Creativity, Instagram, and The Social Dilemma

I didn’t know much about the Netflix film The Social Dilemma before watching it, except I’d heard it would probably make me swear off social media forever.

That wouldn’t be hard for me, at this point. There’s this episode of Vanity Fair’s Inside the Hive podcast, entitled “How Evil is Silicon Valley?” that made me uninstall the Facebook app right after listening, and has haunted me ever since. The impact of social media on our lives is not a new topic for me.

Just a few minutes into the film, and I learned that The Social Dilemma reworks and extends many of the ideas from that podcast, even featuring the same guest, Tristan Harris. I was hooked.

The evils of social media

In a nutshell, the film is about the evils of social media platforms and how they prey on our psychology to earn big bucks. This post is not a film review, but I’d recommend watching it. I’m not sure that my preconceived notion of being sworn off social media forever was realised, but the film definitely prompted me to look more closely at the way I use the platforms.

Really, I don’t spend a lot of time on social media. For quite a long time, I’ve found it boring to mindlessly scroll through a newsfeed, and share inane updates to an audience that largely doesn’t care. Instead, I try to spend time reading books, watching TV shows or movies, and writing.

I’ve slipped a bit since the start of the pandemic, where it seems that the news is overwhelming, and doomscrolling invades everyday life, but overall I’ve done a pretty good job at staying off.

Is Instagram worth it?

The one platform I’ve chosen to engage with more closely is Instagram. Visually creative people have been drawn to Instagram from its inception, as it allows for a purely visual storytelling experience (quippy captions are optional, but appreciated). I love following artists on the platform and seeing not only their creative work, but also the process that goes into making it.

I have two accounts – a personal one, hidden from public view unless you’re my bona fide, IRL friend. And Parentoons, where I post cartoons of funny things my kids say and do. Parentoons is public, but I don’t have many followers and don’t post very often.

But since watching The Social Dilemma, I’ve been wondering why I post there at all. Sure, it’s a way of sharing my work, but there aren’t actually that many people following, and I don’t have the time to post more and work on building that following. So why am I there?

The artist community on Instagram is strong, and there’s a beautiful intimacy and immediacy made possible by the platform. It’s a place where artists can share a behind-the-scenes look of their art making. Instantly share daily sketches that might have otherwise been relegated to a private journal.

I love that glimpse behind the scenes, into what inspires creative people. But the downsides of social media make me think twice about this benefit.

Blogging as the antidote

Something that I kept thinking about during the film was the differences between social media and blogging. This blog is my own turf, unimpeded by algorithms or advertising to the pressures of engagement metrics. It’s mine to own and do whatever I like with, and what it’s lacking in built-in audiences and recommendations, it makes up for with the promise of freedom from all of that.

It’s clear that there are no easy solutions here. Social media is not irredeemably evil, but it is undeniably problematic. And until we can solve those problems, I’ll continue to deeply interrogate the way I use it.

And in the meantime, I’ve decided to move Parentoons off Instagram, and into this very blog.

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