In the past couple of years, a new subject of podcasts, studies, blog posts and OpEd pages emerged: the growing problem of social media addition and how it affects the attention and happiness of its users.
But before social media omnipresence in our pockets, I was addicted to sharing my work, getting "likes" and striving for fleeting internet fame. Neopets and DeviantArt had me hooked, and while I enjoyed making art I was ultimately striving for that external affirmation. These sites were super nerdy and small, but they were a "gateway drug"—and made it so much easier to jump ship and share on more common platforms like Facebook and Instagram when they came in vogue.
At some point, I realized both crafting the perfect post and being away from my phone or computer for too long gave me anxiety The intensely political atmosphere in 2016 amplified my existential angst about social media, worrying that I was simultaneously too political and not political enough. When I read those articles about how to ease a phone obsession, I took the advice. It's hard to give it up, but it's even harder for people in creative professions or entrepreneurial ventures. I justified my addiction because we have a business attached to how well our feeds do.
For me, my approach to social media feels like dieting rather than quitting smoking or drinking. You have to eat to live, but you make healthier choices that make a lifestyle and enjoy guilty pleasures in moderation. I have gone through periods of strict abstinence and also binged on scrolling endlessly through photos of perfectly curated feeds.
There are times I feel intense nostalgia for the way the web worked in 2003-2011. I miss the explosion of DIY and Design blogs by plucky individuals, reaching the end of a webpage, Flickr before Yahoo, and everything before "algorithms" locked us into who we are rather than who we could or want to be. As I get older, suspect that this nostalgia is merely the universal yearning for a more innocent time in one's life. But others seem to think along similar lines. The social media landscape demands constant vigilance—both in producing a never-ending stream of "content" and engagement to stay on top of a continually evolving algorithm. It's exhausting, and I don't even do that great of a job at maintaining my own social media presence.
Instead of broadcasting my complains onto the objects of my ire, I figured I'd begin by tending to my own corner of the internet, and produce the type of content that I wish to see in the world. I want to make more things and keep them away from bottomless feeds before I feel like I have a healthy relationship with social media again. But... even then, I have not been pleased with recent ethical and moral lapses by Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Is the attention/promotion I get justify rewarding these companies with my creative work and attention?
Here's what I'm doing to try to reestablish a healthy relationship with devices, social media, and passive consumption.
- Using Moment on my iPhone to track how much I use my phone.
- Using the Self Control App when I really need to focus and get off Twitter.
- Using Qbserve to measure productivity on my work machine.
- I recently deactivated Facebook, but before that I blocked the facebook.com domain from my work machine's computer's host files. Here's a guide.