Laura Slattery: Time to adjust your media devices to new year resolutions

Mark Zuckerberg is creating a robot butler and I’m giving up superheroes

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg wants to “build a simple AI to run my home and help me with my work”. Photograph: Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg wants to “build a simple AI to run my home and help me with my work”. Photograph: Jim Wilson/The New York Times

 

Spending less time on social media is in danger of becoming a new year’s resolution perennial, up there with alcohol avoidance and pretending to be trying to lose weight. Mark Zuckerberg is losing precisely no sleep about this.

The new parent certainly won’t be deprived of a wink if he makes good on his own resolution to “build a simple AI to run my home and help me with my work” – an ambition that generated the too-easy headline “Mark Zuckerberg to build robot butler to look after his child”. On closer inspection of the Facebook founder’s original post, this isn’t much of an exaggeration at all.

What brave new world is this, this “2016”? Well, so far, it’s the year of the “resolution scepticism” article, which is where a journalist helpfully explains how all those other pieces about new year’s resolutions have been getting it wrong. (The genre is itself a successor to the great diets-don’t-work lifestyle publishing flurry of January 2012, which history will record as having solved the West’s obesity crisis.)

The past week has been amazing. Link after link about how resolutions are for willpower-free fools with false gods were then quietly punctured by Zuckerberg’s calm announcement of his “fun intellectual challenge”, a mere side project to his main occupation as a tech billionaire who wants to distract you into underachievement.

Life is finite, and all resolutions boil down to our desire to use time better, which is why slashing social media usage now figures so prominently on the top of the resolution list. We spend so many minutes on social media that it’s not surprising that it feels as addictive as heroin or Netflix, or even caffeine, and as toxic as any crowd.

But, of course, it’s not how many times a day I feverishly scroll a social media feed that’s the problem, it’s the quality of the information, education or entertainment that I find there. And given our timelines are still largely self-curated (notwithstanding the inevitability of ads and promoted content), if I’m underwhelmed by what I see, the fault must at least partly be mine too. It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it, as Ella Fitzgerald and indeed Bananarama once sang.

Still, the deeper we sink into the social media era, the more I wonder: if a model writes a newspaper column about her life but no one is around to read the bitchy tweets about it, does it really exist? Perhaps it is time to mute auld Twitter acquaintance.

But for now, my media consumption resolutions for 2016 are as follows:

To stop watching the Apprentice, Orange is the New Black and Newsnight. They say it’s always best to start with something you have actually already done, so you have the guaranteed satisfaction of crossing it off the list.

To not even start watching Making a Murderer.

To care more about Bowe Bergdahl, the man at the heart of the second series of podcast phenomenon Serial. I’m up to date on it, but only because I find Sarah Koenig’s voice so wonderfully soothing, and the sheer size of the production team is a nice end-credits dose of reality.

To see more live comedy. A stand-up comedian’s true art is found in dark fringe theatre venues with uncomfortable seating, cold toilets and inadequate beer, not on 8 out of 10 Cats Does Countdown.

To make listening to Graham Norton every Saturday morning on BBC Radio 2 non-negotiable, because he’s as hilarious on radio as he is on television and the topics of conversation tend to go beyond the first-world problems of the average Hollywood A-lister.

To not feel woefully inadequate while watching Spotlight, the Oscar-tipped movie about Boston Globe journalists who exposed child abuse in the Catholic Church and are now being portrayed on screen by the A-list likes of Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams.

To not cringe too hard thinking about the dozens of GPS-equipped Boston Globe journalists who spent last weekend hand-delivering their own newspaper after a switch to a new distributor left thousands of subscribers without their print fix.

To make myself less informed about things I have no natural interest in, such as the Marvel universe and the current form of golfer Rory McIlroy – this means turning off the push notifications on the RTÉ News Now app, which has confused sports news with “breaking news” one too many times.

To “nail it”. But only once. Imagine if it was preordained that everyone agreed with everything you ever said. What would be the point of writing anything?

To get rich, then hire whoever is running Mark Zuckerberg’s public relations for him these days, because they are up there with the consultants who rehabilitated the British royals post- Diana, doing an inspirational job.

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