Type B: First ChatGPT, Then Me
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.
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.