Why I’m quitting social media – part 1/2 – the rational arguments
Posted on January 2, 2014
I joined Facebook on June 18th 2010 by being a smartass, followed by Twitter on November 22nd with a vague promise, and I started this very blog roughly one year later on 11/11/11 – I’m a sucker for numbers - with a short self-analysis and the reason the world didn’t end in 2012. (You can thank me for that later.) Since then, I’ve become a member of about 20 to 25 social media and networking platforms, checking everything from learning-based ones like Quora and Wikipedia, to procastination-enablers Reddit and YouTube, from professional aids such as LinkedIn and Behance, to fitness-based communities Fitocracy and Dailymile, and many, many others.
I can’t deny that there have been advantages to using each of them. I could name at least 5 things I’ve learned from every single one, and certainly at least 20 from the major networks. I’ve grown both personally and professionally by interacting with people through the channels they’ve offered and by using the tools they have available. I’m well-aware I wouldn’t be the same person I am today without them. Take that as you may, but I mean it in a completely positive sense.
However I’m not optimistic about their future utility for strictly personal use. I have a few issues with the perspective of using social media for yet another year, and for ease of reading, I’ve labeled each of them:
The addiction to novelty
Issue № 1
Before I even get into problems of volume or quantity, I’m displeased with how I have become so accustomed to having information served to me from various sources that I can cherry-pick according to my mood and preferences. It’s gotten to the point where I’ve started giving undeserved attention to the ‘novelty’ of an element – that is, the perceived quality that the more recent an item, the more value it has.
It is not right that the only way information can get to me is by having somebody post or share it through various channels, for it to fight through poorly-understood algorithms so it can (maybe!) grab my attention through a catchy title or thumbnail. The quality of the material itself, the thoroughness of its research and the ranging impact it carries should be qualities I offer more attention to.
There is a wealth of articles, studies and opinions scattered throughout the internet that I can dive into, thanks to search engines, indexes and lists of all kinds. Books and the printed word have always held the distinction of encasing valuable knowledge between their covers, and the majority are really only printed a few times. Aside from fields where constant update and editing is required, why should I ignore what’s already been written down?
The diminishing value of my words
Issue № 2
The average person on a major social network follows the updates of roughly 300 to 500 individuals and 100 to 200 companies, personalities, groups or communities. Even in an optimistic scenario where a person proactively cleans up their news feed and selects only the most relevant of these communicators to be displayed to them (something I’ve been trying to convince people to do for a while), there’s still well over 150 distinct emitters. In that scenario, I would still represent less than 1% of what my intended target receives, and with more people connecting together, that small percentage is bound to get even smaller.
Call me a narcissist, but I place the value of my opinion at more than just the average. I think that due to learning how to select, filter and curate the content I share – and investing no little effort into it, for that matter – my posts should hold more weight than Joe Smith and his KFC check-in.
The fact is that the vast majority of social networks have no means of differentiating between Joe and myself by anything other than the number of peer appreciations and subsequent shares, both of which are mandated by the personality and mentality of the crowd we chose to share with. Let’s face it, most of you reading this have not optimized your news feeds to focus on quality – because you’re not there for it, or you’ve resigned yourself to not finding it in that context. Social networks have lost their potential for harnessing quality.
The lack of permanence
Issue № 3
This is something of a technical offshoot of № 1 and it refers to how, once I’ve said something somewhere, it’s essentially gone. Those lucky to have seen it might have read it, might have interacted with it, but months, weeks, sometimes even days later, it’s very difficult to find it again. You’re faced with the option of trudging through your browsing history or asking the person if he or she remembers it – which isn’t an option when the person has no idea who you are.
The poor search and indexing options major social networks have certainly don’t help. At one time, Facebook experimented with a “Save” function that allowed you to store updates or posts from others in a personal folder, but I don’t know what became of that. Most platforms in the field seem to leave it to the user’s initiative to “save” what they find useful or interesting, through apps like Pocket or Evernote (or even the humble bookmarks), but then you’re faced with having to add yet another service to the already complex myriad of tools you use. Too many apps, too much time lost in maneuvering through and around them, while losing track of what’s important: the content.
