Reclaiming social – an experiment in progress

I recently (three weeks ago, Nov 1) cold turkey quit facebook and twitter. I also tried to become less tied to google. Here’s my thoughts and stories on that so far.

Bottom line – so far, so good. I do miss about 5% of FB.

Why? Jaron Lanier’s “Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now” (see below) was the catalyst. But I’ve been considering this for many months. Jaron’s book helped me distill my reasons:

  1.  Social media had a negative impact on the 2016 presidential election.  It provided a tool that was exploited by both foreign and domestic groups trying to influence the election.
  2. Social media is not as good as it should be.  It has been hijacked by advertising (see WSJ article below) which drives (on steroids!) the filter bubbles.  By actively disengaging, I hope that we can motivate Silicon Valley to “step it up” and find a better model for social media.  (The “BUMMER” business model that Jaron discusses.)
  3. I used social media to keep in touch with people (fantastic! and I miss that) and events but also as a “go to” distraction while waiting in line, sitting at the airport, etc.  This ate up useful creative thinking time and became a negative feedback (sucking up more and more time).
  4. Social media is “just a tool” and tools are not inherently good or bad.  Tools can be used for good or bad and can be well designed or poorly designed.  At this time, the way I was using social media (or being used by social media..) was more bad than good (that’s my hypothesis, that I’m testing out..).

How am I implementing it?  I  quit going to FB and twitter (This blog does still auto-publish to twitter.  I haven’t turned that off yet, still pondering.)  I didn’t delete my account or the app on my phone, I just don’t use them.  This has freed up a surprisingly significant amount of both time and attention.  As for google, in the past I had all my email forwarding to google and used their interface.  I changed the forwarding to my talus-and-heavner.com address which has a decent webmail and IMAP interface from dreamhost.  I started rebuilding spam filters and need to get more aggressive about that (google did pretty good at that).  I did backup all my gmail (~20GB) and google contacts (and imported the contacts in my t-h email) as an mbox so I can search that.  I switched my browser from chrome to firefox.  I switched my search tool from google to duck, duck, go.  I have used gmail about 5 times to search up an email/contact – I have the app on my phone still, but moved it from bottom bar to buried in a folder.

Various sources and thoughts on this from this month:

 Jaron Lanier’s “Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now” was the catalyst.  I recommend you read it.  The ten arguments are critically important and have at least significant merit and are worth seriously considering.  The final thought from the book is “Note that I didn’t name this book Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right now and Keeping Them Deleted Forever.  After you experiment, you’ll know yourself better.  Then decide.”

The Nov 14 Wall Street Journal article on “Beware the ‘Free’ Internet” (yes, behind their paywall, but the key plot below illustrates that FB, twitter, and google (alphabet) derive almost all of their revenue from advertising.  So they are motivated to drive filter bubbles and track users (sub-optimal social media motivation in my view):

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The Nov 16 Science Friday discussion on “You Are How You Read” – deep reading is still a critical skill, even in our era of information overload/bombardment and the requirement of skimming.  I recommend the 17 minute discussion, but (yes, ironically..) to summarize for you: “These days, we experience most of what we read online, and that has made us excellent skimmers and multitaskers. But we’ve gotten worse at the kind of reading that requires critical thinking and analysis, referred to as “deep reading.””  FB/twitter drive the “tl;dr” (too long; didn’t read) and skimming/multi-tasking.

The Nov 20 Marketplace “Make Me Smart” podcast on “How do you get out of your echo chamber?” Again, summary: “It’s tough to admit you have a filter bubble, and even harder to break out of it. But we all live in one: Social networks are programmed to serve up content they think will appeal to you, and that can create a feedback loop that keeps diverse voices out of your media diet. So what can you do?” Jon Keegan’s WSJ look at “Blue Feed, Red Feed” is a great side by side look at the filter bubbles we live in.   It is interesting to here both Molly and Kai talk about their social media usage – and when they turn it off / take it a break.

I use aggressive ad blockers and anti-trackers in my browser and router.  I’ll keep that up and turn it up – clearing cookies regularly, etc.

My conclusion (to date, still evolving!) – social media tools could be fantastic.  They have a great role in connecting us and sharing ideas – some of the original idealism around the internet itself.  However, our tools have been subverted by the advertising model and made us the product, not the beneficiaries of these tools.  We need to remain aware of this and find ways to change it.

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