The Social Internet

Typography, as Postman describes, is in essence much more capable of communicating complex messages that provoke thinking. This means we should write and read more, link more often, and watch less television and fewer videos—and spend less time on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.

— Hossein Derakhshan, Social Media Is Killing Discourse Because It’s Too Much Like TV

While I pulled out this specific quote about writing and typography referencing Neil Postman’s work because it resonated with me as a designer and someone who blogs, Derakhshan’s entire piece is a valuable critique of social media and the current state of the internet.

Derakhshan’s online activism and his blog landed him in an Iranian prison for six years. A notable early blogger, he found the internet after his release a radically different place from the internet he knew before incarceration. He wrote about this (ironically) on Medium in 2014. I remember reading his post then and finding myself tentatively nodding along with with a lot of what he wrote. I’ve just reread it and I find it all the more relevant in a post-2016-election America. Take, for example:

“Nearly every social network now treats a link as just the same as it treats any other object — the same as a photo, or a piece of text — instead of seeing it as a way to make that text richer. You’re encouraged to post one single hyperlink and expose it to a quasi-democratic process of liking and plussing and hearting: Adding several links to a piece of text is usually not allowed. Hyperlinks are objectivized, isolated, stripped of their powers.”

Reading that reminds me of the Verge’s recent article, “Facebook and Google make lies as pretty as truth.” All embedded content, for good and increasingly for ill, is treated with the same amount of weight. It’s easy to game. It’s becoming increasingly harder to tell truth from lies, high from low quality, and ads from, for a lack of better words, real content. This is a design problem that as an industry we need to be cognizant of. We need to work towards some sort of solution.

Reading both of these pieces again, it also reinforces the importance of owning your own content. Just look at Vine. As our freedoms start to wane, the open web becomes all the more important. Start your own blog rather than relying solely on someone else’s platform. Backup regularly. Write frequently.

I’ll try to write more this year as well.

H/T John Maeda for sharing.

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