When Jaron Lanier’s book Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now popped up on my Amazon feed, I had to have it. I’ve written extensively about the dangers and problems of social media, and I no longer look at Twitter or Facebook for a host of reasons. I have my site post to them, but I don’t look at the feed. In short, I had already formed my own arguments for deleting my social media accounts, so I figured it would be interesting to read what a Silicon Valley insider thought. And it always helps to backfill one’s already-assumed point of view with arguments in favor of it. Most of us do that anyway.
As it was, Lanier’s book was, for the most part, a disappointment.
The writing style is folksy and conversational, which works fine for the subject matter. And I hadn’t considered some of the arguments Lanier put forth. However, there’s a strong political slant to the book that not only undercuts Lanier’s own arguments, but calls into question his analytical faculties in a way that makes the content questionable.
Lanier is obviously a progressive out of the Silicon Valley mold, which doesn’t disqualify him from writing any sort of book, but he refuses to accept responsibility for the progressive political slant of the social media companies he rails against. He claims, despite all evidence to the contrary, “Social media is biased, not to the Left or the Right, but downward.” The political right has always been the recipient of the vast majority of account deletions, shadowbanning, and social media deplatforming. The people who run these social media companies not only foster far-left political environments in their respective workplaces, they enforce their bizarre version of ethics on their users through Terms of Service that change wherever the political winds blow. When tweeting “Learn to code” to a left-wing journalist is a bannable offense, but calling a conservative person a Nazi is not, that’s a political issue. That’s bias.
The problem with the book is that Lanier can’t afford to admit that the left is culpable for turning social media into a disgusting sewer, because it would require him to turn the force of his analysis on himself, his cohorts, and the culture he helped shape, and who wants to dive into all that ugliness without a hazmat suit? The right shares some of the blame for the hostile social media culture we’ve developed, but when all the bannings and deplatformings go one way and not the other, it’s obvious that the people in charge enforce the rules selectively, to the detriment of social media in general.
When Lanier calls Congressperson Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who famously claimed that the world would end in twelve years, an “optimistic young politician,” it’s a questionable claim, no matter how you feel about AOC’s politics. When he spends paragraphs boosting Black Lives Matter and attacking Trump for tweeting, it suggests that he has an axe to grind that goes way past the advice of deleting one’s social media accounts. What’s good for Lanier isn’t, perhaps, what’s good for you, particularly if you don’t share his fringe worldview.
In addition, the redundancy of some of the arguments he makes suggests that the number ten was selected for its aesthetic qualities, not because he had ten solid reasons. There’s quite a bit of argument overlap.
Reading Ten Arguments was very much like trying to eat lunch in a nice restaurant, but the waiter is overly attentive and suffers from horrible body odor. If Lanier’s progressive politics, born of unthinking Silicon Valley progressivism, don’t bother you, then you’ll appreciate the book more than I did.
Ultimately, all you need is one argument for deleting your social media accounts, and you probably know what it is already. Do you need a book to tell you what’s good for you?