“There are only two industries that refer to their customers as 'users': illegal drugs and software. " — Edward Tufte
Last year I read the book « Digital Minimals » by Cal Newport. This book received a rare 5 star rating on my Goodreads reviews. It was one of my favourite books of 2019. The author defines the concept of digital minimals as “A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.”
The philosophies I learned in the book, really changed me. I have never been someone who is overly active online or on social media. I feel like I have become a more mindful person in the last few years, especially since I became a full time parent. But I did find myself as being an over consumer of news in general. I also sometimes went through phases of checking Facebook or Twitter feeds that would become routine rather than purposeful. In the last year, I have become very good at reducing my consumption of news. I am very purposeful on which sources I will read (I have been reading The Economist almost exclusively for 6 months) and I have limited how many times I read news. When I drifted away from social media in general, I found in myself (and many people) a slow transition to group chatting through messenger type apps. This seems to have become just a smaller scale version of social media. Facebook has even found ways to keep you engaged even if you only plan to use their messenger app. You can’t directly go to messenger on their website but need to go to their home page first (your personal feed). Also, in messenger, you get fed people's updates through “stories” now. So yeah, Facebook will find us anywhere…
My drive to do a “digital cleanse” was reinforced this week when I watched the new Netflix documentary « The Social Dilemma » (https://www.netflix.com/title/81254224). I was pretty cognizant of the addiction and youth mental issues surrounding the increased use of social media, but this documentary was an eye opener even for someone like me. The documentary did a great job explaining how these business models work. How we are the products and they are selling us, our behaviours and changes in behaviours to advertisers.
Another striking concept that the documentary explored, is that Facebook and other social media sites create huge polarization in society. This is because the algorithms of these sites will feed you content, friends posts, news articles that will confirm your beliefs or the things that trigger you emotionally the most. For example, in order to get you to stay as engaged as possible on their pages, Facebook’s algorithm may keep feeding a Trump supporter right wing news or posts supporting his ideas. Conversely, if you are a strong Trump hater, Facebook will feed you anything that will reinforce this belief. A big issue with social media is fake news, but it goes beyond that with just the way different media outlets or personalities will spin the same story. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Tiktok, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest and Reddit all use the same tactics to keep their users as engaged and on their website as much as possible. The best way to do this is to reinforce people’s beliefs and feed them the content or news article that supports their bias. So that’s why we become a more divided society. Contrary to the CNN rhetoric, I don’t think it’s entirely Donald Trump's fault that the world is becoming so divided. I don’t think the difference in ideas of the left and the right are radically different than in the past but social media may make us feel that they are.
Overall the documentary was great and I think everyone should watch it. Although the movie did a really good job of staying unbiased politically, my only issue was that at the very end, they tried to attach the problem of social media advertising to capitalism. That’s a whole other debate. I believe we can have a better social media world with a capitalist society. The invention of social media and advances in technology which were only possible thanks to a market economy, have created enormous benefits for society. I don’t think we should abolish the system, we just need to fix it.
Although I don’t think everyone needs to get off of Facebook today (I hope everyone just becomes more aware of the issues) I decided to permanently delete my Facebook account today. Yes, they let you do that… I had to go through a few steps but it wasn’t all that difficult. Unfortunately, although my account is no longer visible and I can’t communicate or do anything, Facebook does impose a 30 day waiting period before they actually delete all your content. This allows you 30 days to change your mind. I disagree with this concept. A lot of people are addicted to their social media accounts so it's not a bad thing when they choose to delete it. It has been proven that social media can be an addiction. If someone was deciding to quit smoking or quit heroin, would you tell them that they have to hold on to their cigarettes or heroin in their house for 30 days in case they change their mind? I understand that these are not comparable addictions, however, if someone wants to delete something or remove it from their life they shouldn’t have to wait 30 days. Facebook does allow you the option to download all the content you ever uploaded before you delete your account so that solves the possible remorse you may have a week later if you lost some important photos.
I also decided to drastically reduce my iPad and electronic time. I bought a small notepad from Dollarama. I will start using this notepad to write any ideas or anything I need to look up to online. I will be purposeful about my online time aiming to spend less than fifteen minutes at the end of each day or in the morning, looking up the things on my list or doing all the other online tasks on my to-do list (paying bills, buying things etc.). I also very much like writing and working on this blog. I like writing blog articles, writing in my digital journal and writing emails to close friends. So, I will still use my electronics for those functions but only during dedicated writing sessions that I will plan and be purposeful about. I also deleted all non-essential apps from my phone.
Lastly, I am aiming to drastically reduce my news intake even further. I enjoy reading our local (physical) newspaper which prints every 2 weeks. I will read it bi-weekly which will keep me up to date on the issues affecting my town and provide a broad overview of some other provincial or national affairs. I read enough books and follow a handful of blogs that will keep me informed and in the loop on big picture issues in the world.
Danielle and I have been planning to start a combined blog for a long time. We wanted it to be our way to share what we were up to with whoever cares. We also wanted to document our thoughts and memories and a blog is a good way to do that. A blog differs from social media because we will not have to be forced to see what the rest of the world is doing. No doubt, we still care about our close family and friends, however, I would rather hear about their travels, adventures, life obstacles directly from them. On a blog I can write very deep thoughts and sometimes share some against-the-grain opinions. As opposed to social media, people have to purposefully come to this website. If I am annoying, people won’t come back. If people appreciate the content, they can keep reading. If some people want to add to the content that is welcomed as well. There is no “like button” and I will endeavour to not keep track of website visits and email lists.
PS. I don’t plan to be less reachable through this cleanse. I just want my interactions to be more purposeful and mindful. I am (almost) always available by email, or text/calling. I will share my coordinates with anyone if you don’t have them. As long as you are not a Nigerian Prince looking for help to claim my inheritance or a CRA agent looking to get me to pay my huge outstanding balance with bitcoins or gift cards.
**Please feel free to leave a comment or send me a personal message with any questions. (Ironically, the website platform we used seems to only offer a Facebook plugin to comment on an article. Although the comments don’t necessarily have to go to Facebook, you do need a Facebook account to leave a comment. I hope to figure out a solution to this later on.)