The fear of missing out (Fomo) is what many people around the world experienced on Monday, October 4 2021, when Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp were inaccessible for five hours.
I am only on WhatsApp. My Instagram account is essentially dormant, and I had the good sense, I think, to delete my Facebook account a couple of years ago. Still, I panicked when my WhatsApp was inaccessible.
First, I bought an Internet bundle even though I already had one; then I bought a bigger bundle—for good measure. No dice! Then I switched off my phone and turned it on again. I am embarrassed to say publicly how many times I did this, but it was not once.
Just as I was about to go for the nuclear option, reinstalling my WhatsApp, I decided to do what I tell others to do when they do not know something: Google it!! And that is when I discovered that there was nothing wrong with my Internet connectivity or my phone.
Facebook and its associated services were down; they had crashed for some reason, most likely a Domain Name System (DNS) issue. In short, users could not get to the right address online.
Facebook and its associated services are accessible again now and the world is back to normal. Or is it? Let’s take a minute to reflect on what really happened on that Monday.
Three Internet services that allow people to post things online for other people to see were inaccessible. Why should we think that is normal? I am old enough to remember when we had no social media.
Back then, we would never have thought letting the whole world know what we had for lunch or dinner was normal; yet we lost our collective minds a few days ago because we were briefly unable to do such things. Facebook shares lost six percent of their value in five hours.
Facebook and other social media thrive on keeping our attention. We think these services are free, but they are not. If you are not paying for a product, you are the product. Social media has essentially commodified us.
They have made us a product that they sell to advertisers. When you create a Facebook account or an Instagram account, you are essentially allowing yourself to become a commodity.
And here’s the thing, the longer the time you spend on social media, the more valuable you are as a commodity. So, one cost is all the time you spend on social media that you could be spending on something else, perhaps more productive.
And this is my biggest issue with social media. They capture our attention with frivolity, things that are not particularly important, and they do this by appealing to our egos, our own sense of the need to be a part of something—anything, really. Consider how many times you have mindlessly wondered about Facebook or how many statuses you view on WhatsApp.
I once asked a group of people why they posted WhatsApp statuses, which I do too by the way. One individual remarked: “To keep enemies updated.” I thought the response was funny but also quite truthful.
It captured the essence of why we post on social media. Yes, we want our friends to see what we are up to, but, perhaps even more importantly, we want our “enemies” to see what we are up to; hopefully, whatever we are up to is better than whatever it is they have going on in their lives.
Yet therein also lie the dangers of social media; what happens when we see that our “enemies” are doing better than us? The result is a diminished self-esteem. Like all things in life, social media must be used responsibly and sensibly.
We must realise that they are a channel through which our egos can be boosted but also taken down. If we are going to spend much time on social media, then we must try to spend it productively. There is much to learn on social media, particularly the likes of LinkedIn and Twitter, which offer more than the mindless discussion that thrives on Facebook.