Misery and Social Media

Let’s all admit it:  we are miserable. Let’s also admit that we blame social media for our misery.  But Why? What is the connection between misery and social media? The answer lies in human knowledge.

There are three types of knowledge:

  • Things you know (e.g. your name, your address, etc.)
  • Things you know that you don’t know (e.g. The capital of Somalia. You know that there is a country called Somalia.  You also know that countries have capitals. But you do not know what the name of that capital is)
  • Things you do not know that you do not know (This is where things get weird.  In essence these are things that exist that you didn’t even know existed.)

  • 3 > 2 > 1  The amount of knowledge we have is very small, especially given the fact that we keep forgetting things.  So the things we know that we do not know is larger than the things we know. But, the largest category are the things we do not know that we do not know.  I mean we have no idea how many of these things there are, it might as well be infinite it is so large.

    The best way to explain these three categories is with a story:

    You are an early hominid hunter.  You spend most of your days hunting animals.  Most importantly, you have not discovered fire yet.  So for you fire is something you do not know that you do not know.   When you have been hunting you have seen some weird, cloud like things coming from the ground but you never paid attention to it.  One day you decide to see what causes this weird cloud like things coming out of the ground. As you get closer to its source you find another hominid who has discovered fire.  You are mesmerized. What is this thing? What does it do? Cautiously you approach it and you notice that you are getting warmer. You like being warm. You are happy that you have discovered this new thing that keeps you warm.  You ask the other hominid what is this thing and he says it is called fire. You ask him what do you do with fire? He says you can use it to keep warm but you can also roast meat on it and it tastes a lot better than raw meat. You ask him how to make fire.  He refuses. You are angry now. So now fire has transitioned from something you did not know that you did not know to something you know that you do not know (i.e. you do not know how to make fire). You try and trade him an arrowhead for the secret to fire, but he refuses.  Now you are really angry so you bash him over the head with a rock and kill him. At first you are happy, you have fire. But, eventually the fire dies out and you become very sad because you do not know how to make a new fire. The worst part is since you discovered fire you feel even colder than you did before you discovered fire.  Congratulations you have discovered human sadness.

    So what is human sadness? What are its rules?

  • The amount of sadness is commensurate with how important your new discovery is.  Since fire is something very important the early hominid is very sad.  
  • The discovery of something that we previously did not know we did not know makes us happy.
  • Happiness is whether or not this new discovery stays something we do not know or becomes something that we do know.
  • Memory plays a large part in sadness.  If you could somehow turn back something we know we do not know into something we do not know that we do not know, then you would no longer be sad. 

  • But it turns out sadness is only the beginning and our early hominid friend is about to discover misery.

    You are now a sad early hominid.  You are walking along, sad and cold, and notice another fire but this one is huge.  At first you want nothing to do with it. But you are cold and remember that fire makes you warm.  So you go up to the fire and it really is much bigger than the last fire you saw. The early hominid sitting at this fire is much nicer and asks you if you know how to make fire. You say no.  He says he doesn’t have the magic stuff that made this huge fire but he can give you something to make your own small fire. He says it’s easy and gives you a match (I know, I know but this is an analogy and not anthropology).  He tells you all you have to do is strike it against a rock and you will get fire. Just grab a bunch of sticks and throw the match into the sticks.

    You are, once again, happy.  You go back to your cave, gather your sticks, strike your match, and wow fire.  Yes it is small, but it is enough to keep you warm so you are very happy now. Eventually the fire dies down.  But you are not sad because you know how to make fire; you just strike the match. So that is exactly what you do.  You strike the match against the rock and nothing. What the hell! You are angry now. You try again and again but no luck.  Congratulations you have discovered human misery.

    So what makes human misery different than sadness?  

  • Human misery is when something goes from something you do not know that you do not know to something you know that you do not know to something you know, but only temporarily.  
  • It never again becomes something that you know.
  • Ok so what does this have to do with social media? 

    Much like our early hominid friend we had no idea what social media or instagram was.  It was something we did not know that we did not know. To many people instagram at first was smoke.  It wasn’t until a few years later that we discovered it could be like fire, a tool to help us. But like our early hominid friend most of us never figured out how to make a fire and we were very sad.  Some of us might have been more persistent and discovered a match. Yes our fire was much smaller, but we were happy for awhile. But, like our early hominid friend, we did not know it was a one time use item. Also, we never learned how to make fire again.  And now that our fire has died out we are miserable.

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