Sheep's Clothes

By Mark Nuyens
7 min. read📱 Technology

Threads, Meta's excellent Twitter rip-off, has shamelessly been creeping up on us. Are we really going to allow this company to run our lives, after all that happened? Maybe we should draw a line.

You've probably heard about Meta launching Threads, their latest social media platform. What's different this time is how its content is distributed. Instead of keeping all data centralized, Threads will essentially be accessible from other services. So, this is a good thing, and we should all be happy now, right? Well, personally, I am not convinced. I can't help but ask myself, “Meta, again?” With AI dominating the news and X having a tough time, Meta's app is creeping up on us, as usual. Are we really going to allow them?

Not so long ago, there were lots of complaints about Meta and its practices, especially when it comes to children. When I heard about their attempt to launch a new Twitter/X, I reasoned it was an obvious thing to pursue, but nothing more than that. However, so far, I haven't heard that much negative feedback about Threads. In fact, I've heard mostly positive things, to be honest. Elon Musk's network, X, has not been having such a great ride, after Elon posted an antisemitic response. Now X is on fire, with no one to put it out but him.

Just because Threads is federated, as opposed to Instagram or Facebook, does that qualify as being a more conscious decision? More specifically, will this make a practical difference? For those who don't know: you can move between federated networks without losing your data. This means you can leave Threads and continue on a different service. No harm done. But, will we really use this ability in real life? My instinct tells me Meta knows very well how people are unlikely to change once they've settled in. Because why would you, right?

By now you might ask "What's your problem? You've got what you wanted: people can now switch between social media networks more easily." That's completely true, and I applaud Meta for making the change. It actually does mean a lot to me and probably many others. The thing I'm getting at is why we've all immediately embraced Meta as our Twitter surrogate, while there probably are countless companies eager to seize the opportunity. Companies just as capable as Meta, that don't try to collect your data at any cost or abusing its algorithm.

What's even more concerning, it seems like Meta doesn't even feel remotely threatened by competition, regulators, or society. Mark Zuckerberg is certainly optimistic, I'll give him that. After pouring billions in the supposed Metaverse, his company seems to be pushing through relentlessly, without stepping on the brake. One reason for this could be that once a (tech) company grows big enough, the chances of failure become significantly smaller. The reward becomes so big, so fast, that there is no point in holding back the pedal.

Another reason for Meta's carelessness could be explained how Meta's target demographics - teenagers - are constantly being refreshed every few years or so. When older teenagers do leave the platform, they have already been replaced by a new wave of young teenagers eager to be part of the social scene, seek recognition, and form friendships. This creates a never-ending cycle of growth for Meta. We could question the ethical aspects of targeting young children in the first place, but I'm afraid that train has already left the station.

With Zuckerberg praying how his Metaverse will be big, and Apple doing the same for its headset, it's some indication how we will likely shift towards virtual worlds in the near future, with teenagers being the first. This area so new, nobody knows what effects it will have on our mental health. I'm also very curious to what degree those effects have been investigated before launch. Even former designer of Apple Jony Ive once said in an interview how Apple should have looked into the various addictive factors of its iPhone before launching it.

So why do we love these apps so much? Well, it appears Meta has discovered how humans are very dependent on social recognition and a feeling of belongingness. In fact, these two social needs are deeply ingrained in human nature; so much so that Abraham Maslow, a renowned clinical psychologist, positioned them immediately following safety and security on his list of fundamental human needs. Companies tap into these needs all the time, and we're not even aware of it. Not to mention how just watching a video can make you feel less lonely.

So what's the solution? Have we passed a point of no return? Personally, I don't think so. As Meta ironically has proven, with each generation, we get a fresh start to set the societal and cultural stage for demonstrating how we can be happy as individuals without the use of tech. At this point, I don't think excessive social media and smartphone usage is making us happier. Perhaps we should show kids how it's done. Maybe this is highly unrealistic, but it's the only way to break the cycle, without sounding too dramatic.

Furthermore, I believe we should teach younger generations the values of spending time in the physical world and the benefits for your mental health when you're not using a smartphone or headset. I also think we shouldn't hand our kids smartphones or tablets, not even ours. They're made for grown-ups, and we don't even know how to handle them. And again, maybe this turns out to be overly idealistic, but I'm willing to bet there are plenty of people out there who feel the same way and all we need to do is start communicating.

I know this article started with Meta, so it will end with Meta. My point is that although these silly apps seem innocent from the outside, they are in fact very capable and will do whatever they can to convert as much of your time and attention into ad revenue. In addition, we should look in the mirror from time to time and evaluate if this "thing" makes us happy and take action if it isn't. We could limit our usage or consider alternative solutions that are just as helpful. At the end of the day, technology should be helpful.