Imagine if social media were able to make a difference in people’s lives?
That’s a question I’ve been asking this past year, studying the market and analyzing trends with Facebook, Twitter, and everything in between.
For the most part, social media hasn’t changed significantly in years, not counting the radical design update Facebook went through. We still post kitten videos just as often, and the basic features of liking and sharing posts hasn’t changed. Twitter has become so inert that its CEO left recently.
Sadly, there’s a reason nothing has changed, but that doesn’t have to be the case.
According to one expert, the entire idea of apps like Instagram and Facebook should be predictable. The same thing.. Jonah Lehrer, author of “The Amazingly Insightful Book”, has just released an amazing book called Mystery: A Seduction, A Strategy, A Solution. It’s all about what attracts us and why. One of my favourite examples is Agatha Christie’s fake death. It’s one of the best ways to grab attention!
Social media reverses mystery and regurgitating monotony. Lehrer observed that we like things that are routine and familiar because it takes effort to learn something new. “We want a newsfeed that tells us everything we believe is right,” he told me, summarizing the last 18 months of misinformation campaigns, unreliable source data, and outright lies in one simple sentence.
The problem, he says, is that we eventually fall into a rut of predictable routines and don’t even realize we prefer not to live that way.
This book is about the mystery and wonder of the unknowable. It explains why magic tricks, extraordinary rule changes in sports and amazing new books for young adults have attracted millions. His argument is that mystery adds depth and interest to life, which can help you thrive.
In our conversation, we talked about “good obsessions” that lead to startling discoveries. It changes your life when you try something new. I’ve noticed how the ruts of daily life are easy and at times they seem so compelling, but when you learn something new (say, cross-country skiing), the rewards are much greater. It’s a feeling of wonder and purpose that drives us forward.
That doesn’t sound like the social media we all know, unfortunately.
“I don’t think Facebook is in the business of building a news feed that captures the wonder of life,” says Lehrer. He suggests there may be a better approach.
The social media giants could bring mystery and wonder into our lives, educate the masses and help us all become better people. Facebook’s donation feature allows us to give money to worthy causes. This is a tiny glimpse of it. It’s not enough, though. Our feeds are still dominated by sketchy links and long explanations of complex topics by people who don’t know how to screw in a light bulb, let alone thwart a global crisis.
We must choose between obsessiveness. There is one, curation, which is collecting information that intrigues us, and the other, it’s the curation and sharing of our curiosity. It’s good to be obsessed with those. The mystery and discovery of new information could be the main purpose behind social media. One the other hand, there are negative obsessions, the ones that are familiar and don’t do anything to educate us or challenge us. Instagram’s whole purpose is not to exert any effort other than moving your thumb. These apps are addictive because they’re so easy to use.
There’s such a great opportunity for social media to become more valuable, even to the point where we rely on it and would even pay for the privilege. There’s a reason why Facebook doesn’t charge us a dime. It’s all free because it’s nearly pointless.
I hope that one day, someone will realize that these platforms are a powerful catalyst for growth and change. Perhaps it all starts with the next post we make on our Instagram feeds.