Social Media


Read Mark Boyle's article: Quitting Social Media has Taught Me the Virtues of Being Social
Five steps to break social media addiction
More advice to break social media addiction


Antisocial Media


Scrolling back into my social media history...

If I trace back to pinpoint exactly when the Internet, for me at least, stopped being a wonderful tool to connect, and turned into a roiling nightmare of tech dystopia, propaganda and psychological torture: it would be with the advent of social media.    

I've had accounts with all the big ones.  I signed up early.  I said all the same stuff people say about how great these places were for "bringing people together" and "keeping in touch."   I thought it was a wonderful adjunct to personal blogging.  I thought it would make relationships better and friendships closer. I was wrong.  

I still use Twitter, and I find it valuable for keeping up with the work of journalists, artists, activists and organizations I admire, as well as for forwarding information and promoting my own work.  Twitter is great for real-time breaking stories and, let's be honest, all those Dodo dog videos.  For me, however, the feeling on Twitter, has morphed from one of a playful group in a public square to at best a snarky, gossipy fraternity and at worst a bloodthirsty mob.  After over a decade of tweeting, I now only log on a few times a week, and I feel icky and a bit sad after being there. 

I always hated Facebook.  I briefly tried to engage there when I was writing a column, but I never really got it, and I was troubled by the company's business practices.   I "deactivated" my Facebook account 8 years ago.  Recently, I logged on to actually delete my account. Facebook makes it really difficult to delete an account.  I had to identify the pictures of a certain number of "friends" in order to do it, which made me realize how loosely Facebook uses the word "friend."  I kept thinking, who the hell are these people?! 

I once loved Instagram for the photography -- and I'm pretty sure I remember a time when it didn't even have a like button.  Ever since IG copied Snapchat's Story functionality, however, the place has felt to me like an endless reality TV show.  Also, I don't know if I just had bizarre luck, but what used to be a fun place to check out photographers and fashion became a porn obstacle course. (The #stylechallenge hashtag was particularly subject to porn bombs, and there were a lot of #selfies that most definitely were not of faces...) 

Snapchat itself just makes me feel old, and those dog filters are verging on uncanny valley territory.

I acknowledge that social media is a great promotional tool for businesses, those in media, members of artistic communities, the creative class and freelancers.  I also know that a LOT of people really love their feeds, and I'm just an odd curmudgeon bringing everyone down by my scowling and grumbling.

If you've read this far, maybe you feel some of what I feel: that it's weird how life has become about promotion. I mean it's one thing for Taylor Swift to post little tidbits about her personal life to please her fans.  But why are we copying that model?  And why is every lunch out, every get-together with friends, now a chance for us to act like we're the paparazzi? 

When did we stop taking individual time with our friends, and start expecting them to just check our feeds for information?  I'm old enough to remember when people rolled their eyes at the bragging tone of yearly holiday newsletters from friends and family.  Now we post those kinds of reports every day.  I also fondly remember long phone calls and personal letters from old friends. Now, many communicate with emojis and likes. For me, social media didn't add to my relationships.  In many ways it replaced them.  

It's bizarre that so many people have turned their personal lives into curated online brands.   Posting smiley faces on daily threads of curated public statements of people I actually know makes me feel like I'm part of a big, fake machine. Friendship has turned into a popularity contest and sharing has become a quest to be part of the next trending topic. It's as if people are focus group-ing their lives and it freaks me out.   

For me: social media sucks.

I found that trying to support online "connection" with every single person I'd ever met in the most superficial way possible did not make my life better. 

We "like" funeral announcements and colonoscopy results.  We wish people happy birthday because an algorithm reminds us to do it.  We filter our photos into wax museum doppelgangers and we transform ourselves into avatars.  We find ourselves editing an experience into a post, rather than actually having the experience.  We post pictures of our meals and refresh our feeds to see more pictures of other people's meals and all-the-while the attention merchants mine our data, surveille our habits and sell us stuff we don't need.

But I get it: we can't send out smoke signals to communicate.  "Online" is now a very real offshoot of "real world."  Short of becoming digital hermits, we're stuck with our technoculture. 

We are also terribly lonely, despite all the scrolling and liking and retweeting and "sharing."  Obviously we're reaching out for -- and missing -- connection.   

It is my hope that we can find a way to utilize the functionality and community-building potential of social media platforms without every aspect of our lives becoming something we edit, curate and present for public approval. 

Lets use technology to make our analog lives better, rather than allowing technology to trap us into our own version of The Matrix.

This is where I need to make another disclaimer:  I am not trying to censor the Internet or take away anybody's social media.  If you're here, you probably share a lot of my feelings.  If you don't share them, then by all means go back to scrolling and swiping.  I realize I'm out of step with my culture.

But if you are a fellow outlier, and want something other than the big social media sites, then read on...

I've found that the alternative sites below have the promise of what people pretend social media is.  You know: a means for actual connection.

Next Door

This site groups you according to your actual, physical address,  so you are put in touch with your actual, physical neighbors.  Want to escape the political screaming online?  Go here.  Sure, people will still argue politics but in  my experience the level of decorum on Next Door is somewhere around office watercooler rather than ancient Roman bloodsport.  Remember, you can't actually block that guy who lives across the street when he mentions who he voted for.  You have to live together.

The site is a great reminder that helping a neighbor move or volunteering for the local library book sale impacts the world far more than tweeting about Trump or Brexit. 

You can find a pickup soccer game after work, help someone locate their lost kitten or get a heads up on free loot from a nearby garage sale.  I have my account set to email me the daily posts, so I don't scroll on any app (although an app is available.)  Today I saw pictures of baby peacocks down the street, I learned that one of my neighbors wants a tennis partner and found out someone is getting a Trivia Night BBQ together for the weekend.  This is actual social media and I love it.

