Sun 26 May 2013
About one year ago I conducted a little self experiment: I removed the Facebook, G+, Twitter and Reddit apps from their prominent positions on my phone's homescreen and declared that I may only start those apps on weekends.
During weekdays I would be allowed to use social media in the browser but it would only be for answering private messages, if any should arrive.
The first few days were difficult but I did not cheat and before the first weekend arrived I had lost all interest in social media. That month turned out to be one of the most productive months of my life and on top of that I felt happier, more awake, more motivated and more energetic than usual.
Fast forward to present time. Those apps are still hidden from my phone's home screen but I know their positions on the Android app launcher by heart and open them all the time. I can't remember when my old habits came back but today I am pretty much in the same situation like one year ago: I'm trying to fill every single free second of my waking life with small bits and pieces of information from all those social media sources.
And guess what:
Reading social media is procrastination. None of it matters. I have highly curated lists of people that I follow on all those networks. I make sure to unfollow anyone that has no connection to my life. I make sure to unfollow people who just spam jokes or stupid chain letters. I never follow back anyone if I don't know them in person. Yet, despite all those efforts, only 1% of my social streams matter.
The rest of it is cat pictures, family pictures, geek pictures, jokes, and most of all: circlejerks (Ubuntu vs. OSX? Vim vs. Sublime? Republicans vs. Democrats? Evolution vs. Creationism). Then, of course, you have the regular news coming from mainstream media, being re-tweeted into social networks:
People get killed. All the time, every day, in all kinds of creative ways. Politicians steal money. Corporations steal tax. Governments steal our privacy. Hackers steal the truth, and then release it. It all boils down to: News steal my time. None of this nonsense is in my circle of influence. It does not influence my day to day life and I have no chance to change it.
The problem is: We all know that. This is common sense. Yet, we all can't resist. We turn into mindless zombies watching Korean soaps on TV after work. We read tabloid news papers like the Straights Times, knowing that it's just full of murder, scandals and tits. We stare at our smartphones while having dinner with friends.
The WHO is already counting the years of lost life due to all major diseases. Maybe they should also count the aeons of lost human potential due to reduced brain usage when consuming mainstream media and social media.
From my own experience I can tell that it makes me happy when the red notification counter in that ubiquitous Google toolbar on top of all Google services shows me a number. It is almost impossible to ignore this thing for more than 5 seconds. You just have to click at it and find out what has happened. It's like mental masturbation. An instant kick. A small reward. You got your 5 nanoseconds of fame. Some stranger +1ed your post.
But: From my own experience last year, I also know that it makes me even more happy, when this mental masturbation is no longer part of my life.
As a consequence I will repeat my experiment from last year.
As a start I have now installed this Chrome plugin to hide G+ notifications.
I have also created GMail filters that label and archive all notification emails from all social networks. Whatever it is, it can wait. If someone really wants something important from me, he will send an email or call me.
And most importantly: I have un-installed all social apps from my phone. I had to fight with myself over this decision for a few minutes. How sick is that? That simple fact is evidence enough that this is going to be the right decision. Note that I always carry a Nexus 7 with me which I use to read my Kindle books, so I will still be able to distract myself with information consumption. It's just that reading a book requires more concentration than reading a Tweet so I would not even start reading when I know that I only have five minutes to spare.
Ironically I'm now going to share this post on social media. But I'm doing this because I believe it is relevant to pretty much everyone. And it is in your circle of influence. You can act on it right now, if you really want to.