If you haven’t run into a study on the destructive effects of being an active Facebook user, you’re probably not ‘Interneting’ enough.
Most recently, it was the Happiness Research Institute — which sounds like one of Dora the Explorer’s favourite pitstops — that released a study showing how quitting Facebook could make people happier. With reams of web pages dedicated to establishing a correlation between Facebook usage and depression, there seems to be something wrong with how popular social networks work.
Steve Lee, CEO of Wayfarer, has a theory as to why this is the case:
“The problem we see with today’s social media applications is that they entirely focus on the user’s present (Snapchat/Twitter) or the past (Facebook/Instagram) to portray a user’s profile, encouraging status and media updates. These static updates invite likes and comments from other users, but they do not encourage future social collaboration. Although these platforms allow users to share their experiences and keep in touch, users are often left with jealousy, FOMO (fear of missing out), and low self-esteem from seeing inflated depictions of friends. This problem is especially prominent among college students and younger users who grew up with social media, contributing to the highest depression rates in recent history.”
Steve Lee and his co-founders Bryan Marks and Daniel Lee, are attempting to right the many wrongs with popular social media with Wayfarer, the more personal and genuine social network they are building as we speak.
Studies show that despite all the social networking our generation does, the number of true friends we have remains almost constant throughout our lifetime. So instead of making social media about the vanity of friend counts or spurious ‘likes,’ Wayfarer puts a premium on strengthening the value of each connection.
“We believe deepening relationships means converting acquaintances (99% of Facebook friends) to real friends, helping them get from knowing what friends do for living to understanding their passions and desires and partaking in mutual growth and transformation,” Lee says. “Technology can help achieve this in two ways: making this information about people transparent, and lowering the activation energy required to make a collaborative action happen.”
Wayfarer does this by highlighting tasks that need to be achieved through collaboration, and not updates from users’ current or past life events. On the platform, users share their ‘Ways’ — similar to statuses, but exclusively future-oriented. A Way can be a goal, a social intention, or an interest that users want to display on the platform and invite friends to participate in. The team hopes that this will lead to greater offline interaction, with friends spending more time together getting things done. The aim of this is to pry people away from futile profile-hopping, and getting them to invest in meaningful experiences by discovering the Ways of their friends.
As for the team’s own ‘Ways’, it’s all about changing paradigms in social networking.
“We are currently heavily focused on designing a positive user experience through discouraging comparisons (hiding # friends, etc.), and encouraging openness/support,” Lee describes. “All three of us co-founders are engineering every day to bring this product to life before the end of the year. Social media applications are the single most addictive/habit-forming products that exist today, and we wanted to take advantage of this platform to create a cultural shift.”
There’s enough research out there to show that mainstream social media networks can be Debbie Downers. It’s probably about time that we try some alternatives. Wayfarer is giving us an idea of what those alternatives may look like.
Prateek Jose is a writer and engineering undergrad from India with an unhealthy obsession for obscure historical trivia. Conversations about absurdist fiction and the technological singularity make his day. He’s already uploading parts of his brain to servers by writing for websites such as this one.
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