If Nils Frahm Can Do It, So Can I
I woke up this morning to a newsletter from one of my favorite music labels, Erased Tapes. Still rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I read the headline: Nils Frahm… withdraws himself from social media. I lay back in my bed and smiled.
I discovered Nils’ music in 2010 just after I moved to Berlin (for 2 years). In winter I would walk through the cobblestone streets, thick with sleet, listening to his album Felt. I was immediately transported. Each piece sounded fresh, heart wrenching and life affirming — an avant-garde brew of modern-classical and electronica that spoke directly to my dislocated spirit. Nils’ music quickly became the soundtrack to my new home.
So when Nils announced he was withdrawing from social media this week, I took his message seriously.
This page is soon not going to be active anymore. After giving it serious thought, I have concluded that Facebook will be the first of many social media accounts I am going to close. Facebook et. al. have become unwanted companions in my life, despite the opportunity they are giving me to promote my music. Followers on Facebook work as a new kind of currency today, but I find the political and moral costs that come with it too steep to stay in the game. This game starts with seeing you and me as currency, and goes on with trading something so intimate as music and human emotions in a digital market that benefits only the few.”
Nils describes social media as a game, a monopolizing and commodifying machine, where human beings have become the currency. And while we might not realize it, we have. Each time you like a post, you automatically reward that individual (or company) with more bargaining power, and by doing so you inspire others to do the same.
Let’s go with an extreme example — the Kardashian-Jenners for instance. These glamour celebrities have such a powerful influence on Instagram that brands will pay six-figure sums to be featured in a single post. Certain companies have been known to pay up to $500,000 to access Kim Kardashian’s 9.4 million Instagram followers, while sisters Khloé and Kourtney can earn up to $250,000 a post. It’s more than obscene, it’s an expropriation of people’s data. By the same token, when you ignore the little people —those hard working, well-deserving creatives, who have sacrificed everything for their craft — you minimize their value.
A force out of our control
In the past when I have considered leaving social media behind I have often been met with skepticism: “But Social Media is a way to promote your work and connect with people. Do you want your work to go unnoticed?” The subtext is that social media is my only option and without it I’m doomed to obscurity. It seems like a justified argument on the surface, but this dependency can quickly turn sour when things don’t go to plan.
A week ago I noticed several posts from a young writer on Twitter. She was doing her best to promote her debut novel – a work of fiction she felt proud to share with the world. Her promotional tactics seemed solid, her cover artwork was eye-catching, her chosen typeface was strong — yet she received 2 – 3 likes per post. In that moment I considered how painful that must’ve been for her, to work so hard at something only for that art to be completely overlooked. It happens to the best of us (see Lindsay Saienni’s story on Instagram poets).
“The picture repeatedly drawn to me is one where I cannot afford to leave Facebook because of the access to fans it represents. It feels like I’m being held hostage by a force out of my control.”
I’ve witnessed posts from countless creatives, environmentalists, mental health survivors, animal and human rights activists, and individuals who’ve made an attempt to share something important (even of global consequence) on social media – only to be ignored or summarily disregarded. While at the same time, an individual (who has probably purchased thousands of followers) can tweet about superhero genders and receive almost fifty thousands likes.
Social media becomes a force out of our control, as Nils describes, when we fail to take responsibility for the way we use it, or allow it to influence our decision making. When we mistake compulsion for freedom, and allow our autonomy to be hijacked (liking without thinking) we support a system that holds our self-worth at ransom — a system that is confident that each one of us will play the absurd game of instant gratification, where the winners are rewarded in likes and where online validation is seen as a measure of a person’s true worth.
And while it may just be a game. It is a game that rewards the popular, the sycophantic and the insincere. A game that takes our vulnerable, most human qualities and talents and stirs them into a melting pot where we are gobbled up amidst a feeding frenzy of likes and followers, desperately scrambling to be noticed.
When we rely on social media as our main method of communication and promotion (especially in the arts), replace our community with it, or use it as a way to seek out meaningful connections, in an attempt to be seen, heard, felt— then we are handing over the keys to the jailer. When we become a currency for companies like Facebook, we are not only handing over our data— we are limiting our experiences. Most importantly, we deny ourselves of our own self-affirming power and the capacity to mobilize ourselves into action.
“I am no longer willing to give in to such perverse arguments — rather, I want to imagine and construct a world where people like you and I find a different way of interacting with each other, without laptops on our knees or smartphones in our hands. I want to thank you for your loyalty through my music, my concerts, and the many encounters with you all over the world…not via platforms that monopolize our communication and commodify our ways of being in the world.”
