Adjusting my use of social media

If you’re not at least somewhat concerned about most social media platforms right now, you’re not paying attention. I won’t give an exhaustive, or even comprehensive, list of reasons for concern here because you either know lots of them or can find them yourselves. But they include the ways in which many devices/apps/netowrks and combinations thereof proomte addiction to social media engagement, the fact that that engagement often comes with disengagement from other worthier pursuits, the role of social media in recent elections and in social polarization and political dysfunction (including voter suppresion; the propagation of conspiracy theories and other lies; etc.), and the reality that many social media platforms make users their unpaid employees or uncompensated suppliers while making user behavior modification their product (and just about any behavior modification is acceptable to social media platforms, except the modifications that might get them to disengage).

All of this has me rethinking my social media engagement. I won’t be abandoning it. I’m not going to delete my social media accounts right now, even though Jaron Lanier has given us some good reasons to consider that. But I am going to take steps that reduce my exposure to and change my engagement with social media. I know that if I don’t delete my accounts, they’re still part of the machine that’s used to produce large-scale manipulation. Reducing exposure and changing engagement doesn’t disentangle me entirely from dysfunctional social media or its consequences and “reducing and changing” actions may have less social benefit than a complete withdrawal, in a way (though the entire calculus would have to include the social benefits of staying engaged and the social benefits of choosing new forms of engagement — see the first bullet point below). But for various reasons I won’t detail here I’m not entirely comfortable with exiting that system entirely, either. (It’s not that I can’t imagine life without social media. I have done social media “fasts” before, and I do have a decent sense of what life is like without social media. It’s grand, it’s refreshing, and I always have mixed feelings when I return to those networks. I think we should all take breaks — complete breaks — every so often.)

I won’t list all the things I’m changing about my engagement, partly because I don’t think you want to know all of them, partly because I’m bound to learn from initial steps and change some of these decisions down the road a bit, and partly because some of the principles might remain the same while some of the details might change. So I’ll just make a few comments that point toward some of my changes.

  • I’m investing in other ways to engage — some online and some off (some of which I’ve noted before in posts about how I plan to get news and commentary). I expect that individual choices to engage in other ways do at least as much work as individual choices to disengagee from social media. For example, subscribing to print media or using a paid service does a lot of work to promote more functional models of engagement.
  • I’m going to be on Twitter less often, I’m going to try to use it more proactively and less reactively, and some of my use will be mediated by other platforms, so I’ll be on Twitter less “directly.” For example, I’ll be posting to a microblog at social.noahtoly.com (powered by micro.blog), and all of those will cross-post to Twitter. (Part of the point here is to use Twitter at some distance and to limit access a bit to some of the data about my use.)  I’ll use some services that allow me to schedule posts in advance so that I’m not always interacting in real time. That’s not to say there won’t be any real-time interaction there — there will be, and I want to participate in some conversations on that platform. But my real-time use will just be less frequent and more focused.
  • I’ll decide on a way to delete old tweets. Given that the context for a tweet (or a retweet or a reply or a like) can rarely be adequately represented in the tweet itself, the understanding of a given tweet’s meaning depends to a great extent on understanding the various contexts (e.g., news cycle, conversation partners’ commentary, etc.) in which the tweet was posted. Go back a few years and it’s difficult to remember that context. Go back nine years, which is when I joined Twitter, and it’s nearly impossible. Even when the tweet has a link to some other source that provides context, that link may now be dead/broken. Those tweets are no longer part of a live conversation, but they are shaping algorithmically driven realities, they can be a source of misunderstanding, and they can be fodder for trolls and bots. How often will I set these to delete? I know some who delete daily or weekly, but that seems too often. I may explore keeping year’s worth of tweets around and see where things go from there.
  • As I grow wary of the incresinging trust we place in the online platforms and brands of individual people (I know that’s complicated for someone with a domain tht is simply “myname.com,” but ask me offline sometime about why that happened, and I’ll explain it), especially relative to the trust we place in institutions (I know that’s a complicted comparison, as there are institutions building the backbone infrastructure for those individual platforms and brands and, to some extend, it’s that infrastructure tht draws us), I’ll probably avoid certain types of blog posts from now one. Specifically, I’ll try to avoid posts tht I might just be able to place with a trusted outlet (e.g., a magazine or review, online or in print).

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