Naser Al Sughaiyer is the founder of The Human Lab, an interactive space to practise being human in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) that aims to get people to open up and connect with each other. It also researches and creates new work in social and emotional health for the Arab world.
We leapt at the chance to speak with Naser and were set to have a traditional interview but instead, our session turned into an in-depth look into his philosophy and human nature, especially right now when we’re more connected than ever by technology but also so disconnected because of it.
We heard that you’re closing your social media accounts. Is that true? Why?
Yes, I’m closing my personal accounts. The Human Labs’ accounts will stay though, so don’t worry about them. [laughs]
How does that make you feel?
I’m in a transitional phase and I want to give space to everything that I’m feeling…both grieve and doubt; hope and excitement… this space of not knowing is a blessing! That’s where old stories collapse and new stories slowly emerge and present themselves to me…I trust that my worldview and beliefs are shifting through this transition.
Did something trigger you to take this decision?
It was something that I’d been thinking about for a long time. I even wrote down a long list of reasons for why I am leaving [laughs]. If I want to summarize it in one line, it will be this: “I decided that I was going to stop playing the virtual game and focus on playing the game of life.”
What do you think about how toxic social media’s become nowadays?
Social media’s lost its way. It started out brilliantly as a way to find friends or re-connect but now we’re heading to the next crisis because of it. Privacy, information…it’s already jeopardizing society on all levels – take the U.S. elections, for example.
Do you think there’s a way to reverse it or adjust the way social media platforms are built or run?
It’s difficult because the algorithms are only getting smarter. It feels like we can’t catch up, no matter what we do since we are constantly, volantarily, feeding them information.
I know that I’m just a tiny drop in this huge bucket but I have faith that more people will start leaving social media, which may trigger a much-needed change.
That’s understandable but aren’t you concerned that you’ll miss out on important conversations or moments?
For sure, FOMO [fear of missing out] is something that I’m wrestling with right now [laughs] but I realised that for many people, the pain of leaving is more than the pain of staying, which is why they remain, and I wanted to break that cycle for me.
I think people have forgotten that there’s a whole world out there that they can feed off to get their connections, inspirations…but they’re stuck focusing on the facade presented to them on each platform.
I’m not saying that it’ll be easy – I’m definitely going to feel a strong longing to go back online, especially since most of my support is virtual but I have faith that things wll work out.
Why do you think that people are obsessed with social media to the point of spending hours each day on different platforms?
I think it has to do with the concept of having another ‘you’ online. It’s fun to have another Naser on social media but we need to realise that one version of us – one Naser, so to speak – is enough. We don’t need to divide ourselves into all these different personas but at the same time it feels impossible to be just one version of ourselves. It’s a difficult polarity to exist in.
The pandemic has definitely contributed to people’s increased usage of social media.
Oh yes. I was shocked when I read about just how much it shifted people’s behaviour and online habits.
I started wondering: why are people using social media so much now? How is this impacting them?
People are starting to recognise their voice and values as well as realise that they need a channel to share their thoughts. It’s becoming easier and easier every day to achieve that..I’ve also noticed that people are turning to specific things on different platforms: TikTok for fun, crazy stuff; Facebook and Twitter for political stuff and news/what’s happening right now; Instagram for spirituality and wellness..
It goes back to ‘feeding the algorithm’ cycle – we’re falling down virtual rabbit holes and getting stuck in a cycle that’s causing polarisation and gaps in the way we see and speak to each other.
What about platforms like Zoom?
Oh, I love Zoom. It’s a great example of what technology should be. It’s basic and raw, which is something that’s currently missing on social media.
Do you think this will start impacting people’s behaviours on social media?
I think that while we’re using the platforms to express ourselves currently – where the dialogue is not moderated and users cannot be held accountable for what they say, this polarisation and division will only grow. Places such as Facebook are going to both serve and hurt us whether in the present or future because they are modeled on the industrialisation of human relationships making them scalable, efficient and less human. this polarisation and division will only grow.
Compare that to Zoom where you’re focused on one speaker at a time. This is a great example of a platform that stimulate reality, where dialogue is not possible unless it’s moderated, respectful, and responsible.
If more users leave Facebook and Instagram, it will impact their current revenue model. That’s what’s working for them now and that’s something that we collectively need to finds ways to pressure them into changing and making their revenue models and platform functionalities more ethical, responsible and human.
To learn more about The Human Lab please visit https://www.thehumanlab.net
You can also follow them on Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn at @humanlabx