Far from the maddening feed

In Cal Newport’s latest article for the New Yorker, he contemplates the future of social media companies in the wake of TikTok’s recent growth. The kernel of the argument is that TikTok’s method for capturing attention (which it does remarkably well) is not rooted in the social graph, something which gives it an advantage over older platforms; and that this essential difference could lead to an arms race that results in a more diffuse social media landscape.

“This all points to a possible future in which social-media giants like Facebook may soon be past their long stretch of dominance. They’ll continue to chase new engagement models, leaving behind the protection of their social graphs, and in doing so eventually succumb to the new competitive pressures this introduces. “

I can imagine a third path: one in which Twitter and Facebook push back toward the local. Part of the original appeal of these platforms was that “all my friends are there.” For libraries, it was a chance to connect directly with local communities.

That experience changed with the emergence of retweets and the news feed. It was no longer just you and your connections: it was all their friends and follows as well. The community got too big. For me, I lost the sight of my closest connections. For libraries, we had to compete with content creators outside our community.

This is why I’ve been hesitant to dive into TikTok. You’re not competing for the attention of your local community. They’re not even part of the equation. You’re just competing with everyone.

If the noise was removed from my feed– if I could find the signal to connect me with the people that matter most– would that pull me back? Would that pull others back? Would libraries find it easier to connect with their communities instead of competing with the content creators of the world?

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