Social Media's Poison Pill
There was a recent interview on The Verge where the president of Spotify announced a TikTok-like UIUser Interface is coming to their app.
It reminded me of Meta's similar decision last year (after investor pressure) to shift its product feature set (on both Facebook and Instagram) to mirror that of its new rival, one driven purely by algorithmic distraction.
At the same time TikTok blew past the billion user mark (faster than any social platform before it had) there were reports that Meta's user growth had stalled, and its value plummeted $200 billion in a single day. Perhaps unironically, the subtitle of that same article said, "Shares of streaming giant Spotify also fall after disappointing subscriber outlook."
Not that they have a choiceOnce they've gone public or taken investor money, but when a tech company starts to pursue growth at any cost and moves away from its original value proposition, might that mark the beginning of the end for that platform?
Cal Newport has cleverly called TikTok the poison pill for social-media giants. Basically claiming that the shift towards algorithmic feedsHave you ever actually thought about where the term "feed" comes from? I'll give you a hint: farm animals. is the death knell of these digital dictators.
There is almost a blind faith that machines—call it artificial intelligence, or machine learning—are the antidote"We live in a dream world created by the machines. Where we are all connected. And we are all free. Even in love. But the machines brought with them another idea. That we are all components in systems. Nodes in a global network. We dreamed the systems could stabilize themselves. Through feedback. And create a perfect balance. In nature's ecosystems. And human society. And in capitalism. Without the politics and the old hierarchies of power. But power hasn't gone away. It never does." - Adam Curtis, All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace to this stagnant growth. But in reality, the actual utility of these platforms is going to wither as they take part in a race to the bottom of the brain stem.
In Meta's case, chasing TikTok meant its platforms started to move away from leveraging its social graph to allow people to communicate with each other, and towards one of publicly quantifiable influence and admiration.
In Spotify's case, chasing TikTok might mean that it'll move away from its seamless UI and ease of access towards, something that requires active attention from the user.My buddy Jacob put it well when he said, "I like Spotify most when I'm not looking at it". RIP passive music consumption?
Will these giants' falls from glory leave room for niche networks to emerge that enable more authentic and intimate online engagements?
I hope to see a rise in vertically-focusedi.e. Depth not breadth platforms that would allow users to own their direct relationships with their audience (be it newsletters, courses, or communities).
Will we be able to pull ourselves out of this cultural free fall, or will these companies get increasingly better at pacifying and distracting us?
Will people finally get fed up with shallow entertainment and seek enriching and fulfilling online interactions?
Well let me introduce you to Neil Postman's analysisAmusing Ourselves to Death of Aldous Huxley's eerily prescient prediction of the future in his seminal 1930’s novel, Brave New World:
In Huxley's vision...people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.
Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism [...] that we would become a trivial culture [because we] failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.
What do you think? Will niche, decentralized social networks finally have their time to shine? Or will we all end up bowing down to the almighty algorithm?