MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
INTRODUCTION, WITH CATS
Let’s start with cats.
Cats are everywhere online. They make the memiest memes and the cutest videos.
Why cats more than dogs?1
Dogs didn’t come to ancient humans begging to live with us; we domesticated them.2 They’ve been bred to be obedient. They take to training and they are predictable. They work for us. That’s not to say anything against dogs.3 It’s great that they’re loyal and dependable.
Cats are different. They came along and partly domesticated themselves. They are not predictable. Popular dog videos tend to show off training, while the most wildly popular cat videos are the ones that capture weird and surprising behaviors.
Cats are smart, but not a great choice if you want an animal that takes to training reliably. Watch a cat circus online, and what’s so touching is that the cats are clearly making their own minds up about whether to do a trick they’ve learned, or to do nothing, or to wander into the audience.
Cats have done the seemingly impossible: They’ve integrated themselves into the modern high-tech world without giving themselves up. They are still in charge. There is no worry that some stealthy meme crafted by algorithms and paid for by a creepy, hidden oligarch has taken over your cat. No one has taken over your cat; not you, not anyone.
Oh, how we long to have that certainty not just about our cats, but about ourselves! Cats on the internet are our hopes and dreams for the future of people on the internet.
Meanwhile, even though we love dogs, we don’t want to be dogs, at least in terms of power relationships with people, and we’re afraid Facebook and the like are turning us into dogs. When we are triggered to do something crappy online, we might call it a response to a “dog whistle.” Dog whistles can only be heard by dogs. We worry that we’re falling under stealthy control.
This book is about how to be a cat. How can you remain autonomous in a world where you are under constant surveillance and are constantly prodded by algorithms run by some of the richest corporations in history, which have no way of making money except by being paid to manipulate your behavior? How can you be a cat, despite that?
The title doesn’t lie; this book presents ten arguments for deleting all your social media accounts. I hope it helps, but even if you agree with all ten of my arguments, you might still decide to keep some of your accounts. That’s part of your prerogative, being a cat.
As I present the ten arguments, I’ll discuss some of the ways you might think about your situation to decide what’s best for you. But only you can know.
AUTHOR’S NOTE, MARCH 2018:
This book was written primarily during the final months of 2017, but events in 2018 turned out to be explosively relevant. The manuscript was done, done, done—headed to the printer—when the sorry revelations of the Cambridge Analytica scandal fueled a sudden, grassroots movement of people deleting Facebook accounts.
Unfortunately, not all public figures and thought leaders handled the moment with the courage that was required. There were pundits who tried to quit but could not. There were others who pointed out that not everyone is privileged enough to quit, so it felt cruel to leave the less fortunate behind. Others said it was irrelevant to quit because the thing that mattered was pressuring governments to regulate Facebook. Overall, the attitude of professional commentators regarding account deleters was smug and dismissive. And dead wrong.
C’mon people! Yes, being able to quit is a privilege; many genuinely can’t. But if you have the latitude to quit and don’t, you are not supporting the less fortunate; you are only reinforcing the system in which many people are trapped. I am living proof that you can have a public life in media without social media accounts. Those of us with options must explore those options or they will remain only theoretical. Business follows money, so we who have options have power and responsibility. You, you, you have the affirmative responsibility to invent and demonstrate ways to live without the crap that is destroying society. Quitting is the only way, for now, to learn what can replace our grand mistake.
Copyright © 2018 by Jaron Lanier