Type B: First ChatGPT, Then Me

ChatGPT’s Take:

Prompt: Howdy ChatGPT, can you write a 250-word blog post about Siva Viadhyanathan’s Antisocial Media? In particular, can you focus on the chapter “The Pleasure Machine” and talk about how social media platforms try to create feelings without deep thought?

Siva Vaidhyanathan’s Antisocial Media is a compelling exploration of the digital landscape, unearthing the intricate web of emotions that often underlies our interactions with social media platforms. The book’s chapter, “The Pleasure Machine,” offers a profound insight into how these platforms are designed to evoke feelings without deep thought, immersing users in a whirlwind of emotion.

In “The Pleasure Machine,” Vaidhyanathan dissects the psychology behind social media features like notifications, likes, and shares. These elements are engineered to trigger immediate emotional responses, often without the need for critical thinking. The result is a digital ecosystem where users are emotionally entangled, chasing the highs and lows of each interaction.

Social media platforms employ algorithms that continuously analyze user behavior and emotions to serve content that is guaranteed to trigger emotional reactions. By doing so, these platforms transform into powerful pleasure machines, offering immediate gratification while bypassing deeper cognitive processes.

Vaidhyanathan’s analysis underscores the profound emotional allure and addictive nature of social media. Users often find themselves ensnared in a whirlwind of feelings, ranging from joy to anger, envy to sadness, with little opportunity for introspection. The immediate emotional feedback loop drives continued engagement, effectively cultivating our dependence on these platforms.

“The Pleasure Machine” highlights the importance of understanding the emotional rollercoaster of social media. It encourages us to approach these platforms with mindfulness, acknowledging the feelings they provoke and the potential emotional toll they can take.

As we navigate the social media landscape, we must recognize the seductive pull of “The Pleasure Machine” and strive for a balanced approach to our digital interactions. Vaidhyanathan’s work is an essential guide to understanding the emotionally charged world of social media and encourages us to engage with these platforms with greater emotional intelligence.

My Turn:

In the chapter “The Pleasure Machine,” Siva Viadhyanathan talks about what makes social media—particularly Facebook—so popular. While describing an interaction with Facebook where he scrolls through his feed, he remarks “Nothing prompted me to think deeply. Everything made me feel something.”

Had I read this a week ago, it might not have stood out very much. However, in the book Everything Bad is Good for You (which I wrote a blog post about last week) Steven Johnson makes a comment about video games, saying “It’s not what you’re thinking about when you’re playing a game, it’s the way you’re thinking that matters.” If we measure something’s worth by the way it makes us think, as Johnson suggests, where would we rank social media if it doesn’t make us think deeply?

Before I go further, I should be honest. While writing this post, I think I’ve opened Instagram half a dozen times. I don’t hate social media, nor do I think that anyone who uses it is wasting their time. However, I think that reading Viadhyanathan in light of Johnson brings up a good point: Does the media we consume (whether that be video games or social media) help develop new ways—or strengthen existing ways—of thinking and problem-solving?

In order to know what things are worthwhile, we could create a graph—the x-axis would be the way it makes us think, and the y-axis would be the way it makes us feel. I don’t think, however, that this hypothetical graph would be of much use outside of theory—as Viadhyanathan says earlier in the chapter, “Studying ‘happiness’ is futile.” Not only would it be incredibly difficult to assign a numerical value to how something makes you feel, but we would also need a way to measure the difference between positive and negative feelings.

To sum it up, I think that we should be wary of media that simply promises us feelings without having to think deeply. We don’t need to work for them, we simply need to show up. I think that we should be especially aware when that media is served to us on a never-ending feed by an algorithm who doesn’t care whether we enjoy our digital meal or not, as long as we interact with it in some way—as long as we don’t leave.

Image by DALLE with the prompt: A man sits with his back to the camera, staring at a computer screen, scrolling through social media.



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Responses to “Social Media: No Think, Just Feel”

  1. Shaylyn Lawyer Avatar
    Shaylyn Lawyer

    I thought your comment that “we don’t need to work for them, we simply need to show up” was really interesting. It made me think about how social media compares to other forms of media in terms of how much effort is expended in thinking or feeling. Movies, for instance, also seem to provide us feelings just by showing up and watching. We simply need to see a character we like die and we feel sad. Unlike movies, however, social media doesn’t require a long attention span, as we can spend a few seconds on one post and then move onto another post about something completely different. We might find one post sad but then the next one might have us laughing, and like you mentioned, these are all fed by an algorithm that doesn’t care for the order in which we see the posts or how happy or sad we are made by them.

  2. Garrett Mast Avatar
    Garrett Mast

    I think this comparison of social media and video games is really interesting. Both are often noted as being a waste of time for the consumer, but obviously, specific situations and use cases result in differing takeaways from the media. However, I think the bite-size over-accessibility of social media and in most situations, lack of thinking about the content makes it very addicting. Of course, this isn’t to say that anyone isn’t receiving information of worth on social media, especially in current times as often news is primarily presented through social media rather than conventional media, although I think the lack of thinking that comes with the typical endless scroll is likely detrimental, while it could be argued the puzzle skills of a Candy Crush addiction provide some value to critical thinking.

  3. Elizabeth Thomas Avatar
    Elizabeth Thomas

    I liked your connection to Stephen Johnson is very interesting. I didn’t make that connection while reading, but it is an important one. How are we thinking while using social media? I don’t think I am because I will look up an a long time has passed without me realizing it. This doesn’t necessarily make social media bad, but maybe it can help us be more aware of how we are interacting or not interacting with it.

  4. Hayley Anderson Avatar
    Hayley Anderson

    I like the points you’ve brought up. The constant use of emotion in social media and news cycles can lead to a sort of “addiction to shock value or [x] feeling,” which then can lead to a rabbit hole of looking for more information that gives us that feeling. Some news article ends up as highly-skewed clickbait, because that specific emotion leads to more engagement. (Daily Mail, for example)