Social Media (Forever?) Vacation
02 JANUARY 2021
written by Mike
I initially wrote this post on June 16th 2020, and there is a January 2021 update at the end of the post.
Anyone with an internet connection (or TV) must be aware that a few last months were crazier than usual.
A global pandemic, economic downturn, protests made sure that 24/7 news was hectic to bring us the latest updates on what is going on in the world.
I like to understand the situation and am keen to read and follow various channels. Like many people on the internet, I also have social media accounts that give me a direct link to worldwide events, and for a generally curious person, it seems like a great thing to have.
No more propaganda, biased news and gatekeepers. It’s the ultimate people’s tool.
Or is it?
I don’t know if it was because of the lockdown or not, but lately, I found myself being affected by what is happening in the world and the conversations people have online. I saw a lot of raw emotions, anger, hate and insults. It didn’t matter where I looked; it seemed that everywhere pictures and videos were made to stoke emotional responses from the user (that’s me).
It seemed that because of the overwhelming amount of content out there, the line between truth and fiction became blurred. I had conversations with friends and family about the latest news, I clicked on various Reddit topics and Twitter hashtags and read the comments.
I found myself thinking about these issues late into the night. It also started to distract me from work.
Luckily, I understand that it’s best to step back and look at the bigger picture if something gets too much.
I thought to myself, ‘hold on a minute, why am I getting so affected by these things online? I’m not even in the situation. What is going on?’
I looked at Facebook first and read a book called Zucked by Roger McNamee, which describes the platform’s inner workings. It prompted me to dive deeper into group polarization theory and filter bubbles – a term coined by internet activist Eli Pariser.
You can watch his TED talk here.
A picture of online manipulation by a few giants emerged, I learned more about privacy, lack of regulation and what it means for my and future generations. I had a basic understanding of how it all works before, but events of 2020 made me think about my habits.
I don’t want to go into the ethics of how social media and internet browsers work in detail, as I don’t know that much about it (yet), but I want to reveal the decisions I made.
I know that I can’t change how the internet currently works; I can’t make people nicer or worldwide events to stop. However, I can change how I react to all of these things.
The main issue was the rabbit holes of the internet and that the majority of the media I consumed was negative. It was wasting my time, energy and I didn’t control what I was often looking at.
I know that going cold turkey works for me from past experiences with bad habits, and I’ve decided to do just that. I grabbed my smartphone and deleted all my social media apps, not the accounts but the apps.
I’ve also blocked Reddit, leaving me just Whatsapp, Messenger and Email. That’s it.
The first step to my detox.
Straight away, I found myself grabbing my phone, unlocking it, to find nothing there.
It was almost involuntary action, a muscle memory, a habit like breathing or swallowing.
It scared me how ingrained it was.
But, that’s not all.
When I switch on my computer in the morning, my browser opens with several tabs that I always have on. Some are for work, but others are your standard social media, Reddit and news channels. They are in the background, and I had it on launch for years.
In my work, podcast production, I deal with a lot of rendering and audio processing. Not counting the big renders of full episodes, I usually have small renders throughout the day that can take a few minutes at the time.
During that time, I’d usually grab my phone or hit CMD+Tab, switch to my browser and quickly scan over what’s on social media and news.
More often than I would admit, the render finished, and I stayed on an article, hashtag or Reddit topic for a few minutes longer, reading comments and getting deeper into the rabbit hole.
Not only that, but my work also involves a lot of QCing which stands for Quality Control.
In short, QC means that I would passively listen to an episode just before the final master, checking if it all sounds good, making tiny tweaks. This is mostly a passive task which meant that my hands and eyes were free to look at the phone, social media or other channels.
Therefore, I knew that deleting the apps from my phone will free me in the evenings, after work, but I can easily cheat when I am at the computer. I’ve made another drastic action, and I’ve closed all of the tabs and completely switched off the browser.
The first couple of days were weird.
I found myself grabbing the phone, hitting CMD+Tab, opening the browser and typing the first few letters of the usual channels to switch it off.
‘This is crazy’ I thought to myself.
I felt restless and agitated, which reminded me of when I quit smoking a few years ago.
A classic withdrawal.
It also meant that this wasn’t just fun and the curious thing I did but an actual addiction that affected me without even realising it. Something that brought a lot of negativity into my life and to be honest, not that much upside.
So, what is the feeling now and the action plan?
It’s only been a week, but I’m feeling lighter, more balanced and present. It’s still early days, and I will continue to read into social media and internet players and how it affects people.
If I can get so easily addicted and manipulated, I can only imagine how it affects school kids and children. I also understand that social media and the internet is crucial to my business, so, for now, I made a few rules and recommendations.
One – I will only look at the news and social media in the morning.
Two – I will use social media professionally and keep it business-oriented.
Three – It’s challenging to sit there when tracks are rendering, or I’m doing my QC passes. Whenever I’d feel like I need something to do, I will have my Kindle nearby.
I don’t want to bash social media or sit on my couch in a tinfoil hat; however, I think that when something starts affecting us negatively, it’s best to tackle it head-on.
More than often, cut it out from our lives completely.
I intend to follow these rules for at least a few months, and it will be interesting to see if I relapse sooner though!
JANUARY 2021 UPDATE
I wrote this post on June 16th 2020, and it has been an exciting experiment.
For the first few weeks, I went cold turkey and stopped myself from checking any social media, Reddit or news. As time went by I became a little bit more lenient.
I started checking social media on a browser a bit more often during working hours, go on Reddit here and there, read the news. However, the initial ‘detox’ made me more mindful when surfing the internet. I stopped spending as much time on there and often just after a couple of minutes of scrolling I start being conscious about what I’m doing and switch the site off.
A few times, I had an urge to reinstall Instagram on my phone, but it goes away, and I can always check what’s going on from my wife’s phone. I still haven’t got any social media accounts on my phone.
As of January 2021, I barely check social media at all and if so, I do it for business purposes.
I stayed on Reddit for a bit longer, but at some point, I realised how unhelpful reading the negative comments is and lately I’ve stopped going onto the site.
I still check the news in the morning, but throughout the day when I have a minute or two during audio renders, I look at memes or funny stuff, which makes me smile. I’m also focused on my Youtube channel that doesn’t leave me a lot of spare time for internet surfing.
I can honestly say that it is liberating to not jump between various accounts and something that I thought was crucial to my daily life, is not as important as I was made to believe.
It’s been over six months since my initial decision to remove the social media apps from my phone and cut it out almost completely has changed my daily life for the better, and it was one of the best decisions I made in 2020.
I think that in the end, it’s about being mindful how we spend our time. Is the time we spend doing the thing beneficial to us or making our days worse?
I don’t want to be a hater, and I don’t dismiss social media totally, however being stricter about how I use it and more aware of how and what I ‘consume’ was the right thing to do, for me.
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