19 May 2019
Social media works much like any other impulse addiction, such as nicotine and alcohol. We get a "like" or a message, it makes us feel good, and we want more. Photo: Bloomberg
Social media works much like any other impulse addiction, such as nicotine and alcohol. We get a "like" or a message, it makes us feel good, and we want more. Photo: Bloomberg

Striving for simplicity in the age of social media

Simple lines, pure black blocks, and rounded shapes: how could these forms bring a sense of peace in the world of chaos? It’s been a question on my mind since I visited Peter Yuill’s exhibition, The Absurdity of Meaning, in Central recently.

Featuring bold shapes and circles, and eschewing color, Yuill’s latest works offer a sense of calm, allowing the viewer to get lost in their own thoughts, rather than process a series of cultural and political statements.

The absence of provocation is what is striking here; the viewer is allowed space to explore, awakening their primal senses and instincts, rather than being manipulated and prompted. It is in stark contrast to the norm in this age of distraction.

Whether it is from social media or messenger apps, the ubiquity of information and notification in our lives is robbing us of more than just our privacy and data.

Forget for a minute about the selling of data by big tech (often for nefarious uses), and consider how tech companies are taking away not only your information and selling it, but stealing your ability to choose how you live as well.

It’s well documented that social media works much like other impulse addiction, such as nicotine, alcohol, drugs, gambling; we get a “like” or a message, it makes us feel good; we want more. In the absence of this validation, we suffer from withdrawal, and thus the cycle continues again.

Yuill’s exhibition is aptly titled: social media has forced us to place superficial meaning into every facet of our lives. From watching preachy self-help videos on Facebook to exercising our ambitions on LinkedIn, or showing off our muscles (not mine, LOL) on Instagram, social media encourages a sense of purpose that is not long-term, but fleeting and unsatisfactory. It ultimately allows tech firms to sell your data by appealing to base human behavior, categorizing and commercializing it in the process.

Wouldn’t it be nice to shut off sometimes? Experience emptiness. Not be connected. Forget purpose and meaning. Be random and spontaneous. Put aside ambitions for a while. Connect to the universe; understand that one day nothing will exist and so wouldn’t it be better to feel and live for now?

I’m not suggesting that you delete your apps, buy a classic brick phone and live off the land. I’m on it all the time. But we should be armed with the power of not responding to the demands imposed upon us by social media – projecting happiness (or the dreaded “positivity”), looking hot, appearing successful, being lusted after, experiencing validation.

Then we can ask what social media can be used for to really benefit us?

Want to delete Facebook but find it useful? Audit your account, download the creepy surveillance file on you and minimize so it can be used with a minor amount of intrusion.

Sick of being constantly stressed by notifications? Turn them off; set expectations with friends and colleagues, and leave your phone in another room when you need to work. And no, don’t live-tweet your dinner; we don’t care.

Tech companies are busy getting rich off our private information, mocking democratic institutions and creating dystopian dictatorships in the process; we should be able to take advantage of their utility as well, without changing our lives in the name of convenience.

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