The subtitle of Chris Martin’s Terms of Service is “The Real Cost of Social Media.” A lot of people know there’s something dark about social media—that it’s doing something to us. Yet, how many of us have really taken the time to determine what social media and that seemingly harmless habit is truly costing us in productivity, relationships, and personal mental health? In Terms of Service, Martin helps us figure out the true cost.
Part of the Culture
The social internet, as Martin calls it, is with us to stay for the foreseeable future. It has ingrained itself as part of human culture. Martin says that even if we delete all of our social media accounts, we’d still hear about social media and what’s happening on it. He’s right.
I was recently in a week long training for my job, and met several people who have never had social media accounts. However, that fact itself brought up social media and its place in our culture. Conversation often turned to “I saw this thing on Facebook that said…” There’s no escaping it, but we can better understand it. Like harmful emotions, if we can label what it’s doing to us, perhaps we can limit the damage.
In the Beginning
Before diving into what social media is doing to us, Martin gives a brief history of the social internet and social media, which I found fascinating. Martin writes, “Man made social media to serve man, but man has come to serve social media.” How did that happen? Terms of Service concisely shows how social media evolved into a billion dollar machine.
The social internet is designed with addiction in mind. The systems are designed to enslave our eyes. We’ve been set up. We’re being played.
Martin guides us through his personal experiences and the research today to clearly show how we are being experimented on in order to make billions for social media companies and advertisers. The most interesting part of it is he gives us the designers and programmers admitting to this in their own words.
For example, Sean Parker the first president of Facebook stated in an interview with Axios stated:
It’s a social validation feedback loop…exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology. The inventors, creators—it’s me, it’s Mark Zuckerberg, it’s Kevin System on Instagram, it’a all of these people—understood this consciously. And we did it anyway.
You may say, “I never gave anyone permission to experiment on me. They can’t do that!” Ah, well that’s where the Terms of Service come in. You know, those pesky things no one reads when they download an app or sign up for a service? We’ve all agreed to it.
Hit Me One More Time
Martin digs into the effects of social media use, not just on an individual basis but on society as a whole. He looks at everything. How does social media affect teenagers by making them feel like they have to be constantly performing for their phones? What about political polarization? How does it affect the spread of information and disinformation?
Terms of Service
Thankfully, Martin gives some suggestions on how we can protect ourselves and manage the social internet, rather than have it manage us. I was honestly surprised at his suggestions. They aren’t the usual “delete your accounts” or “lock your phone away.”
My only criticism with the book is that there were some repetitive phrases and ideas starting in the middle and going to the end. I did read an advanced copy, so that may have been cleaned up in final editing. Overall, I found Terms of Service eye-opening and helpful. I plan to have my teenagers read it. You can get a copy here.