I've been getting progressively more weary of social media as the years go by. It increasingly feels like a millennial disease of the mind that I can't shake.
I find myself spending hours of my day hooked on the dopamine hits that live inside certain apps on my phone. When my brain and my fingers are itching for something to do, I've committed a familiar face-ID-swipe-up-tap motion to muscle memory that takes me to a place that is slowly swallowing up my attention and wellbeing.
On the toilet, in bed, at my desk, at the mall, by the pool, at the pub, in the airport. Doesn't matter where I am, no matter how fucking hard I try, I still pick up my phone. More often than not, I justify my actions by fooling myself that I'm just passing time while waiting for X, getting a bit of daily news or looking at cats. But the reality is that I'm just another sack of flesh and bones that's formed unhealthy habits. I'm not making decisions for myself, I am subconsciously following a pattern of daily existence that simply doesn't serve my mental or physical health.
Disclaimer time. You knew it was coming. It's not to say that I think social media is inherently evil. It is pretty bad at times. But it can also be good. It's grown and evolved significantly, yet now more than ever there seems to be a lack of innovation in social media platforms that breaks the mould. A big few are monopolising the market share, with very few newcomers in recent years.
So with that, I decided to do things differently. An experiment. My way isn't the only way – this is just what I've decided to do. I asked myself what I liked and disliked about the social networks I use the most. I also asked myself what worried me about my own behaviour, how this affects my mood or mental wellbeing. Then I formed a plan for each of them which looks like this...
If you're reading this, it's probably because you found it on my Twitter bio which has a link to this very post. I'm aware of the irony of this, so seriously, don't @ me, (contact deets at the bottom of the post).
It's the only place I shared this article and my site doesn't get much traffic. It's more of a testing playground for work with a side-function of being a place where I occasionally spill words from my brain into the ether. Hopefully sharing my thought process behind this experiment will allow clarity for future-me, and maybe help one or two others along the way?
Back to Twitter. I've been terrified of Twitter for a while now. As an early adopter I remember the excitement of exploring this strange new micro-blogging world and sharing what you had for lunch that day. It's come a long way since, for better or for worse. Most of the tweets I write into that little box get deleted before I hit send. Probably for the best, I sigh, then I move on to something else.
Depending on who you follow, it can easily be a place full of negativity and hatred. Politics, strongly held opinions, trolling, shitty arguments that simply cannot go anywhere constructive. Hell, I've been guilty of getting involved in this.
My first step was to mute words and accounts that I didn't want to see and this method worked out well for a little while. But I still found myself thinking about what to tweet, or if I should even tweet. Is it safe? Does anyone care? Why do I need to share this? Why am I here?
I'm not much of an internet sensation and I don't have a big following – something which I've come to realise I actively do not desire. So why am I shouting into this website and adding to the things that I fucking hate about it?
I've deleted all of my tweets and kept my account active. There's a lot of great things that still happen on Twitter every day. Rather than sharing lunch, there's a lot of Twitter users sharing important ideas, creative endeavours, industry knowledge, world news, human experiences and my personal favourite - comedy!
The hard part is finding the good parts. You have to be diligent and active about curating your followers and muted words in a way that serves your interests. So I've decided to use Twitter more as place to observe. Either by reading my timeline (with limited mobile use) or by searching for topics I'm interested in knowing more about.
Maybe that makes me a bad community member but I'm not trying to win any awards here, I just want my sanity. Also goes without saying that in doing this I'm creating a filter / bubble. Twitter should never be the single source of information.
How did I delete it?
I initially tried to use a Python Script shared by Quincy Larson at freeCodeCamp until I remembered Twitter don't let you do shit with their API these days and you have to apply for access. Wanting fast results, I paid 10 dollars for a tool I found from a quick Google search. It worked perfectly.
Side note: clearing all of my tweets out in one swoop felt strangely cathartic.
This is a juicy one. I'm a very visual person and definitely more hooked on Instagram than any other social media app. I enjoy consuming photography, I enjoy being nosy and seeing other peoples (albeit highly edited) personal lives. Oh and most importantly I freaking loooove all of the cats on Instagram.
Apart from that, it is a very fake environment. I count myself as a participant in this fakeness. It can foster negative thinking, unhealthy comparisons about your life and unlock a simmering unhappiness from within. If you can use Instagram frequently and avoid all of these feelings then props to you my friend – but I have a feeling I'm not alone in this.
Doesn't matter how insta-famous someone is, they probably suffer these feelings too. For every person who you think has a better life/body/face than you, there's someone else who is thinking the exact same things about your life, your body and your face.
You can't stop people from sharing things that might make you feel this way, but you can control how you use the app yourself.
I'm by no means guilt free in this department. I used to share fairly mundane depictions of my life. Eventually I started sharing more photography and travel. Then in recent months, my feed turned into a thotty grotto and 100% of the posts are of me, often in a bikini.
