Friction at the Baccarat Casino
09: Pay in attention, get paid in validation
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So I recently deleted Instagram off my phone for a long weekend for the first time ever. I’ve been on IG since 2011, but have taken breaks from posting or scrolling, just not ever deleting the app, which it turns out is an extremely convenient way of making sure you can’t accidentally scroll when you don’t mean to. It was really nice to notice how much I enjoyed not feeling compelled to open Instagram each time I touched or saw my phone “just to see what might be going on in there.”
Which immediately made me equate social media apps with labour. Otherwise, why would I take a vacation from them when I have a chunk of time off?
I don’t always see Instagram as labour - I recently went on the bucket list vacation of my dreams to Iceland and it was pure magic and posting photos of what I saw felt important and a way to process the trip. I post photos like these publicly because I feel like what I’m seeing is curious enough to share. The photographer in me desires to show and see, and what is a photograph without an audience? Multiple people kept DMing me demanding that I keep on spamming them with Iceland photos and I enjoy taking others along with me on adventures - this is as authentic as it gets, a personal photo diary for public consumption. I don’t do it for money, and I don’t really do it for the ‘gram, either. It’s just the best place to put these things at the moment.
But a bucket list trip to an insanely photogenic place is very different than a random long weekend off in your home and in your regular life. And I would much rather read a great book that’s been languishing on my coffee table for weeks (or at least try to remember how to sit still and read a book for an extended period of time) than scroll through my phone. Let me tell you, this is harder than it seems after ten years of intense social media habits destroying my concentration.
The tech industry talks about “friction” a lot. Frictionless checkout - to help you spend money faster and without thinking about too much. How easy is it to buy something by tapping the side of your phone twice with google pay, you don’t even need to enter your shipping address in! A frictionless experience on social media equals endless scrolling, with very easy ways to share content. You don’t have to think about it too hard, you just smoothly move through the prescribed motions. Just like someone somewhere made up the .99 at the end of a price to make it seem cheaper, someone, somewhere came up with the frictionless tech experience.
So: is this sounding more and more like the cocoon of a bank of slot machines to you? I’ve only ever played the slots once, when I turned 18 at the long-gone Baccarat Casino in downtown Edmonton. The place reeked of cigarettes. The lights were low and neon glow mixed with LED candy coloured signs and bright carnival lights on each slot machine. My first turn ever at the slots I won $10 on my $1 bet. The man playing the machine beside me got very, very excited and said if I’d put in $100 I’d have left with $1000. He looked like he knew the ways of this weird world, so I put the $10 back into the slot machine, pulled the lever, and promptly lost it all. A friend encouraged me to try again but the ATMS would only allow you to withdraw $50 or more, and I didn’t actually have $50 in my bank account, and so my gambling days were over.
That ATM was the friction. If it had dispensed $10 bills, I probably would have gone for it (not sure why, probably a what the hell, you only turn 18 once pre-yolo yolo moment?). Instead the barrier of getting more cash to spend on the slot machines made us all leave and go drink some pints and smoke cigarettes at the Black Dog, where I had been sneaking in underage for at least a year. It was a better move, and a much better waste of money - the kind that comes with good experiences.
Wasting money, wasting time - we get to choose what a we spend our resources on. But do not doubt for a second that the apps on your phone are designed to suck you in just like the slot machines are. Your attention is as precious a resource as, say, your money, and others want what you’ve got. How much are you going to give to them? How do you budget your resources? When is it valuable to spend time, when are you being exploited to waste it? When does Instagram pay you in vacation validation, and when does it suck away the rest of your precious evening or weekend? And how can you find ways to subvert the candy coloured signage and carnival lights staring back at you from your phone? It’s worth remembering: validation ain’t gonna pay the rent.
I’m only human, and of course I rebooted Instagram and within one week used it to:
sell some camping equipment instead of dealing with kijiji
have a ceramics studio story sale
post some photo-diary photos from around town
post photos from from a hiking trip
DM a bunch of people I don’t have email addresses for
It’s key to separate your phone itself from the social media apps that inhabit it. These are two distinct things. The smartphone is a functional tool. Maps, kijiji, camera, phone, texts - you’re gonna use them. It’s OK to take your phone places with you. It’s what apps are on it that matter more. I sometimes wonder if IG has become an indispensable tool or if we can live without it? Is this app truly where we go to gather now? I’m just looking to find a way to not scroll IG until kingdom come. It’ll be the best vacation I ever take.
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