2022 - A Social Dystopian World
In the English language, the adjective social has two main meanings: the interaction of the individual with society, and the interactions between individuals. Humans are not only gregarious beings (beings who enjoy the company of others), they also need their presence in order to proliferate and enhance their chances of survival. Being social is a necessity for humans and society, enabling them to thrive.
As more and more time is spent chatting online, complementing or even replacing in-person interactions, the need for a social life now extends to the cyberspace. We strive for interactions replicating what feels good in real life but in a controlled environment, at the risk of putting one in a virtual safety bubble. This implies the computerization of our social aspects, making it supremely easy to analyze. For instance, a quick look at search trends shows a drastically reduced number of searches for the word "social" during Christmas and New Year's Eve. Isn't it counter-intuitive how the most social time of the year correlates with its reduced presence online?
How governments took control of our social life, unintentionally
The digital revolution of the 20th century greatly impacted our human society with the industrialization and popularization of digital technologies (computers, cell phones, internet). Web 1.0 was mainly limited to government, corporate and research circles and seen as a limited tool serving other purposes, then Web 2.0 marked the real arrival of these technologies in society without regards for the wealth of the users. The extremely fast technological developments led to a massive adoption of these technologies, fattening corporative wallets and taking governments, often slow moving and unresponsive, by surprise. Nevertheless, governments sit atop the social power chain and quickly moved in to exploit this wealth of interactions between users and technologies. Companies have remained the leading forces in innovation, although governments have made a heavy use of their massive legislative and surveillance power to remain masters of the game.
The real dangers appear when corporate and governmental interests align, at the expense of the individual or society. A good example is inflation in economy, when companies are happy to increase their prices and governments are happy to see the value of their debt diminishing, meanwhile, consumers are hit with higher prices and societal exhaustion increases. Online, this means data collection (ironically with data often provided by the users themselves). You don't need to be on a social network yourself: all it takes is a relative sharing their contact list with a service and your number will be compromised. The more data a company has, the better they can customize their offering to your psychology and persuade you to spend more, while governments ensure their access to their databases through legal means, sometimes for legitimate purposes, often with their own power interests in mind. Authoritarian states and powerful companies are greedily capitalizing on this trend, such as China with its infamous "social credit system" or any American bank with a credit rating.
Online social corruption
Oftentimes, you need not look beyond a word to know what it means. "Influencers" have been all over the internet in 2022. Their very name and purpose consist, almost exclusively, on influencing people's purchase decisions. The advertising world hunts them for their network in order to pay them for the promotion of a product, corrupting their very existence on social networks. After all, what's the point of being known if not for the influence you get from it? Beyond that, adding to their original purpose of connecting individuals, social networks are increasingly and worryingly acting as spaces for the collection of "brain time". It doesn't even matter if you, reading this, are not on social networks, as this won't make their business model less profitable and extricate vulnerable people from their influence. As a final element, having an online footprint may become a necessity to find a job, in order for companies to even consider you. In first-world countries, where services account for the majority of the wealth production, this is particularly crucial.
Building alternative social networks
Decentralized media platforms like Mastodon have existed for a while now, open-source and self-hosted social networks appearing as alternatives to Twitter and the likes, offering a similar feature set while excluding their Big Brother components. In practice, fulfilling the technical criteria is not synonymous with adoption by the masses: the number of Mastodon users is two orders of magnitudes lower than Twitter's. Good will and technical proficiency, as commendable as it is, is not enough to influence the internet, and it's because the very presence of governments and corporations on Twitter is responsible for its massive adoption.
It will be very difficult to bring open technologies to the masses by replacing deeply rooted billion-dollars companies, and should not be one's objective anyway. Rather, decentralized networks giving up on these "social" tools could help build communities who use and develop obscure yet efficient alternatives, usable to those who need them and allowing us to stay social. Having a choice is what ultimately matters: 1984 would not make any sense if Winston could opt-out anytime of The Party's surveillance. Keeping these choices alive amounts to maintaining our liberty alive.