How I turned a toxic relationship upside down
Disclaimer: The relationship in question is between me and social media (sorry to disappoint you!)
Today, I spend much more time on social media than I think is necessary or ‘fun.’ I think it’s safe to say that most of my family, friends and colleagues seem to feel the same way too. Not to mention the endless articles and podcasts online talking about the impact of social media on our mental health and society too. With this information constantly buzzing around me, I sat down to introspect. The problem is that we’re sucked in a little too deeply, to easily untangle ourselves from the digital spider web that we’ve built for ourselves. Managing profiles on profiles across so many platforms, we’re at the mercy of our most vulnerable vices (need for validation, approval, boredom, insatiable curiosity etc. etc.)
I give this a lot of thought, almost every day. Why? Because as much as I’ve begun to resent the control that these platforms have over my life and time (time that I willingly and consciously hand over), I have to consider and study these networks. Their usage, features, pitfalls and advantages are all important for me understand. I’m currently building my own social professional network, while I slowly try to liberate myself from others. I spend time identifying the gaps in existing platforms and designing what I believe to be the most urgent needs of those around me. I consider what I wish they could do, and see how I can build that out on Dysco.
Things have changed and I feel old school
My personal habits on social media have changed over time, some consciously and others subconsciously. I’m not saying that I see no value whatsoever in Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, and Twitter; but the usefulness of these platforms has diminished steadily over time. What were once safe, fun, friendly and communal spaces, have now become messy, massy, promotional and confusing arenas. I liked when I could find old friends, leave messages on people’s walls and relive summer of ’07 with my classmates. What I don’t like at all, is getting spammy messages, useless responses in formerly productive groups, clickbaity news articles and endless advertisements. I liked the segregation and compartmentalisation of everyday life — friendships, news, conversations and socialising each had their own place and time. I feel like the amalgamation of all these activities onto one platform has eroded the meaning of each one individually. And as a result it’s impacted how I think and behave as well..
Less sharing more caring vs more sharing less caring
On a personal front, I’ve realised that for a while now, I’ve only been using Facebook only for business reasons, or to share work-related content. I used to love sharing photos, memories and other highlights on both my Facebook and Instagram pages, but as these platforms became less private, my desire to share automatically diminished. When I first switched to Instagram, it was a wonderful change — I got to share my photos and discover other inspiring content too. But eventually the pressure to keep posting and keep being active led to an exponential rise in activity, and now there’s a visible crash or lull in my how much I post.
I lamented it at first, but now feel empowered by setting myself free of those expectations.
There was once a time when people boasted the number of friends or connections they had online — which soon gave way to what to do about ‘grey’ friend requests. Dunbar says that you can only have a maximum of 150 stable and meaningful relationships — what is the point of having any more digital connections, if not solely for advertising and broadcasting personal achievements? Do random invitations to connect on LinkedIn ever materialise into new opportunities? Who are these people following me on Instagram? Do I have to accept that third-cousin’s request on Facebook? And where do you draw the lines about colleagues, employees and collaborators? At this point I’m leaning towards close-knit, real and meaningful any day.
My time is limited and my attention is precious. Bring serendipity back.
I found that there was no need for me to be spending precious time of my day, keeping up to date with the regular and often mundane moments of even my closest friends’ days (I mean this completely inoffensively). Whether it’s knowing what people are eating for breakfast, when they’re stuck in traffic, or their Netflix binges — this information is completely irrelevant to me. It also means we have less to chat about when we actually meet in person.
Humans weren’t programmed to take in so much information about everyone we’ve ever known and their daily lives. Before technology existed, people were in touch through letters and in person meetings, and it was only those you lived with, or lived close to you that you kept track of. Only knowing what your family, neighbours and close friends are up to is absolutely normal and completely fine! You remember the birthdays and anniversaries that matter, and make an effort to reach out when you really want to reconnect with someone.
Social media has in many ways ripped us of the serendipity and magic in life; by giving us constant glimpses into absolutely everybody’s routine, uneventful and even memorable moments.
There’s a certain wonder in ignorance. It’s actually really nice to bump into an old classmate after 10 years and say “I have no idea what you’re up to, how is your life going?” There’s something heartwarming about hearing that two of your old colleagues are getting married and have a baby — when you haven’t heard about them in a long time. Social media has in many ways ripped us of the serendipity and magic in life; by giving us constant glimpses into absolutely everybody’s routine, uneventful and even memorable moments.
Change your settings to change your mindset
If you actually pay attention and use the features and settings built into these platforms, you can regain that lost control and wonder back. I turned off notifications (as much as possible) from my personal accounts. Not being constantly reminded of who’s contacting me, when I don’t want to be contacted, made it easier to disconnect. I deliberately (mostly) stopped posting pictures of myself, an act that tamed my own vanity and indulgence when bored. I actively started unfollowing people I know in real life on social media (minus a few of my closest family and friends).
This meant I had to have actual conversations with them, and also relieved me from spending time mindlessly browsing and feeling perpetual holiday FOMO while I sat at my desk. I don’t take offence anymore at people not ‘liking’ or ‘commenting’ or ‘following’ my posts. I treat it more as a personal album that if you’re interested in browsing, you can feel free to do so. Other than that, it’s a place for me to share whatever I want to share, and for me to follow accounts that inspire me — travel, design, art, fashion, music and other stuff that doesn’t make me feel like I’m ‘wasting time’. This is a personal decision and one that might not work for everyone — but it’s made my time online much happier. It’s also made my real life interactions with people more meaningful and surprising — I’m more interested in hearing what they’re up to because it’s brand new information!
