The Things You Do In Private, Like Enjoying Your Life

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

The past few years I’ve conducted a staggered withdrawal from all forms of social media, most recently backing away from Facebook.

I left Twitter during a Lenten fast; I dropped Instagram this past summer.

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This post by Alan Jacobs captures one thing I’ve loved about my step back from social media environments: privacy. Being alone, and letting others alone. Not knowing what a loose connection thinks about a news story, or not knowing the latest conspiracy theory a friend is now pushing.

Mo Perry, whom Jacobs quotes, writes that ditching social media gives us a “chance to rediscover privacy.”

What happens when you rediscover privacy?

Perry identifies one significant consequence. You get “[t]o inhabit…experience without broadcasting it or framing it for public consumption.”

Perry hopped off social media for a weekend trip, motivated by her observation that “my social media feed is full of people scolding others who have the audacity to try to salvage a shred of joy and pleasure from their lives…The communally encouraged state of being is dread and misery and rage. People who eat at restaurants, people who let their kids play on playgrounds, people who walk around the lake without a mask — all condemnable, contemptible. Selfish. How dare they?”

Who wants to be part of that kind of environment? Why continue to subject yourself to it if you don’t have to? Why continue to log in and camp out in social media environments that are stoking hatred for others while also bolstering your own feelings of self-righteousness?

Remember, Facebook, Twitter, and the rest are all algorithmically designed to show you more of what you want to see, more posts that confirm your biases, and more posts that stoke your outrage. It’s built to put the things before you that make you happy or make you mad, and we’re more drawn to the things that make us mad. Social media is well designed to make you angry.

Regarding Perry’s observation, Alan Jacobs writes:

A ray of hope, this thought. That what the scolds will achieve is to push the rest of us “to rediscover privacy.” To take photos that we share only with friends; to articulate thoughts just for friends. To leave Twitter and Facebook and Instagram to the scolds, who will then have no choice but to turn on one another.

Why not just go back to the way things were not that long ago, when we enjoyed our life in private, without social media? That doesn’t sound so bad. Wouldn’t we all be just a little better off?

We like to believe the myth that social media connects us, brings us together. The longer we go, the more that bit of ideology is exposed as patently false.

Punting Facebook…For Now

Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

Today I made the decision to log out of Facebook. I don’t know when I’ll log back in.

From time to time, someone in my network has posted an announcement to their feed saying, “I’m out!” This may be an act of courtesy. In some cases, the intent is to display sanctimoniousness. In other cases, the tone is apologetic: “I’m sorry everyone, but I just can’t take it any longer! I know you’ve enjoyed knowing that I may or may not be monitoring your feed, as Facebook’s hidden algorithm allows or disallows, I’m not really sure, but I can’t stay any longer. Your posts about [insert topic, controversial or benign] are driving me insane.”

About three years ago now, during the season of Lent, I chose to log out of Twitter and Facebook for the season. I deleted Instagram from my phone. I initially returned to Instagram once per month. Facebook was a daily check, usually to drop my notifications to nil and to make sure I did not have messages. I still have a Twitter account. My blog posts push there. But I have no intention of returning. I think I’ve been better off without those voices in my head.

The pandemic resulted in my return to Instagram, at least for a stretch. I reinstalled the app on my phone and kept it there. I’d post videos and I made it a habit to share one image a week that I captured with my phone. I still enjoy photography. But I eventually would get sucked into the “Explore” tab, where I’d see videos that maybe caught my interest, but mostly that were not edifying. At the midpoint of the summer, or around then, I deleted Instagram from my phone.

Why am I punting Facebook?

I check it more than once per day, and mindlessly flit there via my browser.

I’m starting to scroll. I don’t think that is good for me.

I haven’t watched The Social Dilemma, but I’ve heard enough to make me want to run from social media.

I’m concerned about taking part in social media ecosystems that foster addictions in others. My presence in these digital spaces fuels the desire of others to engage in those spaces as well. I’m worried participation in these digital environments may violate the command to love my neighbor as myself.

I think social media engagement increases mental noise and prevents me from focusing, thinking freely, and expending energy on other, more productive ventures, like writing, art, and building.

