14 Nov 2017

A Year without Social Media

Over a year ago, I finally gave up on Twitter, the last social networking platform I had been using. I thought now would be a good time to reflect on giving up on social media.

For the first few weeks, I found myself repeatedly going back to check on various Twitter feeds. I didn’t tweet at all, but was compulsively following stories and comments about the forthcoming Brexit referendum. After the referendum, I then managed to avoid checking Twitter for several months, until the end of 2016, when I was pulled back to Twitter by the unfolding RHI scandal in Northern Ireland (I blame the Stephen Nolan show for igniting my interest in that topic).

Since the start of 2017, I have managed to avoid using Twitter at all, except for very occasional tweets about poor service or delivery complaints to get attention from customer service. It turns out this is the only way to get the likes of Amazon and other companies to actually respond to you, and is now the only reason I’ve keep my Twitter account. I rarely visit the site, I don’t follow anyone on my new twitter account, and I now automatically delete the rare tweets I do make after a few days. In short, Twitter is simply a tool that I use very infrequently.

Of course, it isn’t that easy to give up on social media. After giving up on Twitter, I found myself getting drawn into following Hacker News, the social news website from Y Combinator focusing on technology and start-up culture. Like Twitter with its followers count and likes, it uses gamification techniques (user karma and comment upvoting) to encourage members to participate. However, after spending some time on the site, you realise that there is a real problem with ‘group think’. There is a definite bias towards to US and Silicon Valley points of view, and any alternative views are effectively down voted into oblivion. I managed to wean myself off the comments by focusing on the top links submitted (using alternate sites like Hacker News Top Links, and the excellent Hacker Newsletter from Kale Davis) and avoiding the associated comments by blocking access to the site on my personal laptop and on my work PC. As an alternative to/reminder of the Hacker News comments, I also follow the satirical site, n-gate.com.

In addition, I’ve blocked all use of Safari on my iPhone, and have removed all apps from it that give real time information/updates. In effect, I’ve reduced use of my smart phone to just Gmail and Pocket now.

In short, it isn’t quite as easy to give up social media as it first seems. Going cold turkey can work, but you have to work hard to prevent yourself being drawn back to the same old sites. You also have to be careful about giving up Twitter or Facebook, and replacing them with other sites that consume just as much of your time with the same gamification techniques. As a result, I’m careful to avoid such sites (Hacker News, StackOverflow) where possible. Giving up Twitter has given me more time, but I need to remind myself to do something useful with it, and not to waste it all over again.

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