Attempting Sanity: Farewell to My Feeds


Fred Perrotta

The best thing about the internet is that it gives everyone a voice. The worst thing about the internet is that it gives everyone a voice.

I’m tired of listening. I need a break.

After unhealthily bingeing on politics during the 2016 campaign, I was looking forward to a social media diet after the election. Then Trump won. I needed to get away from social media more than ever but also found it harder and harder to look away.

For the last year, and more dramatically in the past few months, I've avoided from social media. Curating who and what to follow was a mix of impossible (Facebook) and ineffective (Twitter). Instead, I've opted out of the firehose of algorithmic feeds designed only to prevent me from looking away. Social media has become a net negative for me.

If you're feeling the same way, read on. If social media is still working for you, then by all means, enjoy.

Detoxing

Let’s start with a quick detox. Clear your mind and remember that, while imperfect, the world is not as bleak as we are lead to believe.

Try Vox’s The world is getting better all the time, in 11 maps and charts or Chris Dixon’s Eleven Reasons To Be Excited About The Future of Technology.

To preserve that sense of calm, I recommend the meditation app Headspace.

Feeling better? Let's continue.

Opting Out

Tim Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Workweek advocates a “low information diet.” He wrote that in 2007, the year after Facebook became available to everyone and Twitter was founded. He was talking about newspapers and television.

When a distracting feed-based app is on my phone, I can't help but scroll during all those little moments like riding the bus or waiting in line. I'm weak. Even with notifications turned off, I unintentionally open an app and turn to a feed to fill every second of downtime. I don't want to be that guy.

I find it unhealthy and distracting. I need to spend more time daydreaming and letting my mind wander. I want my subconscious thinking about Tortuga, not what color a dress is. Rather than do the hard work of creating a new habit to break this one, I've opted out. No Facebook on my phone, no Twitter on my phone, no Instagram on my phone. I feel much better.

Removing apps from my phone was the biggest step but not a cure all. I had mostly broken any Facebook addiction years ago. Twitter was harder. This winter, I took more definitive steps to opt out.

Facebook

Without an easy way to mass unlike pages and other parts of Facebook I'm no longer interested in, I instead deactivated my account and logged out of Facebook on my password apps. Easy and definitive. I can still reactivate my account if necessary, but, for now, I'm good.

I'll miss private Groups, Events, and Messenger but can work around them.

Twitter

I still post to Twitter (via Zapier) and exchange @mentions with people. But I've unfollowed everyone so that I can't get lost in my feed. The Hide Twitter Guff Chrome extension blocks all of the distractions, like who to follow, trends, and promotions, when I'm checking my mentions.

Using Xpire, I've deleted all tweets older than 30 days or so. I don't have a strong reason why I did that. It just seemed like it should be part of the process.

Instagram

While Instagram can be addictive, I find it to be the least harmful to my mental state. I reinstalled Instagram a few months ago to do research for Tortuga. Once I had a handle on Stories, Shoppable Images, and Promoted Posts, I unfollowed most accounts and removed the app from my phone. I still have an active account, which allows me to check IG from the desktop.

I've found that making a social network harder to use, e.g. by using the desktop web version instead of a mobile app, is a great way to deter my usage of the network.

The New Plan

I have no problem avoiding television (I don’t have cable) or newspapers (it’s 2018), but online reading is another matter. I have to control my intake.

To limit distractions, I started using Pocket years ago to bookmark pages instead of opening them in new tabs or interrupting what I was doing to read. Time-shifting my reading has helped with distractions during the work day but not with the volume of things to read. At the end of 2014, I got an email saying “Congratulations! You made it to this year’s Top 1% of readers on Pocket!”

I was not proud of this distinction.

I'm trying to be more selective about all media that I consume, from blog posts to podcasts. I lean towards reading books instead of blogs. Rather than an endless feed of links, I subscribe to relevant newsletters or RSS feeds and rely on those authors to curate my reading.

Yes, I'm missing some stuff, but that's okay. My 2018 goals do not include "read the entire internet."

When I'm not traveling, I want to spend time with the people I like in-person and I want to obsess about Tortuga. That's pretty much it. I still love technology but only when it serves me, not the other way around.

Newsletter Recommendations

Here are a few of the newsletters that I look forward to reading each week. If you're reading this blog, you may enjoy them too. Thank you to all of the authors for helping me to avoid social media and excessive reading.