The internet is an amazing thing that managed to change how the world operates over the course of just a few decades; an innovation that rivals Johannes Gutenberg inventing the printing press and whoever was responsible for making bicycles with equally-sized tires as opposed to the giant metal contraptions once favored by people with a fondness for monocles and top hats.
While the internet has undoubtedly transformed our lives for the better in a lot of ways, it has also given rise to an absolute scourge on society: social media, which I’ve long relied on to share my thoughts, keep up with the news, and provide me with pictures of adorable animals engaged in various shenanigans for my enjoyment.
However, over the years, what began as a noble pursuit has slowly but surely taken its toll on me, whether its the endless chase for that sweet, sweet hit of dopamine that comes with someone liking your post, the onslaught of a news cycle that’s as relentless as it is depressing, and the unachievable lifestyles of former acquaintances and influencers alike I’m still holding out hope I might be able to have one day.
Over the summer, I decided it was time to take a step back and was surprised to discover I didn’t feel like I was missing out on much after deleting every social media app on my phone. I soon realized that any news that really mattered would find its way to me via other channels and that encountering cute dogs in public is far more fulfilling than constantly browsing through pictures and videos of them online.
A couple of months ago, I felt incredibly vindicated after watching The Social Dilemma on Netflix. It turns out I was pretty ahead of the curve when it came to making the decision to cut myself off from the various platforms that were prominently featured in the documentary, which centers around a number of prominent Silicon Valley figures discussing the various ways algorithms are used to control our behavior and turn us into mindless zombies exploited by the massive corporations responsible for keeping us glued to our screens.
As I watched the movie, my eyes kept darting back and forth to the phone resting on the arm of my chair, which I wanted to encase in concrete and drop into a lake by the time it came to an end. It also led to me reflecting on the incalculable number of hours I’ve spent on social media and I couldn’t help but ponder which platforms have brought the most unnecessary amount of misery into my life over the years, which ultimately led to me putting together this list in an attempt to figure out the answer.
Do you remember when Google+ tried to become a thing at the start of the last decade only to fail spectacularly in that attempt? Sure, it managed to stick around for eight years until the company finally decided to pull the plug, but I think it’s largely been forgotten by the masses thanks to its sheer inconsequentialness—which is exactly why it was so great.
Google+ needs to be commended for being an entirely forgettable social media platform and thereby causing the least damage to our mental health. One of the central themes of The Social Dilemma is how companies go to excruciating lengths to keep you coming back for more, but I personally don’t even remember if I gave Google+ a spin in the first place thanks to how widely it was panned before becoming a distant memory in an impressively short amount of time.
“Thanks for nothing” is usually viewed as a derisive phrase, but in the case of Google+, I sincerely mean it as a compliment.
As a child of the mid-1990s, I don’t really recall what life was like before the internet changed every aspect of it and find it hard to wrap my head around how the hell society managed to function before it took the world by storm.
What was it like to not be able to contact anyone anywhere on the planet at any time? How did people entertain themselves prior to the rise of reaction GIFs and memes? What was it like to have to go to an actual store and buy an entire album even though you only liked one particular song on it? That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the many things I’ll never be able to fathom.
I may have been raised in the Internet Era but I was still fairly young when MySpace became all the rage, so I can’t say I’m intimately familiar with the progenitor of what would soon come. Sure, there were cooler kids my age who wandered out of the somewhat friendly confines of AOL Instant Messenger and websites filled with Flash games to venture into this great unknown, but I was pretty late to the party.
I can’t say I regret it, and nowadays, I pine for the simpler days when the most controversial thing you could do on social media was leave someone out of your Top Eight. It might have seemed like a slap in the face back then, but compared to what lay ahead, it was really like a light breeze generated by someone who missed while taking a swing at you.
Snapchat has life-ruining capabilities coded into its DNA. Being able to send any picture you want to someone before it permanently disappears into the ether sounds good in theory, but In practice? Yeah, not so much.
I was fairly dubious of Snapchat upon its release, and by the time I succumbed to peer pressure and made an account, it had become a watered-down shell of its once debaucherous self. I’d already seen relationships fall apart thanks to screenshots of an ill-advised drunken photo or someone having their spot blown up after claiming they were somewhere that was not reflected by the map that tracked your location at all times (although anyone who consciously turned on that feature had no one to blame but themselves), so I knew I had to tread carefully when I entered this electronic minefield.
In the end, Snapchat was never really able to hold my attention. In fact, there were times where I only remembered I had the app on my phone when I stumbled upon it while in the mood to gamble at a virtual casino or sling pissed-off birds at pigs enclosed in ramshackle structures that managed to make the hog had his straw house blown away by the Big Bad Wolf look like an engineering genius. I’d see the little ghost staring back at me and think, “Oh, you’re still here?”