Nils’ argument is that there are alternatives to how we can communicate and promote our work, and the reliance on a social media company to connect you with an artist, or relying on its power to promote your work is exactly where the problem lies — this reliance feeds the entire machine and distorts our perceptions. As Nils reminds us: “Facebook never made anything.”
Ever wondered why/how Facebook started personalizing your user experience and why you were suddenly seeing greeting card memories of old friends? It’s Facebook’s way of seeming more warm and fuzzy… trustworthy. It’s just one campaign labeled as “emotional Ad targeting” — which has been raising concerns about the manipulation of younger users, their news feeds, and how their data is being appropriated.
For most of us this is not news. Facebook is a company designed to make copious amounts of money by exploiting its users data. That’s its main agenda, to monopolize the market. That’s why you are spammed with daily Facebook adverts reminding you that: People visiting your page haven’t heard from you in a while. Write a post or share a photo or video to keep people engaged. The fact is, we are all being held hostage while we are continually encouraged to grow our audiences.
Now we are seeing social networking data freely available and growing on a daily basis. Much of this data is connected with consumers perceptions and opinions of organizations. In fact, it is priceless to business intelligence companies as they gather data for marketing and customer relationship management. And soon, with the use of fuzzy logic — an approach to computing based on “degrees of truth” rather than the usual “true or false” — it will be possible to design, create and build social bots that can analyze consumer comments in social media networks. It’s not a brave new world, it’s a terrifying one, and consumers should know what role they’re playing in the ever-changing face of technology.
The exodus has already begun
When I lived in Berlin for those two years, social media wasn’t like it is today — it was only getting started. When I met my friends for coffee, I sent them a text and we met: talked, grinned, our eyes lit up during conversations. We felt each other’s being— we were present and engaged. I have never missed a time more in my life than those two years. I felt alive, connected, seen and heard — because I was.
Now more studies are confirming that people are beginning to close their accounts. A sizable 34% of social media-savvy Gen Zers (born between the mid-1990s and early 2000s) are reported to be permanently leaving social media, while 64% say they’re taking a break. This is a generation who are not easily fooled — many having been switched on to political activism and human rights issues in their teenage years. Young people with strong values who expect more from brands and organizations, and who wish to foster their identities through real authentic experiences.
We are continually reminded to feel happy, and yet, social media usage and our lack of self-control leads to loneliness and depression — the very thing it was designed to decimate. An important reminder that we are social creatures — not media creatures. We are biologically designed to make real lasting connections and create a sense of unity.
But as Nils explains in his letter, there are conversations being had between people, those who are also making the move towards disconnecting from social media — those who wish to exist in the world.
“Many conversations with friends in the last couple of months have supported me to make this move, and I was relieved to learn how many people around me feel the same urgency to end our dependency of social media platforms in particular and the internet in general. While these concerns are shared by many, acting upon them seems to be much more difficult. I would like to inspire you that in fact, it is quite easy: all we need to do is practice what we preach.”
These are conversations I’ve also had with friends also, who are tried of the disenchanting effort of repainting a house that is built from forged materials — a house that will inevitably collapse in on itself. And when it does where will you be? Standing in your kitchen or sitting on a train, perhaps next to a person who will finally raise their eyes from their phone to smile at you. Anything could happen.
Life could happen.
Disconnecting from social media doesn’t mean you need to be invisible. There are other ways to interact, there are other alternatives, such as Hitrecord: a company started by actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, where artists can collaborate together in art and media projects. There’s Meetup, where people actually meet for events and create groups — their slogan is The real world is calling. There’s Eventbrite, where people can host and discover events, and many others are on the rise. These are online alternatives that are taking a grassroots approach — a springboard into the physical world and a chance to interact with other human beings who are like-minded. The circle may seem smaller, but at least it’s tangible.
The method and severity of disconnection is different for everyone. For me it has been deleting the apps from my phone, rarely logging in on my Mac. Maybe that will become permanent in the near future, but right now it’s an attitude of independence I am developing. As Nils explains — to end our dependency on social media, all we have to do is practice what we preach. And while acting upon such resolutions may seem frightening at first, it may just nudge you out of the house and into the world.
Nils finishes his honest and resolute letter with a simple message: Each one of us still exists in the world, and if you really want to connect with someone you care about, you can.
“If anything, I hope that my absence in this space will enhance my presence in the world out there. That is where you will always find me.” — Sincerely, nils
Thank you Nils Frahm for inspiring me to move towards a more personable, holistic approach to the way I communicate in the world, and for the reminder that I have control over my life, without dependence on social media. Your presence is felt.