there is ample precedent for controlling addictive, damaging substances, and the corporate goal of “keeping people on the platform as long as possible” is no better than the drug kingpin wanting to keep users on drugs as long as possible. It is not in society’s interest and is forbidden. I rest my case. Tiktok should be forbidden. No matter how profitable it is. There is no moral or economic mandate to place profits over the health and welfare of individuals or society. When profit happens to line up with benefit, it is permitted, grudgingly because it leads to inequality, so it is taxed. When it doesn’t, it becomes an illegal industry.

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