That was really the extent of the majority of my interactions (or lack thereof), and for that, I am pretty grateful.
Twitter used to be so much fun. Hell, I’d go as far as to say there was a time as brief as it was glorious where it was…even pleasant; a place where fairly civil discourse and jokes flowed like fine wine at a steakhouse packed with Wall Street guys on Friday night.
Many people used it as a place to try to hone their comedic prowess, as the original 140-character limit forced you to write succinct set-ups leading to delicately crafted punchlines. You’d then be able to receive instant feedback in the form of likes and retweets from friends, strangers, and sexy women offering to be your girlfriend because of how hilarious you are who were totally, definitely not just Russian bots.
Nowadays, those bots have devoted the majority of their attention to stoking the flames of the political arguments that are virtually impossible to avoid regardless of how carefully you curate your timeline. Twitter could be a great “public square” (and arguably was at one point in time), but in the end, it devolved into madness thanks in no small part to the echo chambers many users sequester themselves in to convince themselves their worldview is the objectively correct one. You keep seeing information that jives with your outlook on things, so when people who you disagree with say otherwise, you wonder how they could be so foolish, stupid, or even evil to believe what they believe despite all the “evidence” you have to the contrary.
When it comes to politics, I’m basically the equivalent of Rob Lowe rocking a hat with the NFL logo at a game; I like certain players on both sides and am ultimately rooting for the good, clean contests that have become few and far between. As a result, I’m pelted with contradictory conjecture, misinformation, and blatant lies from both fans of the Red Elephants and those who prefer to root for the Blue Donkeys. This means I end up spending far too much time figuring out what the hell is really going on, which is a huge pain in the ass and an even bigger strain on my general mental well-being—all because I signed up to write some jokes eight years ago.
What happens when you take Twitter’s toxic discourse and mix in some cringey posts and comment sections populated with even more vitriolic arguments? You get Facebook.
Facebook has undoubtedly taken a serious toll on my psyche but I can’t stop myself from deleting my account thanks to my admittedly unhealthy appetite for incredibly obnoxious and douchey posts brought to me courtesy of people whose lives I have way too much knowledge about when you consider I haven’t talked to them since graduating from high school. Sure, I could just block them due to the rage they continuously induce, but at the same time, that ire makes me feel alive in a way few other things in life are capable of, which is enough to keep me coming back.
The coolest thing about the internet is that everyone has a voice and the scariest thing about the internet is that everyone has a voice and far too many of them have convinced themselves the world needs to hear what they have to say. This, my friends, is how you end up with people arguing over vaccines in the comments of a video claiming you can use your microwave to charge the newest version of the iPhone.
Facebook’s historically laissez-faire attitude toward things like “ethics” and “life-threatening falsehoods” has resulted in the company finding itself at the center of its fair share of scrutiny. Every now and then, Mark Zuckerberg will claim to be “deeply concerned” about some issue before quickly placing the blame on some underling and going back to using $100 bills to smoke a goat he seemed to take a bit too much joy in personally slaughtering in his backyard.
However, all of those downsides are still not enough to topple the subsidiary it acquired in 2012 that managed to earn the top spot on this list.
Scrolling through someone’s Instagram feed is a fantastic way to figure out what their ideal version of a life they’re not actually living looks like. Mine, for instance, features plenty of pictures of myself surrounded by attractive women and a bunch of expensive guitars, which isn’t even close to a reflection of an existence that’s largely defined by my interest in hockey and Formula 1.
As is the case with basically every platform on here, having a virtual vision board like this could be beneficial, but more often than not, it turns out to be wildly self-destructive; there’s a good chance you’ll unconsciously find yourself engaged in a lifestyle arms race with people who’ve constructed an even more impressive facade
The worst part is I know this is the case but find myself unable to escape the trap I’ve fallen into. Of all the algorithms out there, the people who’ve engineered Instagram’s have caught me hook, line, and sinker as I futility attempt to swim away only to get reeled back in basically every single day.
And for what? The rush that comes with someone liking a picture of you at the beach captioned with #VacationDaze and a shitload of nautical-themed emojis? That’s really the best-case scenario and it doesn’t even come close to the constant frustration and self-loathing that comes with chasing those hearts.
Instagram is tailor-made for the vapidest and most narcissistic members of society hoping they might one day be able to make a living endorsing various teas and supplements and I cannot get enough despite the damage it’s done to my well-being.
To that I say: well-played, Instagram. Well-played.