Computer scientist Jaron Lanier thinks he can convince you to delete your social media accounts - and he has new book called Ten Arguments for Deleting your Social Media Accounts Right Now to persuade you. He joined Sean O’Rourke on the line on RTÉ Radio 1 from London to state his case.
Sean remarked that there’s "scarcely a page in this book that doesn’t have a provocative thought in it". One such provocative thought? We’re being "remotely controlled" by clients of big corporations, seeking to alter our behaviour in terms of information we consume online and products we buy.
Jaron told Sean how he believes we are being drawn in.
"What happens when you use services like Facebook and, indeed, a lot of the Google services and some others, is that there’s a huge computer hidden away in a secret location that is taking your data, it is observing everything you do.
" And these days, that might include your facial expressions. Certainly, your emotions. Certainly, who you know, what you buy."
He explained that the computer monitors how you react after receiving some sort of stimulus, like a suggested article. Are you more open to buying something after reading it?
"Very slight changes can yield big results, as we see with something like compound interest. And it creates a society based on manipulation instead of honest discourse."
"You have a society where - any time two people share on social media, the way that that’s financed is by somebody else who believes that they’ll be able to manipulate those two people."
As well as, as he puts it, destroying our capacity for empathy and making us unhappy, a key concern for Jaron is the undermining of truth.
"Social media has brought with it a new sense of what constitutes truth, which is what we call virality. So, if something is retweeted or reposted a great deal so that it becomes highly popular and propels itself, then that idea takes on a kind of a force, which is entirely independent of whether the idea is true or valid or useful or kind."
Sean asked how realistic it is to ask people to delete their social media. Because it doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. Jaron acknowledged this.
"What I would like to see in the future is not a retreat from social media overall but I would like to see the good part of social media, which is the connections and the fun that we have on it. And there is a lot of good on it, there’s no denying that."
Jaron thinks that a well-intentioned desire to keep the internet "free" combined with a kind of "worship" of some of the earlier pioneers in technology like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates has led to a "weird combination of free with capitalism", one which he is eager to move on from.
"To get both things at once we ended up with this advertising model where everything‘s free except the money is made by manipulating people…We either have to really make it free so the internet is like a public library, a public service. Or we have to really make it into a business where you pay for it."
While some might balk at the idea of paying for something that was previously free, Jaron believes that it could be a way to both improve the quality of the content we see and ensure fair payment for those creating it.
"When people started paying for TV, TV got better…another benefit of going in the paid direction is if you have a very popular post or you have a very popular video, you’d be guaranteed to be paid for it. And much better than you are now."
Listen back to the interview on Today with Sean O’Rourke above.