I was so excited about the prospect of social media and the power of the internet to connect people.
I started off my journey on LiveOpenJournal, posting my journal entries anonymously and giving and receiving support from others who were going through the same things. MySpace was where I continued to hone my HTML/CSS skills and where I met a few IRL friends when I got to college. Facebook was supposed to connect me with my high school friends when we all went off to college, but it just ended up being creepy. From the start, it encouraged stalking people more than genuine interactions. I saw posts from people I barely knew, but we were “friends”, and they followed my life as it progressed without ever truly communicating or connecting with me. I hated Twitter from the beginning. It was nothing but noise – even more so than Facebook. I refused to join for the longest time. I finally gave in and made an account when it became a career necessity; many of my colleagues in the tech community were using it to tweet about programming and share their tips, blog posts, etc.
The longer I was on Facebook and Twitter, the worse I felt, and the less I wanted to participate. But these networks had become so entrenched in society that to not have an account was to no longer be able to keep up with your friends. As time went on these companies changed their algorithms. Everything they did was to encourage you to keep scrolling, to keep serving you ads, to give them more and more personal information so they could target you more precisely. Their tactics got desperate and annoying. At one point, Facebook would send me notifications about activity I wasn’t tagged in nor had I interacted with in any way, apparently in an attempt to get me to open the app again and continue scrolling. That was the final straw that pushed me to uninstall the app.
I’d come across some people who shared my concerns and decided not to have accounts on these social networks, but they were few and far between. It wasn’t until I found the following article discussing the ethical problems with these networks and their design that I really heard anyone in the industry broaching this topic:
In the last 18 months, I’ve cut way back on my use of social media. I deleted all apps from my phone. I installed Privacy Badger so that Facebook and others couldn’t track me across the web. I read more articles directly from news outlets instead of just clicking on whatever other people recommended in my feed. It made my life better, but I still wasn’t able to completely disconnect myself from social media for various reasons.
In 2018, I’m taking this further. I’m done with Twitter. If the content I need to see is truly not available anywhere else, I’ll build tools to get tweets, but I refuse to post or scroll through the endless feed of noise. I’m done with Facebook. I haven’t even logged in in months.
We can’t wait for the entrenched companies to improve their products before we leave. We must all stop participating, stop giving them content to display, and stop scrolling to generate ad revenue.
For now, I’ll be using Medium to post my thoughts instead of Twitter. I commend their thoughtful design and willingness to (*gasp*) charge money for a useful product. I gladly give them a few bucks a month to build a more thoughtful community.
I’m also happy to see efforts like Mastodon, although I’m wary of any platform that just repeats the same terrible design patterns of bottomless feeds and vanity metrics like likes and followers.
I think that we can build better, and we must.
I’m taking some time off this coming year to recover from a pretty severe case of burnout from my last job, but I’m already dreaming of how I can build something better to connect us all. If you’re dreaming the same dream, or you’ve already started building, hit me up. Let’s do this :)