I’ve just taken a month long hiatus from social media and online news. I was inspired by hearing Cal Newport talking about his new book on a podcast. He was promoting his idea of Digital Minimalism. His core message is that you should evaluate digital services to understand the benefit they offer you, and use them only in a way that delivers that benefit.
Too often, it seems that social network platforms are using you: forcing you into feedback loops based on social approval indicators designed to addict you to their service. This allows them to show you more ads and make more money off you. By using these addiction-inducing design principles, they steal your attention and your time from things that matter.
I never thought I was ‘that bad’ when it comes to social media use, but I think this is only because I don’t post updates very often. However, the default address I type into my search bar after opening my browser is twitter dot com. Once I’m there, I might spend up to 20mins reading the opinions of idiots before remembering why I opened my computer. I was obviously a little addicted.
Taking Cal’s advice, I took 30 days off to gain a sense of perspective. I am about to figure out some rules for how to introduce these services back into my life. Here are some things I genuinely missed from the three main websites I have been boycotting.
Most of my friends from Brighton use twitter to talk nonsense and to humblebrag about their achievements. I have so many successful, intelligent and talented friends on the service. I found myself wondering about their updates and what’s happening in their lives. My friends of all genders are also the most sexually attractive friends and far better than all of your friends combined. I missed the puns, bravado, and the chat.
I also missed a few breaking news stories and dramas around the games industry. The games industry does like to hang out on twitter. I know I missed some of the chaos around Anthem, for example, because I heard people talking about it on a podcast. On this side of it though, I am pleased I found out about the drama after the fact. It’s entertaining but I now realise that following a drama like that takes so much energy! I don’t need it in my life.
I’m going to decide on a rule for my future twitter use: if I haven’t been in the same room as a person, I’m unfollowing them. I’m going to continue to use it only on desktop browsers and add a new rule: only 3 days a week.
I honestly haven’t missed a single thing from facebook dot com. It’s a garbage pile. The only reason I haven’t deleted my account is because I use the messenger service quite often and their events feature is widely used. I’ve installed the ‘facebook local’ app on my phone to focus on events. I’ll continue to use this service to find out what’s happening, but it’s unlikely I’ll post to facebook again.
Shortly after starting on this voyage into Digital Minimalism, I realised that my approach must include online news. Brexit is a train wreck that I find it hard to look away from. This was actually the hardest service to keep away from as the month wore on, partly because I knew that some key votes were coming up and I really enjoy following politics. Once on the site, the suggested/related news stories become highly enticing time sinks. As with game industry drama though, I realised that checking the website often is not nourishing to me – quite the reverse!
It’s tricky to decide on a rule for this because I don’t want to force myself into a routine but I also don’t want to cut myself off from current affairs. I now get most of my Brexit news from the brilliant Brexitcast. I will only access this website from a desktop computer and will read a maximum of 3 articles in any one session.
Bonus service: I forgot I had an insta account. I opened an account before moving to Canada and it quickly became my favourite network. Less nonsense comments, more images and stories from my friends. Strangely though, I haven’t missed it. Perhaps there’s not enough drama. The endless photo feed was highly addicting and time consuming, however.
I enjoy sharing photos on the service, so I will only open the app when I have something to share. I will never spend more than 3mins scrolling my feed after posting.
I’ve more to say on the topic of Digital Minimalism, but this has been a long post already. It’s been a good exercise for working out my rules and processing the next steps for my relationship with technology. I hope this has encouraged you to find out more about Digital Minimalism from Cal and to consider how technology fits into your own life.