I cut ties with most social media platforms last week. I have been wrestling with the decision for over a year, but until recently have not had the guts to do it. Because I used it so often and because their tentacles are everywhere, I didn't know how I was going to fully extricate myself, so I just never did. But I found myself, often while on a social media platform, thinking about how much it had permeated my life, alarmed that I didn't think I could imagine what it would be like to live without it, while also thinking fondly of how nice life used to be without it.
There are three reasons why I went off the social media grid: SM doesn't help people understand each other and is warping how we relate to facts and emotion, it's not good for my brain (and maybe your brain, too), and I also refuse to be a data mining product. I'll talk about each of these in a bit, but here's how it came about.
I am a creative who works from home. Many people like me rely on SM to self-promote our products so we can be paid for our work. We become the product, package ourselves in ways the algorithms find favorable, and monetize our every action. Buy my e-book. Subscribe to my 12-week-course. I'll show you how to unlock your potential. Attend my free webinar! Look at how awesome I'm doing! You can be like me, too! There is nothing wrong with this other than it feels forced and snake-oil smarmy and I don't want to be a part of it. I just want to write my own creative work and do select writing work for certain clients. I got to where I couldn't stand the markety-packagy vibe I got when I look at certain accounts. I would log on, feel grossed out, while also feeling like I was losing ground with my own self-promotion.
When I first felt the nagging pinch that I was wasting valuable time angling to appear a certain way to strangers, I tried a fast. I deleted apps from my phone, and would reinstall them two days per week in order to post and read. It worked, but I found myself looking forward to those two days per week, and then, during those two days when I was using it, I felt stupid just scrolling mindlessly thought images and tweets and posts, when I had spend the previous five days doing more productive things.
I got a glimpse of what it was like to use while almost not being an addict and I didn't like who I was, immediately hooked back on scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, and then posting things, then checking likes obsessively, as if the higher number of likes I got on a photo or comment increased my worth as a human. It became more important than ever somehow, when I only had access two days per week. I didn't like what it did to my thinking, and I suspected that simply limiting myself to it a few days a week wasn't going to allow me to escape the addictive clutches that the platform designers deliberately created. I was still along for the ride, no matter where the ride was taking me. Here is a whale-bus, always a dream of mine to ride:
While on social media, I produced nothing. I also thought nearly nothing because I was processing so many unrelated images and ideas per minute....the profound next to the pointless, the heartbreaking next to the self-aggrandized, the earnest next to the utter waste of time, that my mind didn't have time to think deeply. It's also a schizophrenic approach to processing other people's experiences that I think disables us from understanding reality.
Scroll....my dog got hit by a car here's our Go Fund Me...scroll...look at my vacation pics....scroll...my mother died....scroll...I just ate this great meal #pig #glutton #foodporn....scroll...drunk selfie....nailed the butt workout #peach....scroll...pray for ________ #cancer treatment not working....scroll....cute baby pic...scroll...rescue cat pic...scroll....road rage rant, scroll, breakup selfie. We check our phones 150 times--that's every six minutes--during the time we are awake in a given day. I felt moved to get off that carousel, so I did a little research.
Most people seem to have social media now. The Instagram joke is "Pic or it didn't happen." We've all heard it. According to Pew Research in 2018, 68% of U.S. adults report using Facebook, and three-quarters of those users access Facebook on a daily basis. YouTube is now used by nearly three-quarters of U.S. adults and 94% of 18- to 24-year-olds. I'm not going to bother to go into statistics for LinkedIn, Snapchat, Instagram and Pinterest, other than to mention that they represent equally pervasive use, with percentages varying a bit with gender and age. You can check for yourself. Here is the Pew data.
And then I listened to a interview Jordan Harbinger did with Jaron Lanier on quitting social media. It's currently up at the Jordan Harbinger podcast here. Quick note: there is about 17 minutes of chat before you get to the meat of the podcast, so if you are short on time, find the 17-minute mark and start from there, though the chat is interesting and I love listening to Jaron Lanier talk.
Lanier does a compelling job of explaining the real cost of the "everything is free" mentality that has structured most SM platforms. He talks about the dangers of immersion within your own social media bubble, how information curated by algorithms severs social connections, why negative emotions are the lifeblood of social media, and how social media contributes to the mass production of misinformation, as well some other convincing ideas. If you are at all interested in the negative effects of social media, please listen to this podcast. Hint: Everything is not free. If you aren't the customer paying for a service and you use the service, you are the product.
The day after I listened to the podcast, I listened to Joe Rogan's interview with independent journalist Tim Pool, where they talked a lot about social media censorship, and the ways SM platforms are affecting the political climate, and it was a further food for thought with great timing. Here's the link.
Also, here's a pic of a Big Top cupcake I once made from As-Seen-On-TV, so you don't think I am a society-shunning prepper about to go of the grid. Because I'm not.
The following day I bought and read Jaron Lanier's book, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Medical Accounts Right Now. In it I found the following quotes:
"We need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever....It’s a social-validation feedback loop... exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology....The inventors, creators -- it’s me, it’s Mark [Zuckerberg], it’s Kevin Systrom on Instagram, it’s all of these people -- understood this consciously. And we did it anyway...it literally changes your relationship with society, with each other...It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains."
--Sean Parker, first president of Facebook
"The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works.... No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem -- this is not about Russian ads. This is a global problem... I feel tremendous guilt. I think we all knew in the back of our minds—even though we feigned this whole line of, like, there probably aren’t any bad unintended consequences. I think in the back, deep, deep recesses of, we kind of knew something bad could happen...So we are in a really bad state of affairs right now, in my opinion. It is eroding the core foundation of how people behave by and between each other. And I don’t have a good solution. My solution is I just don’t use these tools anymore. I haven’t for years."
--Chamath Palihapitiya, former vice president of user growth at Facebook
That did it for me. I've opted out. In the last week or so, I've removed from my life: Chrome, Maps, Hangouts, Messenger, Facebook, Drive, Images, Earth, Translate, Reddit, Voice, Wallet, YouTube, Instagram, Gmail (I had stopped using Gmail last year, but still had an account), and Pinterest, Unfortunately, my Waze navigation app had to go, as it was bought out by Google. I'm finding replacements for some platforms and apps, going old school for some others. I'm not going to go so far as to by a paper atlas and keep it in my car for when I need directions. I have no interest in living in a cave or shunning modernity. GPS is a technological advancement that is extremely helpful, but I do prefer a map app that doesn't sell my soul to a marketing company.
So what do I use?
I've replaced Google and Microsoft Edge search engines with one that does not sell data: Duck Duck Go. I don't feel like it is as comprehensive, but if I want to do real research, I'll connect to a university library. Duck Duck Go is open source, run by donations, and they haven't created algorithms to collect data on what kinds of links you click on or how quickly are you moving from one thing to the next, or where you are when you use their platform, or what facial expressions you use when you react to something you read. According to Lanier, this data and worse is collected about each of us, whenever we login to most SM sites.
I've replaced WhatsApp, which is on the dirty list since it is owned by Facebook, with Signal.
I've tested it on calls between the US and Europe and it works great.
Since Google closed my original Gmail account over a year ago, without any reason or warning, and I could never get anyone at Google to help me (remember, I'm the product, not the customer), I signed up with Proton Mail and haven't looked back.
I'm still on the fence about Snapchat and a few other apps, including LinkedIn, but for the most part, I've done a solid purge. To remain a little bit emotionally relatable, I feel compelled to post a personal picture. Here are two buff orpington hens perched on my leg at twilight.
I've been SM-free for about a week. I believe I can already see changes in my thinking, memory, and ability to sustain attention during blocks of time. My mind is connecting things in the creative ways it used to before I started my SM addiction. I have time to read something, then let it marinate in my mind while making casual connections about it to other things that cross in and out of my through process. The connection between seemingly unrelated things are interesting to me. They are signs of creativity back at work.
So what does this mean for connecting with people? Obviously, I won't be able to reach strangers unless they find my website. I'll ramp up SEO for my website and blog, but I won't market myself as a product on social media, and I won't be used as one by social media.
I'll continue do workshops and interviews and podcasts and teach courses and whatnot, but I'm not going to spend time curating an insincere catalog of my "best life" for people to blow past on Instagram, or creating cute quips for Twitter. I prefer connecting to people in more meaningful ways. I answer emails. You can contact me through my website or comment on blog posts.
It is possible that the words on my blog will bang around like ghosts in this un-monetized, un-optimized, un-promoted tomb that is no longer connected to my Twitter, Facebook author page, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Instagram, but I'm okay with it right now. I'm still writing essays and books. I'm still teaching and publishing. I've not foregone electric lights and indoor plumbing. I'm still using my smart phone for some things. I still want to connect, I promise. You can still share my stuff on SM if you like. It just makes me feel bad to personally use it right now. I'm open to seeing where this experiment goes.
What will this look and feel like next month? Not sure, but stay tuned and please get in touch with me if you want to say anything. And in case you think I am a cold-hearted witch, here's a picture of my poodle: