Today was Day 2 of a big transition I’m making in how I use social media in the lead up to my 32nd birthday. Today, was Day 2 of digitally cleaning up my room. What do I mean by that?
I was born just as the internet was becoming widespread in public use and commercial application. I’ve had accounts or profiles online since 1997 or so — I never was an early adopter — when I began using AOL Instant Messenger. I’ve used Facebook since 2005, when I was a freshman at University of Maryland, and added gmail and LinkedIn in 2008 as a senior. In other words, over the last 20 years I’ve added more and more digital toys, tools, and junk to my life, with the clutter piling up faster and faster over the last three years. IG, twitter, WhatsApp, YouTube, google drive, Signal, Slack, and on and on.
Rarely if ever did I stop to reflect on the digital mess I was making. Only slightly did I consider, especially as I added platforms to promote Baltimore City Green Party candidates in 2016 and 2018, that I was digitally manspreading and mansplaining. Even less did I consider that as much as I thought I was surfing the algorithms and influencing people by stretching the Overton Window, I was also being conditioned to behave by the same algorithms. Often my behavior online — and by extension, offline — did not meet my own standards for empathy, solidarity, and kindness. So what am I doing about it?
Today is Day 2 of digitally cleaning up my room. Day 2 of taking up a more considerate amount of space on our digital communal subway car. Day 2 of rewiring how I communicate so that the medium does not become the message. What does that look like?
Yesterday, I took the following steps:
1. I folded my digital laundry, putting all my google drive files into twelve folders.
2. I also removed people with whom I had shared documents who no longer needed access to them.
3. I deleted the apps for twitter and Instagram from my phone, narrowing my stance and focusing my voice.
4. On Facebook, the platform I’ve used longer and more than any other, I began culling information from my “About Me” section; it has no value to me or my friends to display 30 of my favorite movies there, but provides raw data to Facebook’s paying customers who use it to target content intended to modify my behavior at me.
Today, I took the following steps:
1. I left dozens of Facebook groups which do not represent communities I belong to and am invested in and am accountable to in physical reality; I left these digital spaces in which I have the least incentive to be my best.
2. I deleted my WhatsApp, which along with Instagram feeds data to Facebook so that advertisers and even less savory people intent on modifying my behavior have fewer windows into my brain.
3. I began downloading content from my YouTube channel, sharing what I believe needs to remain public and accessible with allies and organizations best positioned to promote these videos. I also turned off YouTube’s “autoplay next video” feature, so I won’t get kicked from a video I’ve chosen to increasingly extreme videos intended to hold my attention through as many ads as possible at all costs.
4. I switched the default home page search engine on my smartphone’s web browser from google to DuckDuckGo, which unlike google does not save my browsing data and sell it to the highest bidder.
5. Significantly, my wife, brother, parents, and aunts all agreed to move our texts to Signal, a safer, more private, and more intimate platform for our group chats.
Some of these actions are motivated by reading Jaron Lanier’s “Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Now”. But mostly I’m motivated by self-awareness that has come out of work I’ve done over the last year with three amazing people: a personal coach, a therapist, and a professional peer-mentor.
I’m only a bit more than a third of the way through Lanier’s book, and currently don’t intend to completely end my participation on Facebook, LinkedIn, or google suite platforms. Although I remain open to being convinced in the next 100 pages of the book, I do plan to drastically change how I behave on these platforms, and will continue to blog about the steps I take to make that plan a reality over the coming days. From where I’m typing, my digital space feels cleaner, safer, and most importantly, an environment that brings out the best in me. And that feels really good.