2020-03-03

Social Media vs Communications Technology

Media is largely about shaping perception of legitimacy. It’s the media that has the power to define and redefine the social order. “Social media” denotes a new, more social, mode of how we shape public narratives. But as it develops, it will be no less editorial, and centralized.

An alternate framing for what we call “social media” could be “communication technology”. Email isn’t social media. Email is communication technology. It doesn’t have a centralized or even decentralized power to shape public narratives. It’s not about that.

As social media becomes incorporated into the power structure, its potential as a communication technology will stagnate. Future communication technology projects should actively avoid becoming social media.

Twitter is best as a way to develop ideas, have conversations, publish and subscribe to micro-newsletter feeds. What does it look like as a more pure communication technology, and less as social media? More private, more deterministic, less moderated, more decentralized.

Communication technology is about empowering you and your friends to organize and share information. Social media is about empowering the center, who wield the algorithm and police what can be said in public.

I think one key thing is that future communications technology is going to be a lot more private, and a lot more decentralized. Not so much to evade generalized authority, but to devolve those specific forms of power that get everyone marching in ideological lockstep.

As a society, we are over-invested in ideological control systems right now, relative to our ability to use them well, and relative to alternatives. We need to devolve that form of power to some extent, and build other forms of power.

Communication technology projects need to be thinking about what kinds of power their projects create and preclude. If they only preclude power, they will not succeed, because they will be conflicting with the current holders of that power, without a beneficiary patron to back them up. They must not become reflexive “dissident tech”.

Communication technology networks should be governable in right ways: by law enforcement, due process, organizational management. They should also actively aid the right kinds of power and authority: the best customers are big legitimate organizations and the deep state, for internal use.

We should kill social media as an idea and phenomenon. Build high-powered communications technology for legitimate power and the general acceleration of society’s capabilities. Be governable in the right ways (management, law, vision), and not in the wrong ways (ideological control).