Some networking platforms like Friendster, MySpace and Multiply reigned during the early 2000s. Then, a new phase introduced us to today’s ‘big three’ — Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Short-lived platform Vine (which is all about short-form content) is now seemingly reborn through the quick-growing app TikTok. And of course, we can’t miss out on mentioning another emerging favourite, Clubhouse, which is highly favoured because of its promise of exclusivity.
With many of these platforms coming and going, we can’t help but wonder about the future of social media and our relationship with it. After all, we spend most of our time daily on these platforms. We record our thoughts, actions, and even aspirations through them. When the pandemic happened, our ‘need’ for such platforms were further strengthened.
But with these platforms evolving almost every day — even to the extent of copying each other’s features and purposes to ensure we stick to ‘just one’ — we can’t help but wonder: Are we in for a better or a worse digital experience?
Beating the competition through ‘innovation’
Over the last couple of months alone, we’ve heard so many updates about Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. There’s FB planning to launch podcasts soon, then Twitter introducing Fleets (similar to IG stories or FB’s My Day) and Spaces (which is an obvious answer to Clubhouse), and Instagram apparently planning automated captions to be available in Stories. Of course, it comes as no surprise that these three would want to continue their dominance as the biggest social networking platforms (excluding exclusive messaging apps like Whatsapp or Telegram). After all, a higher user count equals advertisers, which means more money for the business.
Designed ‘for you’
Looking at it from the perspective of a user, we keep falling for these ‘new features’ (despite not exactly agreeing we need them in the first place) because they are specifically designed to keep us using them for hours on end. It gives us an illusion of convenience, a handful of apps to satisfy our social media fix instead of 37494505 different ones for different uses or purposes. Is that a good thing? Maybe.
But as always, there’s more we have to consider. For one, social media addiction isn’t just a casual term to be thrown around; it’s a real behavioural disorder. According to studies, brain activity related to social media addiction is no different than obsessive behaviour over gambling or drugs. So being wary of our own relationship with it is very much needed.
“I have a specific purpose for each platform: FB is for personal/family, IG is for sharing day-to-day happenings, Twitter is for wordy sharing,” said Features Writer Alyana. However, the changes done to each of these social networking sites to mimic one another, “take away the ‘uniqueness’ of each platform,” in her opinion. “I don't want to see the same IG Story on a Facebook My Day. While I know you can opt to not share, it makes my screen cluttered with all the content people are producing and it gets overwhelming,” she added.
Senior Features Writer Therese, on the other hand, said that while she prefers sharing different content across platforms, it’s “not really the features” that draw her in when choosing a platform to use. She considers the “quality of interactions and experience” she gets from the app or social media platform itself.
As for me, I hate maintaining many social media accounts (this applies to gadgets as well as other things) so new apps or platforms actually make me anxious. I remember when Snapchat happened and I just couldn’t see the appeal of it so I didn’t jump on the bandwagon. The feeling of relief I felt when IG Stories happened in response to that is still vivid up to this day.
That said, however, I still feel the need to post different content depending on the platform. I don’t own a lot of accounts, but the sense of compartmentalising information excites me. I also think that as much as cross-posting is convenient, each platform has a different user and audience experience. Each app has developed its own unspoken decorum or culture.
Even Fashion Features Writer Sheryl, who dubs herself a “serial app minimalist” (“I think I have less than a dozen apps on my phone”) shared similar sentiments. She said that like everyone, she still prefers to “keep different types of content sharing.”
Aside from diversifying her content, she added another concern: the unknown complications of one company monopolising the social media landscape. After all, who can forget Facebook’s constant data breaches? Do we really need or want more of that? Of course not.
Despite this, we can’t deny that a platform will continue to gobble up its competitors whole even though users clamour for diversity. If the other platforms are lucky, they’ll remain at the supporting ranks.
If not, they will cease to exist despite their seeming success. The weird part? We’ll never know how the cycle will work even though we, the users, are the ones supposedly running the show.
Looking at our recent history, it’s safe to assume that the ball is in anyone’s court. Facebook, despite having many challengers, remains the most used social network globally. Instagram also had an interesting contender in the past, but it was a battle it won easily. These make it seem like these platforms are impenetrable. However, just a year ago or so, TikTok, dubbed Vine or Musical.ly 2.0, was expected to die down as quickly as it was hyped. Now, it’s a sought-after platform for users and advertisers.
So to quickly answer our main inquiry, yes, social media is evolving. It’s evolving so fast that it makes it hard for us to keep up. Its changes keep blindsiding us and yet we still subscribe to it because it’s now a part of our daily lives. A new update is not always welcome but is somehow expected. And it is constantly designed to keep us glued to our screens 24/7 — either by choice or by necessity.
But is it for the better or worse? As long as we strive to remain in control, then we’ll be on the right track.
Photo from: John Schnobrich via Unsplash
Alyana believes that if we use social media usage in moderation — just like any aspect in life — then there’s nothing wrong with these platforms evolving to suit more of our needs.
“Everyone wants to know what's going on in other people's lives. Humans are naturally curious beings. That said, I do believe that everything needs to have boundaries” she said.
She makes it clear that social media is merely a tool to share content (both for work and personal reasons) and “a springboard for things that excite or interest” her, rather than her source and reference for everything in her life. Through this, she ensures that she uses social media rather than social media using her.
Same goes for Sheryl who said that since creating content and sharing it on social media is part of her job, it’s inevitable to be on it. But despite these platforms seemingly making our worlds go round, we have to constantly remember that we have agency over it.
“I believe as consumers we mustn’t be afraid to exercise our power and use our voice to keep these platforms in check if we have to,” said Sheryl. “But at the same time, we must also set our own boundaries and consume them in a way that’s healthy for us, especially for our mental health.”
For Therese, “muting notifications” and only checking her phone when she’s bored or want to kill time helps her be in control of her social media usage. She also sets a timer whenever she’s on her “time sucker” app Reddit, to make sure she’s not overspending time on the platform. Once the timer goes off, she “closes the app, no questions asked.”
She also ensures the quality of her social media engagements by following only accounts from close friends and those that “add to [her] life like the New York Times, Washington Post, Apartment Therapy, etc.”
“I avoid those that will trigger shopping flexes or envy in me,” she added.
As for me? While it seems like these apps are controlling our digital activities with their innovations and promise of convenience, I believe our convictions have to remain king. Our demands for better data privacy, better information dissemination and filtering of fake news and better user experience should always be made known.
After all, if we’re being consciously brainwashed into using these apps constantly, then we might as well make them work to our advantage. As much as we love fancy upgrades every now and then, if these apps won’t give us ones that truly matter, then we have to take action and be ready to jump ship when needed.