In 2015 I walked away from social media. What had once been a cheerful online community had become something like downtown Oakland after the Raiders lost the Superbowl. From what I can tell it hasn’t gotten much better since I left. Even worse, like so many others, I began to question the underlying morality of these behemoth platforms. Frankly, I still believe they encourage unhealthy behavior and media addiction.
But today, in 2019, I find myself in a place where I need to step back online in some capacity. Here’s how I plan on doing it without losing a lot of my valuable time, if not my soul.
1. Treat your social media use like joining a gym
When you join a gym you have a goal in mind: loose weight, get stronger, rehab an injury, general personal-improvement. You don’t join to buy their energy drinks. What if we treated social media with a similar purposeful attitude? I see so many people with legitimate vocations pulled into online mobs that ultimately will only waste their time and make them miserable. I’m sure they didn’t join social media to inflame their rage or opine on subjects they don’t know much about. This isn’t healthy or productive but it’s what happened to me the first time I waded into Twitter.
But what if we only used social media with goals in mind? I think this could drastically improve the experience.
I’m going to I have one goal for rejoining social media and I’m going to structure my interactions around that. I’m not going online to talk politics, religion, or promote any sort of agenda. Instead I’m going to focus and invest my time as best as I possibly can.
2. Don’t put it on your phone
Social media is designed to capture and keep your attention. This endless stream of bite-size information has the capacity to fill every moment of our day. If you this information stream on a device that you can take anywhere — a device that can tap you on the shoulder and whisper in your ear whenever the algorithm misses you — you will fail. Resistance will be futile. Creating a physical barrier between yourself and this info-cocaine is critical.
Here’s what I’m going to do: I’ll only be logged in on a single browser on a single, stationary machine. If I want to check Twitter, I have to physically walk into my office and refresh the browser. I’m not enabling push notifications. No big corporation is allowed to be the first thing I see in the morning and the last before I go to bed; no corporation is allowed my attention when I’m with my wife and kids, when I’m walking in nature, or reading a book.
Practically we all need to take steps to put social media in its place. That means thinking about how much time we should give it (if any) and refusing to give it any more time. Be intentional. Cherish solitude and peace. Make it so you can physically escape. When you step away from your computer, don’t carry the chaos in your pocket. Draw a line in the sand and don’t let big tech cross it.
3. Praise in public, criticize in person
This is a rule that I’ve set for all of my interactions and it’s served me pretty well. If I want to praise or encourage someone, a public setting is ideal for that. If I need to criticize, it’s got to be in-person or a phone-call.
The worst part about social media (and the web to a larger extent) is how it dehumanizes all of us. We become avatars and our thoughts are reduced to terse statements. We view each other as robots and treat each other with the dignity of machines. But humans are spiritual beings inextricably mediated through our physical bodies. Spewing vitriol onto an avatar feels about as consequential as kicking a trash can. But it’s almost impossible to hold someone in contempt when you hear their voice and look into their eyes. Face to-face criticism is incredibly difficult, it takes planning, courage and it never feels great when it’s over. But when you criticize in the flesh, you inherently honor your target’s human dignity and you restrain your worst impulses.
We can’t control the mobs but we can refuse to join them. We can watch our own words. We can make our little corner of the web a happier place.
Those are my rules as I step out. Maybe you’ll find these helpful as well. If you want to join me, I’m on Twitter as LeviNunnink. See you around.