The illusion of learning
Issue № 4
Everything moves fast in social media. I’ve gotta stay on my toes to catch the latest news or meme or movement, because if I miss the first few days (sometimes hours), I’ve lost it. Because of this high-speed flow, I’m flooded with information and never feel a lack of it. I can’t remember the last time I felt not enough happened on the internet.
A direct consequence of this phenomenon is that after consuming a piece of content, it has no time to settle, to give me time to digest it or remember it for longer than a few hours or days. Only a small amount of what I read and see really passes through and makes me think about it. It’s a damn shame, because there’s tons of great topics out there to consider. But when I’m hit with wave after wave of new and potentially interesting things, I just keep consuming until I’ve taken in too much to handle. At the end of the day, I may have read all I could about a subject, but I won’t be able to detail it in a coherent manner to another person.
What ultimately happens is that I’m left with, as one cartoon puts it, “an approximate knowledge of many things”. I’ve spoken about how one of my life goals is to become mediocre in as many fields as possible, but even being mediocre implies having an absolute knowledge in a field, even if it’s incomplete or only touches the basic introductory parts of it.
The oversharing syndrome
Issue № 5
Due to hanging around on various news, link and image aggregator websites, I tend to read and see a lot over the course of an average day. Due to both the fact that I’m always taking things in and the way I’ve taught myself to share these respective items, I’ve developed the need to communicate them to whomever I believe may also be interested, which in turn start to hail me as some kind of authority in the subject.
Another problem is that having done this so often, I start thinking about how I’ll share something, and whom I’ll share it with, as I’m consuming it. This leads to less attention and less power of thought being given to what I’m actually looking at, which together with the satisfaction and fake reward I perceive in having a field or expertise associated with myself, contributes to making me think I’m actually more qualified in that certain field than I actually am.
It’s a cognitive bias very similar to the Dunning-Kruger effect, which states that the self-confidence that stems from believing myself competent actually masks my (very real) lack of competence. In complete honesty, that kind of realization about what I’m doing to myself makes me despise myself whenever I become aware of my own ignorance.
The fake validation
Issue № 6
As easy to guess as it is, this one carries a heavy blow. I take an unreasonable amount of pleasure from having my posts and comments liked or shared. Each new notification of how somebody liked something I said triggers satisfaction centers in my brain and makes it give me a mental pat on the back that’s equivalent to receiving actual verbal praise. Which, of course, is false. The person on the other end simply gave a bit of attention to what I posted, clicked a button, and then went on to consuming another piece of information.
The fact that I get this kind of validation means I’m encouraged to comment more often and invest extra effort into it, which leads to more positive feedback and thus further encouragement. It’s a vicious cycle that I want, need, to break out of.
I won’t deny the fact that my activity on social media has helped me have a stronger voice or become better known among my friends and maybe beyond, but this reputation boost has too small of a return, all things considered. It has always been the things I’ve done, more than the words I’ve said, that has made my name stick in people’s minds. I need to remember that.
The excessive time I sink into it
Issue № 7
Partly a consequence of № 6, partly an effect of social media developing into an excuse. I tell myself I’m not really wasting time: I’m either passively or actively interacting with my friends, I’m learning new things, I’m developing communities, on and on and on forever. I’m exceptional at finding excuses – it’s one of my talents, alongside bullshitting.
The point of the matter is, I’m investing all this time into all kinds of activities that have no long-term value or return. Sometimes (most times?) there isn’t even any gain on the short-term, just a vague possibility of it.
I’m not the kind of guy that makes plans for his future. For a long time, I swore by the motto “go with the flow” – take what life throws at you and run with it, don’t plan. While I still keep this in mind, it’s time to worry about how just my personality won’t be enough to get me ahead in life: I’ll have to actually know a few things. In order to get started on that path, I need to take control of my time the same way one takes control of his personal finances. In more ways than one, time is money.
Social media is currently keeping me from becoming a better me, and that means it’s gotta go.
What’s next? Even though I’ll be permanently deleting my Facebook account and will cease posting on any social network platforms (exceptions being LinkedIn and Behance, where I’ll only update my profile when required), I will still be using and posting on this blog, due to how I perceive it as a counter to many of the above-mentioned issues, and it will from now on act as my sole public point of contact with others – you. Email will still be here (mail at danbaciu dot com). I’ll still be here – sort of.∗
Part 2 will follow in another 2 days, detailing the emotional, interpersonal arguments and expanding on what I’ve written here.