A couple nights ago, I watched The Social Dilemma, which presents a clear view of social media’s primary purpose, the tactics used, and the undesirable consequences. I really enjoyed the way it combined interviews with technologists and professors with dramatization of a family grappling with social media’s influence. What really impressed me, though, was when friends strongly recommended watching it – friends who I wouldn’t have identified as being concerned by this information. It goes to show the power of a strong presentation and Netflix’s influence.
The documentary emphasizes that social media is a commercial endeavor, and its purpose is to capture our attention and change our behaviors. The primary purpose is not connecting the world, but trading on humans as a commodity. With abandon, social media companies have combined design, psychology, and artificial intelligence to make money hand over fist. Their actions have negatively impacted millions of individuals, as well as the broader fabric of society.
Personally, I have attempted to manage my social media usage. I have not maintained a personal Facebook account for years; at a previous job, I kept one exclusively for maintaining the company’s Facebook Page, and gladly deleted it upon leaving. I have temporarily disabled my Instagram account on occasion, with the latest stint coming in at about 3 weeks to date. I don’t really miss it and have recognized occasional urges to re-install and sign in as moments of boredom that do not need to be filled. To combat Twitter’s addictive nature, I use the third-party client Tweetbot and limit the accounts I follow. I use Snapchat to message a few people – one in particular will never answer a text, but will always answer a snap. And Apollo, a third-party client for Reddit, makes the forum’s experience much more enjoyable and customizable, including making it easy to filter and mute topics and users. My usage habits significantly limit the number of ads I see, but I still notice my thinking being affected.
So in addition to disabling accounts, uninstalling apps, and choosing third-party apps over official ones, I have also heavily restricted notifications on my phone. Messaging apps are allowed to tell me when someone has messaged me directly. Email notifications are off, though I occasionally temporarily add an address to the VIP list. Fantastical and Things can ping me (but I rarely set up reminders). Almost every other notification is turned off; most apps are denied notification permissions in the first place.
Rather than rely on social media feeds to keep in touch with friends, I have gone the old-fashioned way of keeping in touch on an individual basis. Yes it takes time and effort, but the connection is more genuine, and social media wasted lots of my time for advertisers’ sakes. I also find that as you make regular effort to keep in touch with people, some reciprocate – and that feels very rewarding.