The Hedonic Treadmill and Social Media Exhaustion

I’m not totally sure that the internet has been a net positive in my life. I am “very on the internet.” I have been for about 25 years. That’s almost as long as a person can possibly be “very on the internet” as of 2022. As a consumer, there’s always a new thing to scroll for. And sometimes you get absolute gold. As a producer, there’s always a new metric/milestone to strive for. Hence the comic (thanks to Cruzlogia for making the art!). I put up a video about this whole thing, too.

The late David Graeber said that the internet was really just a more efficient post office, mail order catalog, and public library. And he was right. The Internet isn’t really good for much more than that. It can do much more than that, but little good.

The internet removed the gatekeepers. At one point people were excited about the lack of gatekeepers. They were excited about the fact that anyone could get their voice heard. But I’m not actually sure that a cacophony of voices all speaking over one another trying to be heard is much better than the public library.

And yet, here I am, trying to yell over that very same chaos.

I am very sad that a creator I enjoyed is leaving the internet even if it’s probably smart. I think the internet is terrible for the creative psyche. But it is still sad. What I find really strange is that the internet is so wonderful for connecting people and enabling creative self-employment… but the same mechanisms that make that so easy also make it unhealthy.

Let me make an analogy. Imagine that being a content creator is like opening a bar. Let’s say that Lenny opens a bar. I go into the bar and ask Lenny for a drink. Lenny pours me a drink that I happen to really enjoy. I say, “Lenny, I really like this drink. Good job. How much?”

Lenny says “It’s on the house.”

Maybe I leave Lenny a tip because I think that’s pretty awesome. Because of the way the economics of the internet work, this scenario plays out over and over again and Lenny ends up making money despite giving away free booze. It’s amazing.

In fact, the more free booze he gives away, the more likely it is the tips will add up to be a full-time living. How cool is that?

One day I go into Lenny’s bar and there’s a whole crowd of jackasses who are yelling at Lenny and telling him to go kill himself. I don’t know these people. They do not own bars that I frequent (they certainly don’t serve anything I want to drink). They do not write books that I want to read. They just show up and yell and carry on until finally Lenny gets fed up, and he closes down his bar. Nobody gets to enjoy free drinks at Lenny’s bar anymore.

Also, a fair number of the people who closed down Lenny’s bar are literal Nazis.

What a strange world. It’s hard to imagine a world without “content creators” where I have to go to cable channels to find something interesting to watch or listen to. The removal of the gatekeepers is mostly a good thing for the consumer. You can find whatever will keep you entertained.

But the incentive structures and “engagement metrics” that work for building a following also work for building a backlash. That is very bad for the average human psyche. Internet 2.0: The Feed, is poison for a lot of people. It is a breeding place for the kind of mind-viruses that create trolls. What can be done about it?

We can cultivate a subscriber-model culture. Patreon is a good step in that direction. Heck, YouTube premium is better than relying on YouTube ads. But the beautiful thing about the subscriber supported model instead of a advertiser supported platform model is that the incentives are different and so the communities can be different.

Semi-Relevant Links:

7 Ways to Fix Your News Feed (& Make The Internet Super Useful) – WeezyWaiter on YouTube

Your Undivided Attention Podcast – Center for Humane Technology

Your attention didn’t collapse. It was stolen | Psychology | The Guardian

Junk food and the brain: How modern diets lacking in micronutrients may contribute to angry rhetoric (far-fetched? Maybe, but I definitely find being civil harder when hungry)

The Dialectics of Rick & Morty – Video Essay – CJtheX on YouTube Favorite quote (in the voice of Rick Sanchez): “Oh I’m amassing capital baby. I’m making my own money. I’m ensuring the longevity of my career. I’m establishing a foundational authenticity that’s magnetic to the public! I’m gonna have these studios begging at my feet like dogs! I’m only making video essays to pay my rent and build my audience, then I’m gonna leverage that momentum and capital into doing something I actually give a $#!%# about.”

This person does an amazing job of being tongue-in-cheek antagonistic to his audience and simultaneously being entertaining enough that they don’t care. This video was stripped of ad revenue. Backed on Patreon!