Social media foments flat personalities

In “You Are Not A Gadget”, Jaron Larnier argues that the choices when designing a technology, such as the limitations made for simplicity's sake, can shape the way we think about not just the piece of technology itself, but also the domain it applies to. 1 That process of lock-in, for especially persistent and successful designs, can end up shaping the way we interact with the real world. 2

There's no arguing that social media is a successful technology, and one that's been around fundamentally unchanged for over 10 years. Their design of structured fields in a “profile” meant to allow people to express themselves in a remarkably narrow way may now be influencing the way we think of ourselves. If a profile is me to some degree, and if that profile is limited and structured, that means that I'm only different from other people insofar as those particular fields differ.

How can one's Facebook profile ever reflect their kind nature, their temperance, their compassion? There's no series of “likes” that convey wisdom. Instead, people allow themselves to be defined by their consumer choices, their food preference, their ideologies. We seem to be making an effort to externalise such nuance-less traits in everyday life by becoming more and more similar to the group's archetype (“the atheist”, “the feminist”, “the conservative”).

When you allow a social media profile to be a valid description of a person, you are limiting personhood to a tiny subset of the human experience.

Gamification of human interaction degrades human health


1 for example, take file systems (files and folders) as an abstraction on how to represent data storage. That's been present since forever, but it's not at all inherent to the problem domain. It's an abstraction that persisted. At this point, he argues, a computer system is more likely to send a man to the moon than it is to get rid of the file system analogy.

2 MIDI is a good example here. Designed to model the key presses and releases of a keyboard across time, it's a purposefully limited format. However, it's become persistent enough that it's now shaping the way we think about and create music.