books · Current news · internet

Why I don’t use social media

… but I used to.

Let me start by saying that I’m not a zealot, luddite, or other kind of internet fundamentalist. You are completely entitled to do what you like and I care not a whit. I am simply describing my own experience.

So, social media. Everyone has an opinion, and here is mine. This is based on being (at times) a very heavy user of it since the early days of Facebook in 2008. At the time of writing (September 2021) I don’t use any social media platform (except for Facebook messenger – it’s convenient). Here’s why. Let’s start with specific platforms.

  1. Facebook is marketed and presented as a way of staying connected with family and seeing links from people you know. I suppose it worked that way in the original days. Once the initial excitement of “friending” everyone you’d ever met wore off, Facebook was moderately useful in keeping track of friends and family, particularly in my more social youth.

    However in recent years I have found it to be something of a content wasteland. Some friends post furiously, others not at all. I think this is partially due to the algorithm, but also partially due to people becoming increasingly aware of the permanence of what they post online, and therefore not posting anything worth reading.

    From a value point of view, Facebook was therefore circling the drain for me. And then I found myself unconsciously checking it dozens of times a day, despite there being nothing to see. That annoyed me, so I deleted the app off my phone. Then towards the end of 2020 my job became largely desk based and I found myself checking the website constantly. So I deleted my account as a trial and haven’t missed it. That was a year ago.
  2. Twitter. I used Twitter intermittently for a number of years in the 20-teens. I quite enjoyed getting access to the thoughts of intelligent and well-known people who I respected, but the constant re-tweeting and rage-du-jour got oppressive. At the end of 2016 when a certain somebody was elected as US President, Twitter’s normally febrile environment became volcanic. I took a break and never went back.
  3. Instagram. I tried to love IG as a photo-sharing site from a photographic point of view. But as we all know it has descended into an abyss of posed shots of beaches, white linen and exotic drinks. As with Facebook there is very little that is real, with the exception of photos of people’s babies or their meals, both of which bore me. I deleted Insta maybe a year or two ago.
  4. All the rest. I used (I think) all of the other social media platforms at various points and either never saw the point or lost interest. RIP.

Now let’s move on to specific issues.

  1. I am not particularly animated by the prospect of being tracked and marketed to at every turn. I’m aware of it happening and I use ad-blockers and VPNs where it’s practical, but I can’t spend my life doing it. If the government or terrorists or Bill Gates want to track me specifically, I’m sure they’ll find a way. If not, they’re tracking everyone and using the data in aggregate is which is intrusive and annoying, but that’s about it. This is the price we pay for the “free” internet, so unless we are all motivated to change the system we may be stuck with it. Companies like Apple that largely sell hardware are starting to recognise that privacy is a selling point, so this may improve over time.
  2. Body dysmorphia, envy of other people’s lives and internet-mediated-anhedonia are all factors for some people, but not especially me. I think it helps that I don’t really care what other people think of me, and I am often surprised when they care what I think about them, envy or otherwise. I may be unusual in this and I suspect that this is a bigger issue for many people than it is for me.
  3. Attention-thievery is a major issue for me. I enjoy thinking and reading thought-provoking things, and I find it extremely objectionable when the design of social media hijacks my attention and motivates me to check it for something new every ten minutes. This time- and attention-suck stops me doing worthwhile things like reading an actual book. It’s a known problem and I cannot describe it better than experts in the field – suffice to say that it is a great relief to me not to have to keep compulsively pulling my phone out of my pocket.
  4. I rather like not having much of an internet presence. I don’t think there’s anything too incriminating out there linked to me, but I enjoy the fact that basic Google-stalking isn’t possible due to the lack of a Facebook account and having a common name.

The (theoretical) downsides are as follows.

  1. In theory I could become disconnected from my friends, because they’re all on social media and I’m not. In practice this hasn’t happened, since the connections on social media are all so shallow. My relationships are just fine without having to constantly tend to overt displays of attention by “liking” pointless shit. I use messenger apps of various kinds and the constant back and forth of chitchat is far more valuable to me than “posts”.
  2. In theory I can’t make my presence felt on the world without a social profile. But the fact that you’re reading this on a blog seems to make that untrue. And everything on this blog happens on my terms, which I like.
  3. In theory I would be missing out on what’s happening in the world, or the zeitgeist, or something of that nature. But in practice I can operate Google like everyone else and this way I avoid most of the conspiracy bullshit served up by the algorithm.

The upshot

So I don’t use social media and it’s made minmal difference in my life. It’s like an annoying itch – you feel compelled to scratch it which feels temporarily good, but it just comes back. When you choose to ignore it and tough it out, sooner or later it goes away and you don’t miss it.

It’s worth me reiterating that not using social media isn’t a declaration of anything, except maybe that it doesn’t have value for me. I don’t care what other people do, truly I don’t. Don’t do what I do unless you want to.

I have no plans to return to social media, but never say never. If it develops value for me beyond what exists now, it may be worth it. But at present deleting social media is a step in the direction of the via negativa good life.

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