So with all these recent post on the socials, does that mean we’re back? No. Yes. Kinda but not really.
Over the years, we’ve grown wary of social media and all its attendant and well documented pathologies both for the “audience” and the “content” creator. In truth, I find it an extraordinarily difficult eco-system to navigate if only because I have seen both the gross personal effects directly and the marvelous benefits as well. This push and pull between the positive and negative aspects have more often than not shaded more into the negative and unhealthy sphere for me and so I’ve deigned to keep the entire thing at arm’s length…and I swear to god if I meet another person that says “you guys really do act in real life the way you act in your videos” I’m gonna punch a puppy in the jaw(1).🐶🤛The stakes are that high.
To put a finer point on it, what these platforms have become—particularly Instagram (and its parent company Facebook)—make storytelling feel awfully inauthentic and overly difficult unless I essentially live on the platform, feeding it certain kinds of content and checking it constantly, which is precisely what the platform wants me—and you—to do. For example: We’ve been back in the States for over a year and we still receive messages surprised either that we’re in the U.S. or inquiring as to what part of Europe we’re in now. That’s pretty frustrating especially since we’ve posted often enough where we are—and it’s in our bio.
This disconnect isn’t entirely the audience’s fault(2). However, the platform facilitates this kind of distracted and piecemeal form of following someone’s story by only displaying content a user has a high probability of engaging with. In our case, most of our followers seem to only engage by liking or commenting when we post an image of our vehicle. If we post a photo of some landscape or architecture that moved us or a portrait of someone who showed us extraordinary generosity, the post gets almost no interaction. If you think I’m whining ‘cause I didn’t get the like-candy, please read closely. It isn’t that we didn’t get the likes or comments but that the platform didn’t even show the image to more than 85% of the people who follow us because the post doesn’t enable the platform to earn money.
We each—our attention, our preferences and our online habits—are the price of free. Finely tuned algorithms track our use habits and then target us for what it calculates are our preferences all so it can keep us on the platform longer in order to show us ads which is how these platforms make money—vast, grotesque amounts of it. But it isn’t only that it targets our preferences and gives us the content we want to see; the entire system is set up to stimulate our limbic system and keep us each hooked to scrolling and scrolling whether on our feed or, when that’s exhausted, on the “Discover” page(3). This is emphatically not a good thing. An enormous amount of ink both digital and analog has been spilled elucidating this topic and so I won’t delve into it here. Suffice it to say, if you’re not one to read the research on the deleterious effects this kind of limbic stimulation has on people, watch Netflix’s documentary The Social Dilemma. All this to say, if I don’t post a photo of our vehicle(4), the algorithm knows that the post has a chance of losing a user and so doesn’t display the image to more than 85% of our audience. This is why so many in our audience are lost as to where we are and don’t see what we post unless it’s a rig. Honestly, our story isn’t solely or even primarily about our rig, and this is why storytelling on Instagram et al has become inauthentic and extraordinarily difficult, at least for how we want to tell our story.
To know that sharing and storytelling have been reduced to a monochromatic version of life as a result of a clever algorithm written by some “change-the-world-while-making-tens-of-billions of-dollars” Silicon Valley corporate behemoth makes this whole sharing-on-social-media thing feel less inspired, less authentic, less organic. Instagram, for me, used to be about the emergent and serendipitous discovery of new, inspiring places and people that resulted from taking an interest in a hashtag or following a recommendation from a friend. It used to be about finding something different that didn’t fall into my current preferences. True story: this is how we discovered our style of travel, through sheer serendipity on social media and then falling down the rabbit hole to different blogs. Now nearly the entire social media eco-system has become a bubble of one’s narrow preexisting interests as determined by one’s browsing and shopping habits (occasionally interrupted by slanted political activism and pandemic related propaganda). It’s fucking gross. Life is more interesting when it’s not curated.
So are we back? I don’t know.
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(2) Admittedly, before I comment or send someone a message asking where they are, I take a few moments to see whether they’ve mentioned that at any point in the recent past. Maybe others can’t be bothered? If so, doesn’t that validate to some extent the idea that folks on these platforms are too distracted or anxious for the next new thing to take time to actually follow a story?
(3) Which, let’s be honest, is only more of the same kind of thing we already follow on our feed (unless there’s some current event the activists in Silicon Valley deem essential to shove down our throats at which point our Discover feed becomes a propaganda arm for the intersectional mob).
(4) Yes, machine learning algorithms know what the content of an image is. It will know if I’m posting a photo of a vehicle or a photo of a tree and will, based on the photo’s content, decide who best to show the image.