Last December an odd feeling began flowing through my veins; a sense of general unease occupied my mind and I could not shake it off. It was not the usual pre-Christmas blues, but rather a deep rooted nausea. First it seemed like a minor fatigue – a headache, which can not really be localised, but you know, it is “right there”. Then it got stronger, like a constant sound in the ears, you can notice specifically, when it is quiet around.
Finally I realised, that the general unease, I was feeling, was related to my social media usage – in particular to twitter. As an early adopter and Internet-Veteran, I have had my share of experiences with all kind of communication variations, as well as most of any possible fundamental social media experiences. However, this time it was different. It seemed, everything faded out. My desire to interact, my curiousness for other stories, my perceived need to “be out there”, my constant mind search for better ways to utilise social media channels for different marketing purposes for clients and myself. All of these “interests” lost their importance.
My facebook usage had already gradually disappeared over the last 6 months. Somehow it became obolete to me in my current network. I never liked the founder anyhow – whose obnoxious behaviour was so well portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg in the movie “the social network” (2010) – Even if the film was not 100% accurate, the back story probably contains enough truth.
Since then the technocratic inhuman mind of this media company had been repeatedly verified. Particularly the disturbing news of leakages, the “Cambridge Analytica Scandal” and more recent various reports about manipulation, propaganda methods and the CEO´s decisions around dealing with government intervention clearly made valid arguments for “leaving facebook” for good – however, I didn´t get around seeing it trough.
In any case, at some point in the months before, I re-fell in love with twitter. It seemed the right channel for my intellectual curiosity and networking-desires. I revived my two accounts, which I run in different languages. For me this is more practical, because it separates my German contacts and interests from my (mostly) English speaking European and international topics and people. Logically, running multiple accounts also requires more time, which I really began to feel. Time management, discipline and a good organisation CAN make it possible for a single person to take care of the accounts – but the real problem is one´s own interests.
As a multiple interested person, who has a passion for a variety of subjects, I got lost for hours in scrolling through my timelines and in fact actually reading articles (I know, I belong to a minority here), following some links, researching about the background, fact checking and interacting in discussions. Twitter can be a pleasure, when we move in our own circle of interest. My favourite subjects of #CulturalHeritage, #WorldCulture, #Europe, #interculturalexchange etc. are covered widely and I follow organisations and individuals in these areas with pleasure.
However, my English account got overrun again and again by the sad realities of #Brexit and the idiocies of the 44th US president. Even when I tried to ignore these news, they were massive enough to distract and create angry, desperate or sad emotions. Stories of the treatment of immigrants in the USA and Europe, the rise of the right, mean comments, trolls, bots and repeated attacks (on other people) started to frustrate me more and more. I don’t mind reading true stories of sad realities in newspapers or online magazines – however, the constant bombardment of information snippets, repeating the ever-same inhuman realities of individual stories or atrocities on a larger scale became too much to bear.
My German-language twitter account made it worse. Involuntarily, my “culture politics” bubble got more and more disturbed by stories of right-wing propaganda, harassment of democratic politicians or “opinions” against climate change.
It had to stop. And I stopped it. Christmas and the time in between the years, the “Rauhnächte” presented itself with the right opportunity to tune out and let the chatter go on without me, to let the social media machine run without my participation. Like with an addiction, it may be difficult at first to not “check the timelines” – but it becomes easier after a few days. However, this was not my first #digitaldetox and I knew that it works. This time it was about something else than the absence from our digital devices and lifestyle. It was about the choice, WHO and WHAT I was really letting into my private and professional life.
I realised, that I am not just a victim of algorithms, who determine my “feed”. At least partially I wanted to climb back into the driver seat and determine myself, what type of content I am presented with when I open one of my social media accounts. I would like to decide, what topics can spark my curiosity, who I am interacting with and what content is definitely not for me. I accepted the fact, that I can chose my network and I do not have to accept trolls or haters in my circle of interest.
So I began to rigorously reset my parameters and to utilise all tuning tools, I can find. I can use lists, hashtags, save searches and utilise the “more of this” buttons. I have begun to mute and block people, ads and topics and in general to individualize my feeds/ timelines, instead of having the machine doing it for me anyhow. The more I act on this myself, the better the experience is and the more I leave my social media exhaustion behind.
Of course I am very aware, that I am building my own bubble and that this is the goal of the “free” social media model: to learn as much about the consumer as it can – and with my “individualised usage” I fulfil this need like a good subject. However, the price of being generally open became too high for me. Time is too precious. Even in real life I try to avoid wasting time with unnecessary discussions with closed-minded people.
I create my own network. I can use various social media channels with different goals and various purposes. I decide to utilize #socialmedia in ways, which serve me and my projects. Should I feel exhaustion again, I will evaluate, how I actually spend my time. I will not fall for the instant gratification anymore (at least not very often). In the end it is about “using” the advantages of social media and not abusing it or – even worse – being abused by it.
What I definitely enjoy now – during my regular scheduled “social media abstinence time” – is the absence of hate and drama in front of me, the lack of ill will and terribly sad stories. In the end it is all about balance and the amounts of precious life time, we spend on the digital devices and in the social networks and when being “in there”, about the ratio of uplifting vs. depressing content. In the end, what mostly counts is, what I “get out” of this time. How was my experience and how do I feel afterwards? These answers should consequently determine, how I will structure my social media usage in the future.