It’s a tradeoff. If you’re leaving then you’re getting left behind
We can’t really deny the facts of the digital world we live in today — if you as an individual opt out of these platforms, you’re no longer aware or up to date with what’s going on in people’s lives or the shifts in society. This is still manageable on a personal front, but what about from a business front? My business relationship with social media is much more complicated.
The worst part is, that currently from a small business perspective, the benefits of staying on these social networks seem to (unfortunately) outweigh the costs. Can you afford to not have your startup / small business listed on Facebook and Instagram when that’s where most of your traffic and organic discovery comes from? Where will you learn about disruptions in the market, changing trends, consumer preferences, people’s mindsets or needs. As a startup, if you ostracise your brand from social media, you’re going to get left behind and pretty much entirely eclipsed by competition. There’s no two ways about that right now.
It’s on it’s way out and we need better alternatives
Existing platforms are far from perfect — and our expectations of them have changed over time too. We no longer get the benefits and advantages we once did, or that we’ve come to expect. That leaves us knowing (because of the nature of markets and competition), that newer, better alternatives will arise sooner or later. To me, some of the most problematic problems are:
Content Saturation & Lesser Discoverability: What’s particularly frustrating today is that because of the over-saturation and sheer size of monopolistic platforms, there is just far too much content and advertisements for chance discovery. And that’s not to blame anyone really, it’s common sense. Your own activity often gets drowned out and goes unnoticed, despite it being of exceptional quality or relevant to your potential and existing audiences. When Instagram was less popular, your ability to stand out or get your message across was easier. You could be discovered organically. You could carve a niche for yourself and actually grow your business exponentially. Despite the less impressive results of trying to market and advertise on these platforms, people keep attempting due to the last of viable alternatives.
Unrealistic expectations and professions: As Facebook and Instagram have exploded in size and popularity, the get-rich-quick schemes that worked before don’t work the same way they did — it’s simply not as easy to become an overnight ‘influencer’ and get an authentic and massive following. Because of the way humans are wired, we can’t help ourselves from still trying and hoping to mimic what worked for others, albeit a long time ago. A decent proportion of today’s youth aspire to become influencers / bloggers / vloggers or other social stars. Of course, who wouldn’t want to become a travel blogger and get paid for living a life of apparent leisure and luxury? The lucky ones who did it early enough are reaping the benefits, those who came slightly later are trying a bit harder and still getting around and then there are those who are just too late but attempting nonetheless. Unless they put in real time and effort, and create content on multiple platforms and forge robust business partnerships, the dream of being another an Insta-celebrity may soon be dead.
Control over your image and time: It’s nice to be able to turn off from work when we want to, or to focus only on work when we need to. With personal and professional usage combined on the same platform — our intentions or priorities becomes muddled as well. For that matter, LinkedIn or Behance are probably much ‘healthier’ for us because it’s purely and primarily a professional platform. There’s no bleeding of ‘social’ aspects or usage — making it easy to go there for simply one purpose — professional networking. With Facebook business accounts, Instagram for Business, or even Whatsapp for that matter, you can’t separate your two lives — making it harder to switch off from one or the other. Certain features make using these networks quite toxic, unhealthy or stressful — knowing when someone is online, knowing if your message has been ‘seen’ or ‘read,’ knowing whose is stalking you or who has checked out your story but not liked your post. These features are detrimental in our personal and private lives, and not quite necessary in our business lives either.
The inherently addictive nature of certain features (read receipts, last seen, likes and views) are what I feel compelled to question. How much value are they adding to each specific user, and is there any added benefit to the user in using these features? Or is it simply self-serving in getting people to spend more time on the platform and making sure they stay trapped in the vicious cycle?
These are just some of the issues or challenges we’ve uncovered and analysed, while strategising and brainstorming how we should build our professional network. The specific areas in which we’d like to take action are listed below. If you’d like to know more about our research and the trends we see as the future of social networks, take a look at our comprehensive reflective report.
- Create a platform that facilitates meaningful community engagement not meaningless connections
- Making social networking more social, but keeping it strictly professional
- Keeping people up to date, without being addictive, unnecessary or intrusive
- Ensure the platform is for everything relevant to work, not everything under the sun
- All content and design should focus on quality over quantity, curation over scale
- Make money by providing meaning and delivering value, not by enabling addiction and capitalising on boredom
- Ensure the platform is a safe, secure and positive space, not a breeding ground for hate and bullying
I feel extremely torn because of my disdain for the ethics, behaviours and business models of these networks, and my selfish reasons to keep using them. Which propels me to work even harder and faster at building a product that reduces and hopefully eliminates my dependence on such existing social networks. I doubt that we can eclipse them altogether, but building a robust platform that is self-reliant and can attract people to us directly, is my first step in this direction. If we succeed in creating and delivering enormous value to a small group of people, I choose to believe that that is sufficient to help us grow, albeit slower but in a more sustainable manner.