I joined both Facebook and Twitter many years ago, when they were technical ideas, as opposed to advertising machines driven by algorithms.
Part of the reason for joining in the first place was for me to reserve my namespace. Just like gold rushes of old, it’s always important to claim your username before somebody else jumps in before you and puts their stake in the ground. While Twitter and Facebook took off, I also had my namespaces at long-forgotten sites like Pownce, Myspace and Technorati.
The Halcyon Days
Over the following years, my engagement with Twitter and Facebook increased. Facebook was great for retaining connections with people I knew IRL while on Twitter I built a list of followers that I didn’t know, but whose insights and commentary I enjoyed. This ultimately revolved around my two greatest hobbies: basketball and the Apple IT ecosystem. From around 2011-2015 really were the salad days of these two services.
The problem for them (not me), however, was that I wasn’t paying the bills. Nor were any of the other users. We know how this story goes. As per the trope, if you’re not the customer, you’re the product. There was a realisation that I was certainly the product - being sold as advertising fodder by these services that needed revenue to keep the lights on, and investors invested.1
Over time, these services added dopamine to my day. The nefarious social engineering tweaks they built to maintain my engagement were difficult to defeat. Likes, comments, shares, retweets. All these things built in a way that tries to make you feel like you are valued by your audience, but which are all just further measures to build an advertising profile of each of their human products. But it kept me coming back.
My usage continued to grow until a series of events made me question what the hell I was doing. Firstly, most of the Facebook people I realised I either saw in real life — which was much more satisfying — or I never saw them, and didn’t have space in my life to genuinely care about them. The algorithm would occasionally surface them to my feed, then they would bubble down again to be forgotten. On Twitter, there was growing awareness (and evidence) of the hate, vitriol, bile and mistreatment of people, both inside and outside my personal feed.
As the services became politicised, they became weaponised. Intolerance grew, they became echo chambers, and the value of what was being expressed was minimised. From link bait to listicles and lame videos, both services were serving up nothing but empty calories. I realised that I was using my most valuable resource — my time — on two services that were giving me nothing back in return for my investment.
Hence, the decision to withdraw my namespace claims. I have deactivated Facebook. I have deleted Twitter.
What is great is that I don’t feel I have lost anything. I feel just as informed, and I actually feel calmer. I don’t have this buzz in the back of my brain, like an itch I can’t scratch, knowing that I need to check my feeds. It has freed up the time to do more productive things. I’ve been reading actual books again. I have watched TV shows and movies with full focus.
It’s been great to have more free time to invest in activities that provide mental nourishment, rather than the fast food diet I had become used to with social media. Ironically, I think I had it more right 10 years ago, before the age of social media, where this is exactly what I would do. I would read, learn, converse. I didn’t like, share and tweet. But I think, on balance, I was all the better for it. I’m enjoying this rebalancing I’m going through now, and I hope that it continues.
- If you want evidence of just how much you are the customer, be sure to download the document from Twitter that shows just what information they have on you, and how you are linked with a range of brands and services for marketing towards. It’s kind of chilling. ↩