The trillion-dollar industry designed to help you procrastinate (even more)

Even though we of course love our TikTok and Insta accounts; couldn’t live without Snapchat and spend hours watching YouTube videos (also for educational reasons….) and tell ourselves that this is how we interact with our friends and learn, there is no escaping the sticky procrastinating side of it all.

Social media does have its good sides and Mark Zuckerberg often speaks loftily about how social media are there to ‘connect’ us and to enable us ‘to form communities’ and that this is what Meta is all about. But the hard facts are that social media companies are not in the business of connecting us, but in the business of selling us stuff. Social media companies make almost all of their revenues from advertising. A lot of advertising.

The Stats

Globally, 75% of all people over 13 years of age use social media, mainly via the 6 billion smartphones in use in the world today. User numbers across all platforms keep growing about 10% year-on-year (source: You Gov) and collectively we spend over 10 billion hours on social media each day and hence the dollar value of this market is clear. With so much money at stake, social media companies are in fact aiming to distract us with all the powers in their big, big money arsenal.

The combined market capitalisation of the social media companies (excluding Apple which is not technically a social media company – yet), i.e YouTube (Google), TikTok (Bytedance), Snapchat and Linkedin (Microsoft) as well as Instagram, Whatsapp and Facebook (the last 3 are all part of Meta) is $3.64 trillion. Their combined advertising revenue in 2021 was about $223 billion from pure social media activity (so not Google search).

Who Are We Up Against?

All this money can only materialise if advertisers can indeed reach us and that, in turn, works only if we are on our phones as much and for as long as possible. The number of software engineers employed by these social media companies to improve and perfect the algorithm to get to know us intimately and to anticipate our every need is a just a puny 138,000! That’s 138,000 people coding away to get the other 6.3 billion people globally to consume stuff. Can such a small group of clever men and women really have us in their grip? Really? It seems so.

How Do They Go About Distracting Us?

Ever thought/texted a friend about ordering Shake Shack and an ad pops up on your phone with your favourite Shake Shack burger? As if your phone knows what you think? Creepy. Or Amazon following you around with that speaker you briefly looked at? Or Nike or Asos not leaving you alone, dangling their goods in front of your nose? These are algorithm finding their way to you, all the time. Non-stop. Do you – even when your phone is on silent mode – get incessant little beeps about that so-and-so added to their stories? Yup, that’s Meta trying to distract you away from your revision back to your phone, exactly where they need you to be so they can show you more adverts or sponsored posts.

How to beat the trillion-dollar distraction industry?

Are we powerless against so much firepower and so much skill to get into our heads? There is only one simple way to deal with this: clear cookies daily and when revising or doing homework, putting the phone on silent alone will not be effective. The phone must be in a different room altogether, where the social media companies can’t ‘hear’ you and you can’t hear their constant siren calls to scroll and consume. So, if you are reading this on your phone now, you are procrastinating. Put it away :)

References & Links: