Taking a mini digital detox
Lots of people talk about taking a digital detox.
I find it a bit sanctimonious. They write about it like they're a martyr sampling life in 2005 so we don't have to.
Even though I find the idea of giving up social media (and more) really tempting, I hide behind the excuse that I need it for work. I do, but there are ways of dealing with that (the main one being to create an account just for work). No, the truth is I know I'm too addicted to give it up for good. In fact, I'm slightly scared of what life with fewer connections (and I know social media connections are hardly 'real', but they can feel it) might be like.
Recently I found a way to make social media work for me. It's not quite a digital detox, but it is a very big spring clean. And it has made me feel better.
So like the sanctimonious martyr that I am, I thought I would share the advice that I've learned.
Back when Facebook was knew and exciting, the best way to get the news from businesses you used was to 'become a fan'. I'm interested in what different radio stations do, so I subscribed to loads of them so I could hear about what they're up to.
This was a mistake. Businesses have since learned that the best way to use Facebook is to bombard you with links to their website and stuff for sale. I know every time Kim Kardashian has done something because I get 14 different radio stations posting clickbaity links to their website, but because I don't care enough to click on them I never actually get to find out what it is that Kim Kardashian has done.
This is the key to the biggest problem with Facebook. Have you ever laid in bed, decided to check your phone quickly, and ended up spending an hour scrolling through a load of stuff, all of which you forget about two seconds later. When I'm procrastinating, I have a terrible habit of opening Facebook every five minutes and just staring at it. It always has something new, but never anything interesting. I needed to change that.
Here's my advice: spend an hour scrolling through Facebook on your laptop. Read every single post you see. If you do not care about it, hover over the company or person who posted it and unfollow them. Nothing bad will happen if one day they post something interesting and you didn't see it, but it is bad when they post things which aren't interesting and you waste your time reading it.
From now on, be this harsh every time you look at your Facebook news feed. The aim is to get rid of every business or silly meme page except for a select few you genuinely care about.
What makes Facebook different to other social media is that it's designed to feel intimate. When these gossip-columns try to get you to click on their links it can feel like they are shouting directly at you. Get rid, you'll feel better for it.
A special shoutout for LadBible and all the other 'lad' pages. I've never liked them. They just take other people's silly jokes and make money out of them. But people keep sharing them. Click on the top-right corner of the post and select 'Hide all from LadBible'. Some of it might be funny but I'm not missing out if I don't see the latest video of a man sliding on ice.
I haven't finished. I don't see the point of Facebook Stories at all, but they sit there at the top of your Facebook app begging for your attention. Unless it's somebody you'd genuinely like to hear from, long-press on that story and select 'mute'.
It doesn't finish there. Go through your profile, look at all the information you've provided, and change its privacy setting to 'only me'. If you don't have a detailed profile, there is no pressure to keep your profile up to date.
In fact, unless you really want to keep that data for any reason, go a step further and clear it. This means Facebook has a little less about you to sell on, too.
Ideally I would go through all my old posts - I'm of an age where Facebook came into fashion while I was a teenager, so I've got hundreds of albums of old parties - and hide them. An empty profile makes the soul feel good. But I realise that would take ages, which kind-of defeats the point of a detox.
Why not just delete Facebook?
Absolutely, if you're in the mood to delete Facebook, do. Even if it's just while you get an essay finished. Your account will be protected for when you're ready to return.
The problem is it's too easy to return, so if you're really addicted it only takes a couple of clicks to get you back in. Some people worry that if they're not on Facebook they will 'fall of the face of the earth', and that's not the done thing to do in 2019. Others really do need it for work. For me, I'd rather have it there but make it so useless I can't waste time on it.
Personally, I don't see the point of Instagram. I'm not photogenic, I'm not interested in fashion, and I don't visit many fancy restaurants. I honestly don't get it.
I used to use Instagram to protect myself from fear of missing out. Thinking about it, I can't think of anything on there I've ever been glad I saw, so I decided to close the account completely. Your username and account history is frozen in case you ever want it back.
If you can't live without Instagram, whether it's because of fear of missing out, business reasons or it actually interests you, I would suggest this trend of following thousands of strangers, brands and meme pages is doing you no favours. I can just about understand why, if fashion is your thing, you might follow some big fashion retailers, but what interesting photos do Pizza Hut ever post. You know what pizza looks like!
Following someone on social media is seen as a networking move. Many people feel they need to be seen to follow certain leaders in their industry, or you might feel that you're betraying a contact by unfollowing them. That's fine, but Instagram has introduced a brand new feature to deal with this: mute them.
