Stuckness is also the inevitable result of a commercialized social and civic space, built only to grow. Stuckness is not quite the same as “needing to be here for work,” but not entirely different, either.
An instructive way to think about this is to imagine every social network as a version of LinkedIn, the platform that helpfully elucidates the space between what we think of as social platforms (feeds) and what we imagine to be more commercial platforms (something like eBay).
LinkedIn, it is fair to say, provides a less-than-joyful experience to some of its users, demanding labor, attention and particular styles of performance, all while subjecting them to upselling, focus-grabbing notifications and an endless stream of content about recruiting, job-hunting and related subjects. Many people joined for a reason: It was a new place to find a job, or to hire people. Years later, however, they find themselves stuck. Leaving has a fuzzy but material cost, even for the happily employed, and LinkedIn’s dominance has ensured that this cost remains, if not high, at least real enough to discourage leaving. Now, consider what distinguishes LinkedIn from Facebook or Instagram. Some “mechanics”? Users’ intentions when signing up?
None of this is to say that the attention of the stuck isn’t drawn elsewhere, to newer platforms that encourage new kinds of communication with freshly assembled networks of people. Joining and forming other networks is one of the more obvious responses to feeling stuck, even if it presages new varieties of stuckness down the line. TikTok and Discord, for example, offered mechanics and experiences that Facebook, Twitter and Instagram did not, at least in the beginning. For the already stuck, however, these networks are often complements, not replacements.
Among some tech investors, this sort of stuckness has inspired a fresh take on what happens to platforms in the long term: not a death spiral, but the slow bleeding of time and attention by more focused competitors, through which users remain present, distracted, but — crucially — available to be drawn back in (consider the rise of Facebook Groups in recent years, or the persistent growth of Facebook Marketplace). Users sticking around to talk about how much they hate sticking around is merely stuckness reproducing itself.
This sort of stuckness isn’t permanent or entirely unexpected, but it is characterized by lasting longer than anyone anticipated. And though recognizing one’s stuckness might not make it easier to leave a social media platform, it has other benefits.
If nothing else, it’s a more genuine form of connection to our fellow user than any platform-generated mechanic can provide: a shared feeling that this — whatever it is — isn’t what we signed up for.