Enough already: the power of the mute button in a world of information overload

Online users have long suffered from social media messaging overload. But Kiwis have wizened up to the power of the mute button at their disposal, says Katie Byrne.

That burger you ate last week. The day the toilet overflowed and made a mess. The scenic route you took home. The rewarding glass of vino after a ghastly day. The humiliating but very funny screenshot of a text your mum sent you.

Exhausted yet? The sheer volume of what we consume and emit on a daily basis has been steadily increasing on social media, mirroring the growth rate of the various networking channels. What does the future hold when we devour so ravenously on such a regular basis?

Celebrities, your ex-girlfriend, politicians, brands, old school teachers – in fact, pretty much anyone is now available for consumption. And given that most people have been so liberal in dishing out their personal information in the wave of excitement that appealed to us when social media began to flourish, there is a lot of data and a lot of content out there.

How many times have you scrolled through your newsfeed and witnessed a debate turning into a dispute; a photo sparking a controversy; a divorcing couple sharing their bitterness and hatred of the other and forgetting the mutual friends that have to witness the battlefield exploding verbally in front of them? 

In so many ways social media has taken us backstage, behind the curtain, into the wings and allowed us to capture a snapshot of the strings and pulleys, the props that equip us with the delivery of our daily lives. How we’ve cheerfully furnished our audience with intimate tableaus of our rituals, giving little thought to the impact this may have on our real lives.

However, the reality of social media is already changing, with more and more people learning about the mute facility of the networks they use and finally understanding the impact over-sharing can have on their future. This isn’t just about the future of social media, but the future of the people consuming it. We want more control and we’re beginning to demonstrate this semblance of domination in the way we absorb content and the stories/information we share.

In the UK, the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee has reignited this debate, stating that established big boys like Facebook and Twitter have terms and conditions that read a little like Shakespeare – baffling the commoner to whom the T&Cs apply. 

The chairman Andrew Miller highlighted the experiment where Facebook manipulated users’ emotions by changing the stories they saw in their newsfeed. Their primary concern was the extent to which ticking the ‘terms and conditions’ box can be said to constitute informed consent when it comes to the varied ways data is now being used by many websites and apps.

The report encourages the government to establish standards the organisations can adhere to with clear and simple T&Cs outlining and explaining how data is used.

My colleague and discerning social media connoisseur, Kiwibank’s head of marketing communications and content Regan Savage*, said having the ability to filter and make your own edit is becoming more and more prevalent: “I think one of the biggest drivers in this phase of digitisation is the need to filter out the noise, and edit what is broadcast to you. I am forever unsubscribing from email lists and weeding out or blocking stories on social from people or companies I don’t want to hear from. As our lives get busier and more devices clamour for our attention, it’s all the more important to preserve the sanctity of your mind by attending to what you want to hear or need to hear, rather than being forced to constantly sort the wheat from the chaff.”

With that in mind, it seems that although we have choices and can take a little of the control back, the decisions that matter are still not entirely in our hands.

Lemme throw some numbers at you: according to a recent report, in the past ten years we have participated in the humongous growth of Facebook, inflating those numbers from an impressive million in 2004 to a gluttonous 1.15 billion** in 2014.  Now add these figures to the number of minutes we spend on social media every hour (US, 16 minutes; Australia, 14 minutes; and the UK, 13 minutes**), multiply this with the number of brands using networking channels (93 percent of marketers use social media for business and 70 percent of those have used Facebook to gain a new customer**), and this surely equals millions and squillions of data and content swirling in the online whirlpool waiting to be discovered (or not). There is so much gold on social media, we sometimes miss the gems having to wade through the waffle. The future looks like it might be pretty different.

If we could take a look into the future, we would think it looks a little like this:

  • More content curation, not only among brands and businesses, but also consumers.
  • A lot less noise from both consumers and brands (who wants to see what you had for breakfast every day?)
  • Control and choice.

*Also available for children’s parties

** Stats courtesy of Social Media Today 2014

  • Katie Byrne is social media editor at Kiwibank.
  • This story originally appeared in the January/February issue of NZ Marketing

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