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Reflections on Social media

What a year of abstaining from social media taught me.

Dec 31, 2023

like printed on brown wooden scrabble
like printed on brown wooden scrabble (credit Pixabay @pexels)

It’s been just a little over a year since my last post on Twitter (or whatever folks are calling it now). I’d already been reducing my social media presence for some time prior to that. I’d stopped using FB & LinkedIn sometime around 2015-2016, and never got around to be an Insta user. Giving up Twitter was harder for various reasons, so I thought I’ll at least document my observations in this post.

A noisy mind

It’s difficult to communicate in words the kind of noise social media tends to inject in the mind. The closest analogy that comes to mind is that of being in the middle of bustling city traffic vs the silence of a forest. I’m assuming others manage it much better, but for me the mental chatter would take a fair while to shutdown. Obviously, a less cluttered mindspace doesn’t necessarily guarantee great quality of thoughts, but it’s harder to pick the right ones if the background is too noisy.

With the background chatter significantly reduced, this year has been of great amounts of learning & growing for me.

Mental sovereignty

It took a few months, but after stopping engagements on social media, I discovered more variety in my thought process around the same subjects. Could it be that the daily social media interactions naturally herd people towards a bunch of eigenvectors? With all the talk of echo chambers, it certainly sounds plausible. This was a bit surprising to me, as I used to believe that following folks with differing ideologies was sufficient to break echo chambers, but if most folks are converging to differing eigenvectors, comments tend to be way more laced with ideology than substance, which then significantly dilutes the echo-chamber-breaking properties of this approach.

Echo chambers aren’t new, but with extremely high engagement of the mind, the convergence to group thinking is akin to thought pollution at best, and hijacking of the mind at worst. Hence the phrase “mental sovereignty”. I’m pretty sure no one would say that all of our thoughts are our own, but whatever little sovereignty we have over our own minds, felt like worth protecting.

The shallowness of short-form

Naval Ravikant once said something about the verbosity of long-form, and while I can’t find the exact quote right now, I remember being deeply impressed. A firehose of terse vacuous truisms later, I don’t believe it to be true, and developed an active distaste for such content sometime around 2020. While there’s some truth to superfluous blogs/books, my distaste for nuance-less formulaic tweets is a lot higher than the inefficiency of superfluousness.

Anyhow, it seems like a lot of content on Twitter since then has moved to large-ish content, but from whatever little I could gather, we now have such stupendous volumes of formulaic templated content, that it’s very hard to distinguish it from LinkedIn.

Personalities, not communities

I was wondering to myself why I don’t feel similarly about Reddit/Discord, despite more cumulative time there. For one, Twitter’s DNA is built around personalities not communities. The nature of the former makes it hard for people to change opinions because that comes at the cost of followership. With communities, the natural tussle of differing ideas makes it more dynamic and less entrenched. That’s not to say there’s no toxicity or extremism, but you can walk away from such communities without as much risk of it leaking outside of that community (cross-talk is a lot higher on Twitter).

It’s also hard to disagree with named people on Twitter, which amplifies echo-chambers, e.g. try disagreeing with a famous investor as an entrepreneur! OTOH, on something like a Reddit, who you are is often (but not always) secondary to the point you’re making… well, unless you’re a mod.

A small note about my Mastodon account - I’m not yet sure where it would fit on the spectrum of personality vs community. I suppose it’s still designed around personalities, but due to the insiginificant network I have there right now, it’s currently closer to a community.

Parting thoughts

All of the above are my personal observations, and not intended to dissuade anyone from social media. I wish all of you a very happy 2024.