The future of social media is themed

We’re all sick of being spammed by every genre of content — now people want to opt-in to what’s being shoved in their faces

I’m scrolling through my instagram feed.

An interior design post. A comic strip carousel. A fitness video. A comedian doing a skit. Another interior design post. A photo of a dish by a food influencer. A post about littering.

Every post is in a pretty specific, popular sub-genre of social media. Interior. Comedy. Fitness. Comedy. Interior. Food. Environment.

I’ve gotten used to this way of consuming social media. Where I will just look at whatever is put in front of me, regardless of what my intention of going onto instagram was. Yes, I picked up my phone to find that amazing-looking pasta I scrolled past the other day that I’m thinking of making tonight, but I end up being distracted before I’ve even searched for it and I’ve already wasted 15 minutes before I remember what I went on to instagram to do.

This is the trick of social media. It distracts, rather than meeting and nurturing your intention. We’ve all seen The Social Dilemma, so we know that this is what social platforms want us to do — to get lost in the never-ending feed until we lose our autonomy enough to buy whatever pointless tat they are telling us to. But put that aside for the moment and let’s talk about what the consumer wants for now.

I believe that social media as we know it is ‘social media 1.0’. If we were to compare social media to the timeline of food, Facebook, instagram, snapchat, twitter, tik tok and the others are all stuck in the fast food era of 1960s. They are TV dinners. They are excessively manufactured and packaged. They are pumped with E numbers. They are processed to a level where it isn’t even classified as food anymore. They are the epitome of gluttony and we as a society have been gorging on it for years now, knowing that it’s a form of accepted digital social engineering but, fuck it, we use it anyway because it feels good.

What caused us to be in this scenario that we’re in now? Why do social media platforms want us to get lost in the neverending scroll? Why are we seeing things on our feed that are irrelevant to us? At some point these platforms switched from the logical balance of adding value to the user whilst making sure they were generating enough cash to pay their teams’ salaries to just becoming cash cows. The priority shifted from content & commercial to just commercial.

But the consumer has had enough. I don’t know about you, but I definitely feel like I could do with some greens right now. I’m done with the processed stuff and I’m craving something cleaner and lighter. I think we’re all looking for a 2.0.

Conversations around ‘blackouts’ and ‘detoxes’ and deleting accounts have been steadily growing for the last few years, accelerated by various documentaries and public social media scandals. In 2018, a study found that 1 in 5 consumers had taken part in a digital detox. That’s a lot. So we know social media is going to change as more people choose to use it purposefully and intentionally. However the current models don’t fit that usage.

The word ‘detox’ is important. People aren’t looking for a complete social media ban. They’re looking for something less focused on distraction and time-wasting, and something more tailored to what they want there and then. They want a social media specifically for food. They want a social media specifically for fitness. They want a social media specifically for comedy. A social media for dance routines. A social media for career advice. They want all the same functions of a normal social media, but with more tailoring towards adding value to the consumer around a theme/genre.

I believe that this will be ‘social media 2.0’. Where you have a different social platform for all the main popular content genres, so you can fulfil your specific need, rather than fearing going onto tik tok and getting lost in a hole for 2 hours, only to come out gasping for air and having completely forgotten what you originally went on to do.

According to a recent study, ‘the number of young people with probable mental illness has risen to one in six, up from one in nine in 2017’, with social media being cited as the cause. This isn’t a standalone study. In the last few years the impact of social media on the mental health of younger generations has become a prevalent conversation — not just amongst young people themselves, but also amongst parents and authority figures. These adults are desperately trying to reduce or minimise screen time by switching off routers, buying products that turn off devices and generally putting increasing amounts of money towards things that will help their children become more balanced.

Simply put, the appetite for social media is shifting — not towards a complete ban, but towards increased limitations and a focus on intention rather than distraction.

So is this the signal we need? Are we ready to reshape social media?

I’ve decided I’m definitely going to make that pasta dish tonight, but I don’t want to open instagram to find the recipe. I’ll just get lost in the feed. I have things to do and I can’t afford the distraction.

I call my mum and tell her I’m looking for a pasta recipe and I don’t want to use the internet so I’m asking her. “Use a book” is her response. Crikey.

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Samantha Hornsby

Samantha Hornsby

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Co-founder of ERIC. Likes writing, loves listening. Immersive experience obsessive.