I’ve been cleaning up my digital life for the past couple of months. The deeply underlying reasons are not important (let’s just say, it’s all a part of a bigger self-care and mental health regimen), so I’ll go with the more on the surface ones here.
For me, social media was a way to socialize since its inception. I’ve got my invite into LiveJournal in 2003 and have been on social media ever since. I’ve moved to Facebook, and to Twitter, and to Instagram, I tried new sites as they popped up into existence only to disappear forever just a few years later. After I left my country of birth, social media became a way to keep up with friends and family. It all changed over time into a feeding tube, a constant fire hose of text, images, status updates, new, and, sure, ads. Scandal after scandal, these companies were getting away with everything, from storing and leaking plain-text passwords to breaking a democracy. I got so fed up with this, that over a year ago I made my first attempt to quit (announcement in Russian). I’ve made a few strategic mistakes, and my experiment didn’t stick for too long; I think, I was back on Facebook within 2 weeks. This time it’s different. This time, I’m truly ready, and I have all the things and attitudes I need to never look back.
Life after mainstream social media
It’s really a huge privilege to be able to just quit Facebook. For so many people around the world, Facebook is the internet, and quitting it is just not an option. For me, luckily, it’s very much an option. I’m missing out, of course, since everyone and their grandmother is on Facebook, sharing baby pictures and concert invites, but my wife keeps me in the loop of truly important things and you know what? I’m still available! You have to be deliberate as in explicitly share things with that you think I might be interested in. I know, it’s hard to believe, but that’s how things used to be: you have friends and you don’t just make radio announcements whenever you find something you want to share with them. You’d call, text, talk to them over a coffee, send them a post pigeon or roll in a clay plate. Whatever you do, you’re deliberate in your communications and relationships.
And you know what? It appears to be a good filter (well, still not sure if it’s good or bad, but it’s a filter). I used to struggle with guilt over the fact that I’m not connecting with people enough; I don’t call or text my friends that much, but hey, phones work both ways. If I don’t call or text you and therefore we lose connection, you weren’t calling me either. So was it ever a meaningful thing to begin with?..
In the world of total Facebook dominance, it’s surprising that alternatives even exist. One of them, Mastodon, I’ve heard about before. I even tried it a few years back, but never got ahold of it: what are all these instances, how do the interact, the hell is fediverse, how do you build your life here?… Well, re-discovering Mastodon was for me like discovering this whole new internet. Small, friendly, open, weird in so many ways, but so much aligned with my values. Apparently, open source is huge, people build free software just for the hell of it, and it’s so easy to join them! They discuss big ideas, and how next year is going to be the year of Linux :)) There’s a ton of Youtube channels, podcasts, news sites and magazines (!) in this space. Art and artists are really big, people are not trying to pretend to be someone else, and big brands haven’t noticed any of this yet. You’re not being tracked (not even a Google Analytics tracker!), there are no ads of any kind, you own all of your data, you can take it with you at any time, delete your account instantly, and erase any trace of you ever being on the server. One dude decided that Instagram needs an open source alternative, and he’s been building it for a year at astonishing pace and fantastic results. Oh, and it federates with the rest of ActivityPub instances. I will write a Mastodon explainer eventually, since I sooo dig it now.
But what about this digital hygiene thing?
What about it? :) My mind is clearer, I’m not constantly scrolling through countless ads, I’m not anxious to click on a link since I know it won’t follow me for the rest of my online life (I also use Firefox with Facebook container enabled to prevent not only regular trackers, but to block Facebook specifically from tracking me around the web). I’m not reading the news other then what comes as Breaking News alerts from the Washington Post. I discovered so many incredible people and ideas, I’m so very excited about this newly discovered little internet! I’m not refreshing Twitter before going to sleep, and I don’t check my Instagram first thing in the morning (I deleted both apps from my phone long ago). I live a more mindful and meaningful life in so many ways, I’m not sure I know how to express it. It’s just so much easier to do all this when you’re off the grid of FB and such. And aside from it all, I’m learning a lot. About people, about their perspectives, about software, hacking, about all sorts of things. Am I missing out on some action happening on Facebook and Twitter and elsewhere? Sure. Do I care? Nope, not anymore.
Per law, Facebook and other mainstream social media companies must do whatever they choose with whatever data they gather from you while you are in any way engaged with their services (unless you’re in Europe) to increase shareholders’ profits. They owe you nothing, and they have no obligation to please you or to make you feel safe. They will implement all sorts of dark patterns to make you engaged with their service and to help you give up as much data points about yourself as humanly possible.
You, per law, have the right to give up and give away, knowingly or not, to any web or offline service or person any and all of your personal information without any limits. You are 100% responsible for how these services use your personal and other information. Because they are not responsible for anything whatsoever (again, unless you’re in Europe). You also have a right to deny access to any of your data to any of these companies and not use their services if you’re uncomfortable with their business practices.