Obviously I don't necessarily think there's anything wrong with that. If anything I believe there's too much censorship of nudity on Instagram. But it's not a realistic representation of my life. It doesn't show my highs and my lows and everything in between. To be honest, I don't even know why I do it. For attention and validation, probably. Sure I also like to celebrate my body as I grow more and more fond of it with age. But that's not a reasoning I'm willing to hide behind. It's just mindless fun, that gets quick hits of attention.
I also receive a lot of unwanted attention from what I post on Instagram, which I accept as par for the course. But for what course? Why am I spending my short, sweet life "looking good" for a social media app? I feel confused. I feel like a fraud. I feel like an addict. All for what, 100 or so likes?
When I'm older I want to look back on the places I explored, the skills I learnt, accomplishments and what I shared with people I love. I'm hardly going to be 70 years old remembering the best selfies I managed to take for Instagram. Deep down I know this. So what the fuck am I doing here?
I've made my profile private so that I can decide who to let in. My feed is already largely made up of cats and fitness influencers, both of which I enjoy having around. I have ~1600 followers, and many of those come from that one time I used a bot (lol that was weird). I figure that people will naturally slip away if my content becomes irrelevant or none existent.
I haven't decided if/what I want to keep using it for in terms of posting things. I enjoy using stories and consuming stories (again with a 30 minute daily limit). It feels more real and slightly less edited. I also need to go through my followers so that I'm only seeing stories that I want to consume.
Another thing I've seen other people talking about is removing all social apps from their phones or mobile devices, and only consuming social media when they're on a computer. I can totally see this working and turning it into a more mindful use of time. This is much more difficult to do with Instagram - but there are some desktop apps like Flume for MacOS.
As much as I find the company abhorrent, Facebook as a platform is currently the least problematic in my daily life. It mostly shows me content from my real friends and family. As someone who travels full-time, it's really nice to be able to see my family on a hiking trip with the dogs, or my friends new baby growing. I even enjoy the occasional nostalgic ping back to 2012 when it shows me an old memory of me and my cat (RIP).
It provides some value and convenience, which has both pros and cons. As much as I'd like to say I should speak to people more often and get this content in a chat or on a phone call with them, I don't for one second think I'll have enough time to do that with everyone I enjoy seeing life updates from on Facebook.
If you grew up on the internet you probably have way more connections than humans used to have. If you're like me and have gone through school, university, several jobs and hometowns... that number grows pretty fast. Sometimes friendships fall into the past and that's ok – but I'd rather let that happen at it's own natural pace, rather than cutting the umbilical on everyone at once. That said, I rarely post anything myself on there so I might re-evaluate this.
I'm going to go through my friends and have a bit of a cull. It's well overdue. I'm also looking into removing old posts. But as I said, there are a lot of memories on Facebook that I actually do want to preserve. I have a limit on the app on my phone, and if I really want to spend more time browsing Facebook there's always the web app.
Funnily enough, when I set the 30 minute limit for these apps on my phone at midday, I'd already hit the limits for that day!
Other social networks I use are things like LinkedIn, Pinterest and messaging apps. I'm not in any way addicted to LinkedIn (can you imagine?) and things like Pinterest I use rarely for something specific.
Messaging apps are an interesting one because I do spend a lot of time on them. I'm definitely of the "would rather type than speak" persuasion. I'm not sure if I like that. But at the very least, chat apps are much more social in real terms. Group chats on Telegram feel like what my Twitter feed was like back in 2008. Since I travel, it's sometimes the best way to connect with people when a phone call just can't happen.
I'd love to use some of the gained time I might have from reducing my social media usage to spend more time getting small but frequent updates from my family and best friends via a chat app. That feels more worthwhile.
Interestingly, my iPhone lists Slack as a "Social Networking" app too, which is an interesting thought about how this plays into the workplace. But that's a whole other kettle of fish.
Why not just delete it all?
- I travel, keeping in touch with people can be difficult. It's nice to have a baseline.
- I was targeted by a sim-swapping hacker earlier this year. I learnt a lot about security and how insecure all social platforms really are. I don't fully trust platforms either, or that deleting an account is a wise thing to do.
- In some cases, I want to observe and consume content without needing to contribute.
- This is an experiment, I might tweak these methods or change them completely.
Social life, creativity, productivity
There are a lot of things I'd like to see as positive results from this experiment:
- Make more time to call or chat with people who are most important to me
- Spend more time doing creative things that I'm passionate about without a motive to share the outcome on the internet
- Read more books, listen to more podcasts
- Do more activities away from a computer like diving. riding motorbikes, helping at the local kitten rescue, sailing, or being in nature to name a few
Get in touch?
I don't want to disconnect from the world or from people. My goal is to experiment by removing elements of social media that no longer serve me, and keeping the parts that bring me information, happiness, friendship or community.
I hope to have more time to spend on things that are important to me and more time to chat to people about interesting things. I'm @kymellis on Telegram or you can email me at hello[at]kymellis.co.