I have reservations about chronicling the life of my family, and particularly my children, on services that are sucking up information about them, too. Maybe my kids don’t want my online “friends” to know certain things about them.

The written word is disembodied and can be depersonalized. If you know me, you know how I would say this sentence. You factor my character. You might even hear my voice. I’m connected to people on social media that I don’t know, or who I don’t know as well as I used to. I think this changes how I read. I don’t think I’m as charitable as I would be if these readings were complemented by in person interactions.

I think Facebook’s website has gotten slower, clunkier, less aesthetically pleasing, less user friendly, more cluttered, and isn’t as fun to use as it once was.

I think our technological overlords are not honest or transparent about the ways they monitor us, how they use our data, and what their products are designed to do.

So why don’t I deactivate and delete my account altogether?

It’s strange. First, I think there is a gospel imperative to seek connection and then maintain connections with others, even if that connection is by means of an imperfect vehicle. My Facebook Page keeps me connected to some who want to read what I write. So does my Twitter feed. I’d prefer that everyone subscribe to my site via email. But some prefer to collate information via social media networks. Some comment there.

Second, I’m trending toward a digitally hermitic life, but I’m not there yet. I’ve given serious thought to writing primarily at this website, posting photography here, making art and building other things at home which I may or may not share online. I like the web. I like having my own space. But I don’t like the social media ecosystems.

Third, like everyone, I experience the human desire for connection. There are certain high school friends, and even some teenage friends, that I’m glad I have loose ties with. When I see posts from my boyhood next door neighbors, my heart is warmed by the knowledge they are doing well, that they have found success or have family they love.

Lastly, at some level, social media does help me keep my finger on the pulse of trends–at least the trends the algorithms want me to see. That’s the trick, really. My feed runs through a value-grid, one I do not determine. Facebook does. Twitter does. Certain speech is buried. Some content is elevated. And I never know exactly why, or which, or even if it has happened.

I’m only left to wonder.

For now, I’m out.

How I Limit Social Media, and Why

Social media has undeniably changed the way we relate to the world. Online, we each manage our “personal brand.” News networks feature the President’s tweets prominently on their chyrons. Twitter and Facebook have been scrutinized for their role in public debate, particularly in how they can effect our political discourse. And there is evidence that too much time on social media can have a negative impact on mental health.

I was an early adopter of the major social media platforms. I signed up for Facebook with my college email address, my first Twitter updates were sincerely about what I was doing (things like “taking a walk” or “eating grapes”), and I can remember Instagram before the ads, videos, and the “discover” feature. I signed up for Snapchat when my students began using it. I made some cool videos using the face filters. At least I thought they were cool.

But in more recent years I’ve sought ways to limit my social media usage. Why? Mainly because of what I’ve observed about social media’s effect on me. I’ll admit I’ve wanted to be “online famous” for my photography or writing, but thank God that never happened. I’ve gotten caught in stupid online arguments and I’ve allowed the thoughts and opinions of strangers on the internet to darken my mood. I’ve been jealous of what other people show online, whether it be their possessions or their perfectly stylized life. I’ve sought confirmation of my own biases and nurtured negative views of “those people” over there, who are often the very people (neighbors, enemies) whom I believe I am called to love in Jesus Christ.

Online engagement is spiritually formative. When social media is a habit, it becomes part of the ongoing, continuous process in which we are becoming who we will be forever. And while I’ve done my best to make social media work for me, to tailor it toward life-giving and positive ends, I’ve found there are limits to the various platforms. Each, in its own way, can yield some good, but there are negative side effects that come with daily use.

I started by deleting all social media applications from my phone, and keeping all but one application (Twitter) off of my tablet. That keeps my usage way down.

I only access Facebook on my web browser, and I try to check it only once a day, and to never scroll. I don’t want to be a voyeur, though there is an element of voyeurism in all social media. It’s like one great big never ending episode of “The Real World.” When I do access Facebook, I only peek at notifications and make sure I don’t have any new messages. I sometimes fail in the “once a day” rule, and I still think once a day is too much for me. I also fail, at times, to remain at the top of the feed. I do not like what Facebook has become, but I maintain a presence there because of the friends and family members who have connected with me on the service, especially those I’ve befriended through Christian fellowship.

