A living letter to social media

Subject: A living letter to social media
From: an international collective of earthlings
Date: 1 May 2022

Dear social media companies,

We are thankful for your services,
but we are worried about our mental health.

We are a new generation of artists, entrepreneurs, coders, and creatives and although we love social media, we believe its current vocabulary—one that prompts us to obsess about being liked and forces us ‘to follow’—is unhealthy and could be leading to some serious mental health issues.

On social media, the people who are extra famous and successful usually don’t follow many people (one beloved US singer, for example, has 90M people following her and follows 0). Maybe that’s because ‘following people’ is generally a sign of submission or shows that you can’t find and choose paths for yourself. After all, that old saying —there are only two types of people in this world, leaders or followers–is only ever said to make you want to be a leader rather than a follower.

Everybody knows it’s not cool to follow, and even us everyday people try to have more followers than people we follow. But mostly we are forced to follow, because following is a way to get followers yourself.

This is not a healthy circle!
And we all know its unhealthy and feel it in our bodies when we go online.

Maybe we’ve got the emphasis all wrong and we should be following paths, not people.
Following paths is healthy, because you can choose and change them. No one person builds or maintains a path–they develop over time and are built of many different footsteps.

Following people is NOT healthy because it means tying yourself to every single step a person has taken or will take, and nobody always takes the right steps. Actions are paths, not personalities. Plus it’s way too much pressure for the person being followed and can make them hold on to some false image of themselves or do things that make them sick.

People need to be able to say they fucked up when they take a wrong path without it meaning the end of their existence. And people need to learn how to find and choose their own paths and be held responsible for them. Life is never just one path; lots of paths go parallel or overlap. Sometimes we should be able to walk on the same paths as people we usually or mostly disagree with–the system should be set up so it’s okay to make the distinction between the path and the person.

Nobody, no matter how great their creations, is beyond taking the wrong path, and we all need help sometimes to find the right ones. Pretending otherwise makes us sick, and at the extreme end of such illnesses is dictatorship.

Right now we are basically creating a generation of people who want others to follow them. We are making following the norm. And we are teaching people to follow without questioning what they are following.

Just being a human in the world without social media is hard enough when it comes to wanting people to like you. Of course we all want people to like us. Finding out how to know yourself well enough to not need everybody to like you is basically the heroic journey of everyone’s life. Social media just is not helping us on this journey by forcing us to do everything humanly possible to be liked. There must be a better way, a better vocabulary.

It feels like possibilities of extinction are coming at us from all sides right now. We need to make choices that will keep us healthy and help us connect to one another and all of life in ways that are meaningful. Connection needs to mean something again.

As the whole world has seen, technologies can be exceedingly harmful; they can con us and spread the worst of us, even destroy lives, families and communities. Probably, if we really analyzed it, we would discover that what’s at the heart of those nefarious uses of technology, that what is being exploited, is exactly this desire to be liked while being forced to follow. How or where is this going to change if it doesn’t change here?

Social media is a goldmine precisely because it gives companies direct access to our values and ideas and shows them what we think is important, but at the same time, the parameters and algorithms of that media direct us to the values of liking, consuming, and following. Can we untangle this a bit please? Can we create value in social media in ways other than liking and following? We all know those things don’t give us peace anyway, and they are not going to give us the meaning and tools we need to face the future.

The users of your codes and technologies should have some say in the vocabulary that frames their everyday lives. Getting likes and being followed are about the ego. How do we shift to the eco? to an eco-logic instead of ego-logic? Social media is probably the best tool we have for learning how to do this.

When priority is on being liked and followed, we have a problem.
When our attention is the thing being bought and sold, and that attention is focused on being liked and followed, we have an even bigger problem.
Solving it has to start now.
One way to do that would be to consider ways you might change the “likes” and “following” buttons into something more sustainable and healthier. Maybe, for example, we could have some less-binary system offering a scale of choice rather than either/or.

Thank you for reading this, and for taking these concerns seriously,

an international collective of earthlings