With all the news about data breaches and the latest revelations about the social media platform to rule them all – Facebook – I’ve been doing a bit of soul searching. And the question I keep coming back to is: What am I willing to trade?
When it comes to trading actual dollars, hard cash money for things, I tend to stop, think, and ask questions like:
- Is this of value to me?
- Will this make my life or someone else’s life better?
- Is what I am getting worth the dollars that I am trading?
- Who is this business that I am supporting with my dollars?
But with the ease of interacting online, I must admit I often forget about the transacting part of the equation. Make no mistake, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and others, are not free. But rather than primarily transacting in your dollars, they are transacting in your data.
You are making a trade – your information for the ability to connect, share, and tell your story in the digital world. Every like, every follow, every photo, every connection, every comment – it’s all data. Their revenue models all depend on your willingness to trade your data, so that they can, in turn, sell companies advertising spots, which can then be targeted to you based on your interactions. This is no big secret. It’s simply how it works.
The question then comes down to this: Is the trade you are making worth it to you, personally? Let’s also be clear, the social media platforms are heavily invested in making your experience relevant to you because, yes, the more time you spend interacting with their platform, the more ads that can reach you.
If you’re like me, you’ve whiled away more than one afternoon getting sucked into the vortex of social media, mindlessly scrolling away, clicking random emojis to show your approval or disapproval, reading articles that catch your eye, and generally just staring at your phone as if it holds the answers to the mysteries of the universe. What’s worse, and I hate to admit this, but when I’ve posted, I’ve often become downright obsessed to see if someone has liked or commented on what I had to say or share.
So now not only am I trading my data, but I am trading my time.
Sadly, I’ve been to dinner with Cowboy or friends and found myself unable to leave my phone alone, or waiting at an appointment or riding in the car and neurotically scrolling and clicking. It’s like a drug – a little adrenaline rush to see if someone has interacted online. Each time I’m rewarded with a brief little fix. But it doesn’t last, and ultimately I want more.
I justify my social media habit by saying things like, “But it’s a great way to keep up with friends, see pics of their cats and dogs.” Or even better, “But I have to do it to gain followers for my blog.”
So now I’ve traded my data, my time, and real life experiences with actual humans in front of my face for online ones.
And I just don’t know that the trade is truly worth it in the way I have been making it. I’ve let the social media platforms make the rules. I’ve let myself be sucked in and lost. But there is also something important to remember here – this is not about going backward. I’m not looking for some let’s-make-the-world-great-again-solution. Social media is here to stay, so the question is how do we make it work for us instead of us working for it?
And if we are being honest, social media does good things too. It’s great to see friends’ photos of their growing families. It’s inspiring to cheer people on as they strive for their fundraising goals. It’s positively fun to watch small businesses and crafters and makers of all kinds flourish.
For me, I’ve had to dig deep and do some soul searching for what is and isn’t important to me. Being present with Cowboy, friends, and family is tops. I’ve also gone through my social media profiles and removed a tremendous amount of data, like following a bazillion pages and made sure my privacy settings help me to connect when and how I want to. I’ve removed apps from my phone so that when I interact on social media, it’s an active choice to sit down at my computer.
Are the social media giants going to stop trading in data? No, and unless we are all willing to trade actual cold hard cash for their services, we shouldn’t expect it. After all, despite their lofty vision statements about connection, they are businesses. and businesses have to stay afloat – which means they are about making money. And there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you know what you are willing to trade.
Can you still find me on social media? Yes, but more often than not you’ll find me on the farm living my real life.
P.S. – Yes, I’m well aware of the irony that this will be posted on social media. I hope this is one of those times when it is for the greater good.