Twitter is, by far, my favorite social media service. It’s how I track trends and news. But I’m not a fan of the timeline algorithm, and I sometimes get annoyed when political takes trend. I love it when I’m watching a live sporting event.

I limit updates to Instagram to one day a week. I install the application on my phone on Wednesdays, post my image for the week, and then delete the application. I enjoy photography and I have friends who actively use the service, and see the images and words I share as a way to encourage and offer a little slice of life to others.

I left Snapchat for good when my friend Oliver ditched the service. Technically I still have an account, but I haven’t logged in for over one year.

My rules are in no ways laws, and I’m constantly tweaking how I use each service. There is a part of me that would like to simply leave social media altogether, as Jaron Lanier suggests in Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. But I can’t bring myself to do it. For one, I’m a writer, and social media is one means of connecting with readers. But also, there is the gravitational pull of social connections. Even though I’m Facebook friends with people I haven’t spoken to in years, I value maintaining the thread, keeping open a channel in the event that if there is a need to communicate, I can.

I also have privacy concerns about online use, or how we freely give mega-corporations information about our lives, with little idea of how that information could be used to harm or manipulate us. That’s a concern of mine, not only for me, but for my family, whom I sometimes share pictures of or stories about. Building a scrapbook, or keeping a journal, may actually be the safer and wiser path.

These days I’ve found that I’m a little more present, a little happier, and a little less anxious. I get most of my news from my local paper, the Waco Tribune-Herald. I call my mom about once a week. I spend time with a small group of friends. And when I attend a sporting event or a concert, I watch, or listen, and try to take it all in. To see it with my own eyes, hear it with my own ears, and to treasure what is happening in the moment.

I’m OK with the transient nature of the experience. I don’t have to capture it. I can just be part of it. I don’t need to tell others what I’m up to. I don’t have to always know what other people are thinking. I don’t need to try and improve my status by sharing my latest take, or my most recent witticism.

I save that stuff for the people I’m with.

Goodbye for Now, Instagram

I made a decision seven days ago to delete the Instagram app from my iPhone.

Why?

The newsfeed algorithm.

For every one image that I see from a friend or family member, I see one advertisement, three posts from news outlets or businesses or Instagram personalities that I follow, suggested follows, and other junk. I’ve also found that the Discover feature has been bad for my browsing habits, turning Instagram into a black hole.

The next decision I’m mulling over: collecting my images, deleting my account, and spending more time with a point and shoot and imaging software.

I made a conscious decision to delete Facebook from my phone and I never installed Facebook Messenger. I deleted Twitter from my phone, though I access it on my tablet. I limit my Facebook exposure to five minutes a day on my home computer. I’m not only worried about my attention span and the effects social media can have on my anxiety levels. I’m also worried about my privacy.

I suppose that Instagram’s non sequential algorithm (and that of other social media services) is designed to show me more of what I like to see based on my scrolling habits, likes, comments, etc. But it turns out I don’t like what I see. Which has led me to use these services less.

The only service I still enjoy, and only for specific purposes, is Twitter. I’ve been totally disinterested in Facebook for three or four years, hanging on to it because I peddle in words, and I’ve been beaten over the head with the message that being active on social media is essential for getting people to read your stuff.

I’m beginning to think that the clearest path to greater creativity, deeper human connection, increased privacy, and increased quality of life is to shut down social media. If I don’t delete accounts entirely, I may choose to update them by proxy through a service like Buffer. I’m also thinking of relegating everything to this space, to my website, which I set up, maintain, and manage. Pictures, quick missives, essays, etc.

I’ve intuited that social media is bad for my well being. Couple that with the fact that social media platforms make use of me as the product, collecting my data (no service is free), it may be high time to let go of my fear of missing out, download my information, and abandon ship.

I mentioned above that one of the reasons I’ve remained on social media is so that I have an outlet to publish links to stuff so that you, dear reader, might scroll, spot, stop, and click. I’d like to bypass all that stuff, and I’d like to give you the chance to remain one of my readers without having to turn a data point over to a corporate giant. In the right hand column, subscribe and receive my posts via email. Add my blog to your reader service, if you keep one. And let’s stay in touch.