Demos Chiang, Chiang Kai-shek’s Great Grandson, on the Cost of Social Media

Demos Chiang, photo by Yi-Ping Wu. CC BY-ND 2.0.

Demos Chiang, photo by Yi-Ping Wu. CC BY-ND 2.0.

In a BuzzOrange.com interview with Demos Yu-bou Chiang (蔣友柏), who is Chiang Kai-shek’s great grandson and  founder of the Taiwan design firm DEM Inc. (橙果設計), the interviewer asks if he uses social media:

Q:你有 Facebook 或 Line 等社交通訊軟件嗎?

不開,很累,真的很累,而且 Facebook 商業行為太嚴重。我的手機是 4G 可以上網,但所有通訊軟件 、Line 都不使用,只用簡訊。我不喜歡人家可以免費找到我。

Y’s translation into English:

Q: Do you have Facebook or Line accounts, or any kind of social media apps?

A: I don’t use it. It is too much work. Facebook has too much commercial activity. I have a 4G cellphone to get online, but I don’t use the communicating apps like Line except for text messaging. I don’t like it that people can find [or reach] me for free.

There are three parts of Chiang’s response that I would like to discuss.

First, he observes that social media takes “too much work.” This is one of the reasons why I deleted my Facebook account a few years ago. It seemed like I was putting in a lot of time and labor on the Facebook website and mobile app. On the one hand, I wanted to connect with others, create conversation, and share my goings-on while enjoying the goings-on of others. However, it increasingly seemed to me to take a considerable amount of effort to keep up with the information and conversations taking place there. Jennifer Pan goes into the issue of labor that sustains social media networks in her Jacobin article, “The Labor of Social Media.”

Chiang laments that there is “too much commercial activity” on social media. This can be interpreted in different ways. On the one hand, there is a lot of advertising on social media, which is a kind of commercial activity. On the other hand, people use social media as a platform to publicize their work or seek support for their work on social media (another form of advertising). While social media opens new ways of supporting otherwise unfunded projects (such as with Patreon or Kickstarter), the number of such projects that one sees on a daily basis can be overwhelming and seemingly unsustainable.

Another aspect of Chiang’s lament is the unseen commercial activity of tracking and personal information. Social media platforms make money in part through targeting advertising to its users by selling targeted and detailed access to its advertising partners. The more information that a social network can get about its users and the more meaningful that information can be made for the purposes of advertising mean that the social network can potentially make more money by selling a higher value to advertisers.

Finally, the third issue that Chiang takes with social media is that he says, “people can find me for free.” This is important point that I hadn’t really considered when I left Facebook and other social media platforms a few years ago. For Chiang, he is a business person whose time is valuable. Even deflecting questions or offers takes away from his focus and time, which is time and focus he could apply to other endeavors. Social media at its core is about connecting people together. Social media makes it easier for one person to contact another person. Some networks, such as LinkedIn, place monetized barriers in the way of too easy contact, but others, such as Twitter, make contact for public accounts extremely easy. By not being on social media, Chiang places the ultimate old-school barrier to others bothering him, stealing his focus, or taking away his time. Making it so that others cannot simply find you “for free” protects your time and attention so that you can apply yourself to the work and living that matters the most to you.

Chiang’s three points are useful for thinking about what the costs of social media are for you. It involves our labor, out information is bought and sold, and others want to monopolize our time. Consider these things when you sign-up or configure your social media accounts to protect yourself and maximize its value to yourself.

I am a professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on 20th/21st-century American culture, science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology.

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Posted in New Media, Technology
Who is Dynamic Subspace?

Dr. Jason W. Ellis shares his interdisciplinary research and pedagogy on DynamicSubspace.net. Its focus includes the exploration of science, technology, and cultural issues through science fiction and neuroscientific approaches. It includes vintage computing, LEGO, and other wonderful things, too.

He is an Assistant Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY (City Tech) where he teaches college writing, technical communication, and science fiction.

He holds a Ph.D. in English from Kent State University, M.A. in Science Fiction Studies from the University of Liverpool, and B.S. in Science, Technology, and Culture from Georgia Tech.

He welcomes questions, comments, and inquiries for collaboration via email at jellis at citytech dot cuny dot edu or Twitter @dynamicsubspace.

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