A better way to use social media

  • Technology

Recently I have been slowly moving away from social media in favor of reading the personal blogs of those I admire. Initially this began as an exercise in distancing myself from social media, like many so often publicly proclaim... on social media. I'm not going to do that here because while I don't use Facebook or Instagram, I still use Twitter and I occasionally lurk Reddit. However very recently I decided to move these two platforms off my home screen and have found myself doing less mindless scrolling, and a lot more engaging with the world and the lives of those around me.

Throughout this though, I realised something that often goes unsaid by the canonical "Delete Facebook" and "I'm leaving Twitter" proclamations I see. There really is value that can be found between the cracks of distraction, anxiety and boredom on these platforms. That's why most people end up returning after a period of social media detox. The exact content is different for everyone but I think they can be boiled down to the following motivations:

  • Discovering and sharing interests - Art, music, writing, photography, sports
  • Inspiration, learning and self-improvement - Motivational people, thought leaders, professional development
  • Connecting with people in your life - Sharing and discovering moments with people

While there are other aspects to the platforms, such as staying up to date with politics and current events or meeting new people, I feel like you can fit the positive parts of those activities into one of the above quite easily. Current events is one I have very mixed feelings about.  While there is value in knowing what's happening in the world around you, I've noticed that at least part of my desire to stay informed comes from a kind of morbid fascination with watching the world burn. But that's is a topic for a future post...

I do feel however, no matter what you enjoy about your social media consumption, its helpful to be mindful of your motivation and how you are feeling as you do it. Try to have a honest conversation with yourself about why you are drawn to a particular account, topic or platform in the moment, while you're engaging with it. That way you can identify if it fits into one of the above buckets, and quickly determine if it's likely to give you more trouble than it's worth.

Like I said, everyone gets different things out of different platforms. For example for me, I don't really get much out of Instagram. It's not that it particularly causes me anxiety, or that I think its bad, but I think I just don't get that much out of visual imagery. Everyone is different though, and after watching the episode of the Netflix series Abstract about Ian Spalter, Head of Design at Instagram, I felt conflicted. How could such an insightful and reflective person be so passionate about the shaping of a platform that causes so many people so much anxiety and wastes so much time?

Fortuitously, right after watching it, I went to visit a good friend of mine, that I know uses Instagram. I also know he doesn't use it to follow people who share their curated "best life", which is what I often associate Instagram with. He's an architect, and a creative, and I asked him: "What do you get out of Instagram?". Everything he said fell neatly into the three categories above. He follows artists, architects and his friends. He uses the platform for discovery, inspiration and connection with like minded people. The same way I use Twitter for technology.

But for me, as a musician, a technologist and someone who loves to read and learn, I don't find Instagram useful for these things. I find Tech Twitter to be invaluable in staying up to date with things I am interested in both personally and professionally. But it can also bleed into a means to fill moments in my life that might be better spent elsewhere. Better spent in silence with my own thoughts, connecting with those around me, working on something productive or simply doing something viscerally pleasurable like listening to music.

This is where using an app to aggregate articles from people I admire comes in. I personally use Feedly which lets you take the "RSS feed"1* from websites and put them together in one place. Now I can use social media, such as Twitter, as a tool to discover and find the people who I admire and read their published thoughts online. I build lists around areas of interest like music, programming, user experience or ethical business practices. This means that when I have those moments of silence and space, I can choose to be taught and inspired by some of the best minds the world has to offer. I have a treasure trove of well thought-out and in-depth articles right there in my pocket. Instead of mindlessly moving through an infinite-scroll of social media posts for bite-sized nuggets of inspiration.

I'm not advocating that everyone will find this approach useful, because I assume there are people for whom reading personal blogs is as uninteresting to them as Instagram is for me, but I think the general principles still apply. When using social media try to think "why am I doing this?". If its not for one of the three reasons above: discovery, inspiration or connection, then I would seriously question if it's adding to your life or subtracting from it. Only you can answer that question and it's okay to "waste time" if it's wasted doing something you truly enjoy.

One of the most fortunate parts of my life is that I have a number of friends whose regular writing I’ve been reading for 20 years now, since we all came from the early days of blogging. It’s hard to explain what that’s like, but maybe it’s akin to a long-running correspondence?

I'm too young to have been part of the first wave of blogging in the early 2000s, but it seems, by some sort of fortuitous stroke of luck, at around the same time I got into blogging, in 2017, there has been a resurgence of the tradition2*. I've also, so far, for the most part written about things I do professionally, but this post is the start of a new page for me and I hope you can come along for the journey.

If you enjoyed this piece feel free to fire up your RSS app and add my feed (link to feed) to your list, and thank you for letting me into your life. I publish a new article weekly, usually in the weekend, and about whatever I'm thinking about at the time.

1* A special machine readable list of consumable content that has been published by a specific source. This is how podcasts apps work as well. 

2* I suspect this is due a failure by the dominant social media companies to deliver something signifiant, due to their business models and incentives. But again this is topic for future blog...