It is no mystery why modern social media platforms were designed to be addictive: the more we consult them, the more data they have to fuel them—which enables them to grow smarter and bigger and more powerful.
The massive, global interest in these platforms has created the attention economy, and people's focused mental engagement is the new gold in the age of information abundance. As economist, political scientist, and cognitive psychologist Herbert A. Simon said in Designing organizations for an information-rich world, "the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes." And information consumes our attention, a resource we only have so much of it.
According to GlobalWebIndex, we are now spending an average of 142 minutes on social media and messaging platforms daily, 63% more than the 90 minutes we spent on these platforms just seven years ago. This can be explained by the fact that these platforms have grown more intelligent over time by studying the minds and behaviors of users and applying those findings to boost their appeal.
Of relevance here is the psychological concept variable-ratio schedule, which gives rewards after an average number of responses but on an unpredictable schedule. One example is slot machines, which may provide a reward an average of every five games, but the players don't know the specific number of games (one, two, seven, or even 15) they must play before obtaining a reward. This schedule leads to a high response rate and strong engagement.
Knowing all of this, what can we do to make things better and loosen the grip social networks have on us and our data? I suggest the answer is migrating to open source social platforms, which I believe consider the humane aspect of technology more than private companies do. Here are three open source social platforms to consider.
Pixelfed is a photo-sharing platform that is ad-free and privacy-focused, which means no third party is making a profit from your data. Posts are in chronological order, which means there is no algorithm making distinctions between content.
Once you are set up, you can connect with other Pixelfed instances. This is known as federation, which means many instances of a software (in this case, Pixelfed) share data (in this case, pictures). When you federate with another instance of Pixelfed, you can see and interact with pictures posted to other accounts.
The project is ongoing and needs the community's support to grow. Check Pixelfed's GitHub page for more information about contributing.
Okuna is an open source, privacy-friendly social network. It is committed to being a positive influence on society and the environment, plus it donates 30% of its profits to worthy causes.
Mahara is an open source web application for building and sharing electronic portfolios. (The word mahara is Māori for memory or thoughtful consideration.) With Mahara, you can create a meaningful and verifiable professional profile, but all your data belongs to you rather than a corporate sponsor. It is customizable and can be integrated into other web services.
You can try Mahara on its demo site.
Engage for change
If you want to know more about the impact of the attention economy on our lives and engage for positive change, take a look at the Center for Humane Technology, an organization trying to temper the attention economy and make technology more humane. Its aim is to spur change that will protect human vulnerabilities from being exploited and therefore build a better society.
As Sonya Parker said, "whatever you focus your attention on will become important to you even if it's unimportant." So let's focus our attention on building a better world for all.