Again, Instagram stories carry a sense of urgency that you need to open them now. They are also usually really boring. Long-press and mute the person who created each one, and mute the posts of anyone you don't really want to hear from too.
I have a weird affection for Twitter, because I remember the days when it was quirky, exciting and fun. I don't think it's any of those things now.
As with Instagram, if you want to be seen to follow someone, that's fine. If they aren't seeing anything interesting, mute them. Twitter also offers an unusual feature where you can hide somebody's retweets only. This is perfect for those friends who you do want to hear from but you aren't interested in the thousands of memes they share.
I'm really not sure why people follow thousands of others on Twitter. Again, unless you work in the pizza retailing industry, I'm not sure how interested in Pizza Hut you can see. We hear enough from the President of America every day, unless you work with him I'm not sure why you'd want to subscribe to his every word. If he says anything important I'm sure you'll hear about it soon enough anyway. Get rid of all this clutter.
Politics and Twitter
When talking about social media, people use the phrase 'bubble' like it's an insult. You definitely need to be aware of the danger of a bubble (that is, you think everyone agrees with you because you only follow people who agree with you). But I don't see how it can be a bad thing.
I don't log on to Twitter because I want to be challenged about my views of the world. There is enough actual news - on TV, on the radio, on the internet and on the actual news section of Twitter - to show me both sides of the story. I go on Twitter because I'm bored on the bus and I want to hear from someone I like.
I have muted thousands of people on Twitter. I think there's no shame in it. I have no issue with people who want a reasoned debate on an issue, but if they are just on an extremist rant, it's clutter that I don't need to see. Half of them are being paid to post anyway, so don't make it worth their while by reading what they're saying.
The same goes for anyone whose job or status means they attract lots of trolls. Part of being in that position means you need to welcome feedback on how you can do things better, and you need to accept that some days you will get it wrong. But you also need to remind yourself that no matter how good a job you have done, especially in the arts and entertainment worlds, there will always be somebody on the internet who will tell you why it's awful. Mute them. Make it so that it's their own time they're wasting.
Use Twitter lists!
If you really need to know what's going on in the world, then use the feature everybody forgets about: Twitter lists.
There is an option on the Twitter menu (tap on your profile picture or the 'options' button on someone's profile) to create a list of Twitter users. This is where you create a list of people who work in your industry, a list of people who make you laugh, or celebrities you want to get gossip from.
Using HootSuite (desktop and a phone app) or TweetDeck (I prefer it but it's desktop only), you can then choose which of those lists you can see. So when you're bored and want a fix of gossip, or you're at work and you need to see what the rivals are doing, you can dip in and take a look. What's key is you now dip in and out when you want, because these 'quite interesting accounts' are not getting mixed in with the 'very interesting accounts' you want to hear every word from.
Or maybe you could create a list of very interesting people you want to hear every word from and just check that one more regularly? It's up to you, so long as you're in control.
You're on your own with this one. Most of my advice so far has been about getting businesses and boring acquaintances out of your life. WhatsApp actually facilitates really conversations between real people. That's a good thing.
If you're on one of those group chats which gets a notification for an hour, long-press it and turn the notifications off for as long as you can (a year). Then you only check it when you're ready to. That's about the best advice you can give.
If you're really struggling, turn the internet off on your phone. You shouldn't be worrying about who's trying to message you when you're driving or working anyway.
Once upon a time I would fill out a form and think "you know, maybe I would like to hear the latest offers and news from this brand". Even now you might be convincing yourself that you care about them.
It's very simple: did you delete their email after reading less than two sentences? Then you should have unsubscribed.
Spam is impossible to avoid but you can make it a little better by setting up email filters to ban very specific phrases that you're getting a lot of.
I've spent a lot of my life having interesting conversations on discussion forums, and learning new things in the process. Recently, things seem to have gone sour.
Discussion forums are suffering from the same problem that a lot of politics seems to be suffering from: people are lazy. They would rather type out their guesswork than spend two minutes on Google finding the real answer.
I've had enough of arguing with idiots and correcting people who couldn't be bothered to read things which were posted only a few posts up. I'm trying to go cold-turkey and am never posting in a discussion forum again.
Social media has killed online discussion forums. But it has also saved them. There are some people I met online during the 'good old days' who I've gone on to become good friends with, and we continue the discussions we used to have on WhatsApp, on Facebook or in a pub. The only problem is what do you do if you're still open to meeting new people who share your niche interest, but you don't want to hear from the irritating ones? Facebook Groups is an even bigger ground for idiots than websites are. All you can do is start a Group and try to keep it very secretive.