Picture this – you’re going about your day.
Impulsively, completely without thinking – just like how you breathe – you pull out your phone.
You glance through your Instagram feed. Every four posts, there’s an advertisement. You watch some “stories” your friends have posted. Story. Story. Ad.
The television’s on in the background. You’re trying to watch something, but it’s mostly ads.
Multitasking between your show and your phone, you check out what’s happening on Snapchat, because you don’t want to miss out on those stories. Story. Story. Ad.
You pull up Facebook. Scroll. Ad. Scroll. Ad.
The advertisements are starting to drive you you crazy. They’re making you stressed. Stressed about the upcoming election, about different ballot propositions, about things you didn’t even know you needed (but now will have trouble living without).
No matter. You shut off the T.V., and exit out of social media.
You go over to YouTube, to pull up some relaxing background sounds to help you calm down.
You open the YouTube app.
You quickly type in and pull up something soothing to watch.
“Vote YES on prop 22!”
You go to skip it –
“Your video will play after this ad ends.”
Goddamit. Whatever. You try to ignore it. It finally ends.
“Vote YES On prop 22!!!”
(AGAIN! Twice in a row???)
You run out of the house; decide to go for a drive to clear your head. Fvck, your gas light is on. No matter. Turn on the radio. AD. Turn to Spotify. Fvck, you haven’t paid for premium. “WATCH THIS SHORT VIDEO TO RECEIVE 30 MINUTES OF AD-FREE MUSIC!”
You shut it off, race to the gas station, car running on fumes. You attempt to stifle your fight-or-flight response as you navigate traffic. You barely avoid a near-collision with another driver on their phone who was distracted while skipping past an ad.
You pull up at the gas station, and grab pump.
You go to select your gas grade.
SUDDENLY, the television that’s screen built in right above blasts an ad at you at FULL VOLUME, startling you half to death:
AD – VOTE YES ON PROP 22!
YOU SMASH YOUR NOZZLE INTO THE SCREEN AND SHATTER IT.
Sh%t, did you really just do that?
Now…I have no idea if this story is anything like how it really went down.
But when I was getting gas today (yes, they have televisions above every pump, playing ads on loop), I noticed the screen next to me.
It was smashed; totally cracked.
And I couldn’t help but fantasize that someone – after a stressful day, and lots of traffic, just sick and tired of being continuously bombarded by ads – finally snapped.
And not only snapped, but decided to put their foot down.
I have to admit, the thought makes me smile.
Because ads are fricking everywhere in America. It’s too much; it makes you want to break something. And yes, the worst of it happens on social media.
If you haven’t seen The Social Dilemma already (a documentary about the dangers of social networks) I’ll tell you what my takeaway was – at least, from the bit of the movie that I saw.
It’s nothing I didn’t already know.
It’s probably nothing YOU don’t already know.
But here it is, more or less:
1.) Social media sites are using deep-learning AI technology to tailor an experience just for YOU, which uses just about every bit of human psychology there is to manipulate your emotions and keep you engaged.
(That is, your news feed – even if you have all the same friends as someone else – looks different than theirs. Because the site is learning what makes you tick, and giving it to you.)
2.) This is done solely to be able to sell ad space – that organizations are willing to buy, to get ads in front of your face – in order to generate profit.
Yes, companies are all bidding to get their ads in front of your eyeballs.
3.) The organizations bidding for that ad space don’t have your best interests at heart. They, too, are trying to spike your emotions as much as possible, to either persuade you of something or to get you to buy a product.
This is happening on YouTube. Instagram. Facebook. TIKTOK.
Many of the social media sites are not only monitoring what you look at, but how long you look at it and even where your cursor goes.
Alright, that’s my summary of the documentary.
Admittedly, some types of media can’t do all of this. Television can’t get that much specific data on you – yet – but that doesn’t stop them from trying. Turn on the TV and you’ll be bombarded by ads based on the channel you’re watching and where you live.
And it’s not just social media or television, it’s everywhere. Google. Amazon.
The ads are everywhere.
We are essentially living in the Black Mirror episode “Fifteen Million Merits.”
And you know as well as I do:
The ads are making you miserable.
They’re stressing you out. They’re manipulating your opinions. They’re making you want more things. They’re hooking your attention, and sucking away your valuable time on this earth.
So after all that doom and gloom, I’ll end with a simple piece of advice:
Get away from the damn ads.
(You’ll be safe on a walk. A book won’t spam you with popups, or hit you with tailored targeting.)
And if you want to veg (vege?) out on social media (again, ground zero for advertisements), do it – but make sure it’s conscious. Make sure it’s intentional.
Because when it’s an unconscious, totally oblivious reflex – and every few minutes of your day, without even knowing how you got there, you find yourself being bombarded by ads – you’re asking for trouble.
So, just as an experiment – here’s a recommendation:
Reduce your exposure to anything that shoves ads in your face.