the enshittification of everything
I just read two articles about 'enshittification', or the process in which platforms start by providing value to us and inevitably getting more and more shitty until they collapse. One is Tiktok's enshittification (long but extremely well written), and the other, called End to end, is a corollary on the same theme. Reading these articles felt incredibly satisfying because they finally gave me a name to call this phenomenon I (and you, and we all) have surely felt but not been able to put a finger on.
Even though I thankfully don't use many of the social media apps they mention (namely Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok), the few I do still use exhibit the same enshittification that the authors describe. For example, let's take the Goodreads mobile app. When you open the app you land on this home screen.
Like most people (I think), I started my Goodreads so I could follow my friends and see what they're reading. Unfortunately, seeing their updates on the mobile app is damn near impossible. My home feed is filled with things I don't care about and never consented to see: "popular" books on the site, trending books in genres I'm supposedly interested in, and Goodread's personalized recommendations based on books I recently finished (read: ads). I have to scroll down more than two full page lengths to see my first friend update. And after that there's even more shit I have to scroll through to see more updates from the users I follow.
Even if we ignore the quality of these recommendations (Goodreads once recommended Colleen Hoover to me), the worst part is that there's no way to turn them off, to see a feed with only my friend's updates and nothing else. I can always go find Goodread's recommendations in the Discover tab, yet they still insist on cramming my home feed chock full with the very same ads. This is a blatant violation of the end to end (e2e) principle. As Doctorow puts it,
Services should make their best efforts to deliver messages between willing senders and receivers (...) If you follow someone on social media, then the things that person says should show up in your timeline.
I remember back when I used Instagram & Facebook and the feeds showed you posts from people you followed in chronological order. Now when I see my brother's account, these feeds are filled with ads, promoted posts, and viral videos on autoplay; only occasionally do you see content from accounts you actually consent to follow.
Watching platforms enshittify in real time never fails to make me feel depressed. Not only do I lament the platforms I use that have already gone to shit (hi Amazon, Goodreads, Reddit, and Youtube), but it also makes me anxiously suspicious of the platforms I use that haven't fully gone down that route yet. Should I even bother joining that shiny new platform my friends are on when I know someday it'll get bought by some big privacy-disrespecting monopoly and run into the ground?
Surprisingly, reading reasoned analyses about why this phenomenon occurs somehow makes it easier for me to be less upset about it. When you view enshittification objectively like the inevitability that it is, it just feels like the changing of the seasons; there's no point getting mad when fall gives way to winter, anyway, because that's just the way the world works.