Digital minimalism and The Social Dilemma

Over the past month, I have fallen into the social media rabbit hole and even though I became aware of my behavior these past few days, I’m still baffled as to how it all started.

At what point did I stumble into the hole? Which video on YouTube caused me to push away my priorities (writing for this website among others)? Which Tweet tipped the scale that ended with me scrolling for hours? Was the new mobile game I downloaded after seeing an ad on Instagram the point of no return?

I guess I will never know how it all started, but I don’t have to wonder about why it started.

I know what impact social media has on me and what it usually does to my productivity.

When I allow YouTube to run in the background, my creativity falls drastically. If I have to be productive, I do best in silence, or with quiet Spotify in the background.

It’s not news that social media and the Internet in general cause us anxiety and lowers our productivity. And while people all around use digital productivity tools, try as I might, I always do a lot better with an analog to-do list that allows me to focus on a select few tasks.

Earlier this year I decided to explore the concept of digital minimalism, disconnecting from the screens, and social media. It was a mind-blowing and worldview changing experience. And yet, nothing changed in my usage of digital goods. And, to be perfectly honest, I’m not entirely sure why nothing changed. I was making a conscious effort, acknowledging how beneficial such change would be. And yet…

Only after watching The Social Dilemma I was able to put into words what was happening to me. This new Netflix movie (or documentary, if you can call it that) put a spotlight on how algorithms really work on social media platforms and boiled down their purpose into one simple concept: keeping people on their screens. Keeping people on the platform.

Up until now, I knew that every single platform I was using had an algorithm that commanded what I see in my feed. But it was an annoyance that meant I couldn’t see posts in chronological order (something I will miss till the end of days) and not a plot to manipulate me into giving up my time. Even though that’s what it always was.

Yes, part of me realizes that even that movie was manipulating my perception of the situation because every movie, documentary or not, will be pushing a certain narrative and anything that doesn’t support it will be omitted (What the Health and Cowspiracy a great example of one-sided narrative). But it’s hard to ignore the truth in the saying:

If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.

If a service is free, that service needs to make money somehow. They need money to support all the servers, all the people, all the expenses. If I’m not paying for those, who is?

And maybe it’s not about selling my data to some third parties. But they are using that data for something, right?

It’s a scary reality where mindless social media habits are taking away my creativity and will to do something with myself. I refuse to allow my attention to be traded like I’m cattle.

So I made a conscious decision today. I will stop using social media platforms mindlessly. No more scrolling down for no reason. No more clicking on recommended videos.

I started my social media accounts because I wanted to connect with people and learn more about them. I don’t know if I can still get that out of my social media usage, as I was never very good with navigating that landscape (as my Twitter and Instagram can attest). But I have to come up with some kind of rules to keep myself away from rabbit holes and removed from that human connection.

I’m not sure what that will mean for my life experiences as I lived almost two decades online. It’s terrifying to imagine, but at the same time I really want to try.

Wish me luck…?

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