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The Quiet Shift
Social Sharing to Content Consumption
Hey everyone, welcome back.
Do you ever get Facebook notifications that ask you to reflect on what you’ve posted? As I’m writing this post, here’s a selection of things I wrote many years ago on this date:
Reviewing these posts, they have gone strong for many years and dropped off about 2015. I see the same trend on my Instagram, although a few years delayed. Somewhere around 2017-2018, my quantity of posts drops way off, as if a switch was flipped. When I post now, it’s mostly a story that disappears in 24 hours. Roll back the clock fifteen years (in 2008), and you’ll find that I felt that everyone needed to know that I “[love] this Piarte (sic) English Language setting on Facebook.”
As I reflect on this trend in my life, I see it in others as well. Whatever the app, when I look at the profiles of people who’ve been using social media mainly since the get-go, for most users in my sphere, there was a time when we all posted a lot more than we do today, and then as if we call agreed it was not working out, we all stopped.
But it’s also not like people left the platforms. My wife and I welcomed a son into the world earlier this year, and we regularly share photos showing his progress as the months go by. As I’m out and about and run into people I’ve not seen in years, they all ask me, “is your son’s hair really that red?” They are seeing the photos we share; they are just not sharing back any of their own.
Again, I see what feels like the same trend play out. I get on Instagram and consume the content that others are making. I love seeing updates from far away friends, but the pool of people I can stay up-to-date with in this method gets smaller and smaller as people share less and less. While I don’t use Facebook nearly as much as I used to, I still find myself getting on Instagram, but now the content I’m mostly seeing isn’t from people I know; it’s from accounts that are making short-form videos that make me laugh, which are mostly made by “creators” and ripped out of their original context on TikTok.
When I go over to TikTok, the situation isn’t much different; I’m just seeing the meme videos a few days before they will be circulating on Instagram Reels. My friends' content (if there is any in there) never bubbles up to the surface of the algorithm; all I see is content from brands and creators.
This series of casual observations I’ve quietly been making in my head was snapped into focus when I caught a post from Kate Lindsey in Embedded. She notes,
No one really posts anymore, no one’s having fun, and it’s partly for this reason that no one seems excited about any of the newer apps and features, like Threads, that keep popping up despite everything.
“As more people have been confronted with the consequences of constant sharing, social media has become less social and more media—a constellation of entertainment platforms where users consume content but rarely, if ever, create their own,” a recent Insider piece explains. “Influencers, marketers, average users, and even social-media executives agree: Social media, as we once knew it, is dead.”1
This is a fascinating example of social media shaping us back. We’ve talked a lot before about how the tools we use shape us back; how the use of a car, for example, makes us people who are not as good at walking, or the use of a calculator makes us not as good at doing math in our heads. This isn’t to say a car or a calculator are wrong; we just have to recognize them as tradeoffs.
In the same way, the social media experience as it existed in the earlier days of social media was much more oriented towards getting us to share instead of simply consuming content. But today’s social media landscape is almost flipped around. TikTok does make it very easy to share videos; it’s even easier just to sit there lost in the time vortex as the feed brings you funny video after funny video. Lindsey writes,
Apps began prioritizing algorithms and discovery and ways of increasing views that de-emphasized direct connection, putting us all in the same place while somehow tearing us further apart.2
So it’s perhaps no accident that most of us stopped posting. The platforms themselves changed in a way that made it feel like our posts no longer mattered, deprioritizing direct human connection in favor of feeds that drew us in for hours on end.
This brings us to a point of reflection: how have the tools you’ve been using for so long shifted from under you, and are they still fulfilling the then purpose that made you start using them in the first place? Most of the time, I’m not a fan of change for its own sake, but there are times when we should overcome our status quo bias and realize it’s time to do something differently. As the tools we use change, the trade-off we make by using them is also ever-shifting.
With that, thanks for reading, and see you again soon.