*This is the third in what's turning into a series of posts. If you want the rant from the beginning, click here.
Other than the intense junior-high-dance-level social anxiety, the things I most remember about my time on social media is that 1) my phone never seemed to shut up, no matter how fastidious I was about un-checking "notify" buttons in the settings, and 2) even if my phone wasn't buzzing, beeping, or flashing banner alerts at me, my mind was always subconsciously occupied in making sure that I was getting good wallpaper for my social media. I was so busy worrying about tweeting of 'booking or 'gramming my life that I wasn't present. The social scientists call this and the related angst of seeing other people's fabulous posts "FOMO," for "fear of missing out." My mother more accurately called it, in the parlance of the 1970s, "Fear that somebody'll fart and you won't get the chance to smell it." How times change.
Here's the deal. As the Onion is wont to do, it perfectly captured the zeitgeist of 20-teens America. We accept constant intrusion into our lives because we've been told so many times that Silicon Valley is changing the world for the better that we've started to believe it:
And 3. (related) social media's goal is to take control of my life from me.
I didn't descend into the dark, lonely chasm of social media forever. At some point I realized that it's real purpose wasn't to help me or even to entertain me, unless you consider my juvenile efforts to use Facebook updates to relieve my own separation anxiety at the expense of my social anxiety. Social media, to paraphrase Jaron Lanier, was a way to avoid the closed door at bedtime, the empty room, the screaming vacuum of my isolated mind. But to draw attention on social media, I had to manufacture a version of myself that I thought people would like. By drawing me further from my true self and closer to the manufactured version of me I was putting out there for the sake of likes and re-tweets, social media's goal was to evolve a program that knew me better than I knew myself. The perfect social media platform would know what you really wanted, even if you were playing the game of trying to make yourself seem cooler than you really are. The sole purpose of this is to entice us with strategically placed alerts and rewards so that it can place ads in front of us. And yeah, I know that social media has been central to some very positive events in the past, like Tahrir Square. But I suspect that real action like that represents a tiny fraction of what comes from Twitter. The daily outrage is the more impotent, more common form of Twitter activity.
The coders behind social media applications believe--with good evidence on their side--that you can't control your own behavior. They think you're manipulatable only by the clever use of algorithms and well-placed alerts on your smartphone. You know this isn't true. But to prove it, you have to break away. Even still, after deleting essentially every social media app I've ever had (Strava is the exception) my hand is drawn to my iPhone like a professional baseball player's hand is drawn to his crotch.
I'm not alone. The average smartphone user checks his device 1,500 times a week. Add in the master social psychology of Silicon Valley and it becomes almost irresistable.
So I've developed a set of behaviors that I think have helped me take my life back:
1. I've deleted all social media accounts with the exception of Strava and LinkedIn.
2. I've turned off all notifications from Strava, and I have no app on my devices for LinkedIn. I've done my best to turn off all email notifications on LinkedIn, but they seem to trickle through every week or two, anyway.
3. Whenever possible, I leave my phone in the car or at home.
4. Whenever possible, I leave my phone in a face-down position.
5. I've turned off notifications for text messages. This may sound worrisome to anyone in the mood to text me, but the reality is that I still see my phone several times an hour for other reasons, so I have plenty of chances to see the little red dot on my message icon.
6. I keep my phone on sleep mode (that's the little moon in iOS; I'm sure other operating systems have a similar function) as much as I can. An advantage of non-traditional practice, I guess. No more pages in the wee hours of the night.