Good Reads

Okay, so it's not social media in the traditional sense, and I suppose you could have FOMO reading someone who has finished more books this year than you have, but Good Reads is a great way to connect with people who, well, READ BOOKS.  You can keep track of what you are reading and have read, join online book clubs and read some really great reviews.  If you have to scroll something, scroll this.  (Good Reads helped me break my own compulsion to check social media.)

Stellar Stories

You'd better be a pretty great photographer and/or storyteller to use this beautiful multimedia platform.  I've barely experimented with it, but I love how it inspires you to tell real stories and make art instead of brag, argue and trawl for likes.

HitRecord 

Thank Joseph Gordon Levitt for the creation of this amazing collaborative site.  Lend your talents to all kinds of art, narrative, film and multimedia projects to create things you never would have been able to do on your own.  I adore this website, and want everyone to join in.  All types of artists and all skill levels are welcome.  

Stack Overflow

More technical than artistic?  Share your coding expertise and build your software engineering career on this open platform site.  (And please use that skill to make better, less toxic, less addictive, more human-oriented technology.)

Blend

Is music your thing?  Pick projects to collaborate on from a global community of musicians.  You can find other, similar sites for music collaboration here.

Reddit

Okay wait, just hear me out on this one...

If you're old enough to remember early 90s newsgroups, you'll understand why Reddit is so great.  Sure, you can get lost endlessly scrolling cat memes here just like Instagram, but there is something great about an old-school message board.  You can find all kinds of highly specialized subreddits -- and some truly scary ones if that's your thing -- and if you make sure to avoid the political ones, you're free of a lot of the noise and toxicity of social media.  Pretty much anything you are into has a designated place here.  

Reddit isn't where you go to post highly curated pictures of your life.  (At least not the subreddits I look at.)  If you look, you'll find a lot of great information, conversation and community-building.

Discourse

Why not make your OWN forum?  If you've got a group of likeminded others, then create your own social media for it.  I happen to love Discourse most, but there are others.  

One thing you should NOT do is make a Facebook group.  Some of us refuse to ever go back to Facebook, and the numbers are growing.  Facebook is a problematic platform at best, so we should stop choosing it as our go-to place for online meetups.  Break free!  (I feel the same about Twitter group DMs, too.  If you've got a group, there's no need to assimilate it into a hive.)

If Discourse doesn't serve your needs, try ProBoards, Boardhost or Bravenet for free.  I've used all of them. For really gorgeous, simple and clean design you can pay bucks for Muut.


Blogs!!!


As an old-school blogger, I still recommend starting a blog -- which in the age of social media feels a little like telling buggy wheel makers in 1912 to just ignore the Ford Motor Company.  I understand that social media killed the golden age of blogging and corralled everyone into corporate megasites.  But there is still something to be said for blogs.  Remember, they said paper books would be obsolete and sales are actually booming.  

Blogs are more than forwarding memes or shooting pictures of your meals -- although there are plenty of those things too. (Hello, Tumblr!) 
  

Maintaining a blog requires that you produce far more than you consume, and I think that's a good thing.  It also gives you a chance to share what you know instead of just posting drunk selfies, humblebrags and videos from the Dodo.  (Guilty as charged.)

Make a simple blog or grow an entire online business with Wix.  (I like it better than Wordpress or Squarespace.)  You can incorporate a forum right into the design.  

Or, use Blogger (with unlimited pages allowed) for free, and allow comments on all posts. Yes,  you can attach a Blogger blog to your own dot com URL and yes, you can create a personalized design.  And let me reiterate: Blogger hosts you with unlimited pages FOR FREE.  I love Blogger.  It's easy to design there, maintain and grow.  And since it's a part of Google the sites show up well in search and work seamlessly with YouTube. You can even send blogpost links to all your social media accounts to bring people over.  (See my other blogs here.)  Blogs are personal and free of the corporate hive structure of social media platforms.  Personal blogs don't require you log into Medium to read posts.  Blogs are the "Shop Local" of the internet!    

Rabb.it (Now Kast)

If you have loads of friends or like-minded peeps scattered around the globe, you can still invite everyone over to watch a movie.  Rabb.it offers you a way to set up an online meeting room (Think Skype or Google Hangouts or Zoom) and use that space to watch anything streamable.  I love the chat functionality and the simple way of getting people together in online space that so greatly approximates what it's like to do it in the real world.  Oh, and I suppose you could use it to invite one special someone to Netflix and chill -- you do you.

Get in on Rabb.it before media companies figure out how to shut it down.  

UPDATE August, 2019:
Looks like Rabbit lost its funding in May, and now Kast has taken it over. As of this writing it looks like Kast is inundated with new users, but they appear to want to please the former Rabbit base.  Stay tuned for more as this develops!  

Zoom

This online meeting/webinar resource is my absolute favorite to use.  It's far less buggier than Skype, with a really beautiful interface and great features.  And it's not just for business!  I prefer Zoom to Facetime for video calls because it allows me to share my screen with friends.  

You can use Zoom for free to have unlimited meetings of up to 40 minutes with up to 100 participants, and no limit on 1 to 1 meetings. (Need more time/participants?  Check out pricing plans.)  Stop posting emojis to a distant friend or family member on text or IG, and ask them to meet up online for a conversation on Zoom.  Got a great YouTube or photo slideshow to share with pals?  Show them on Zoom and see/hear them in real time.


Get Inspired:

For more than enough reasons why you should get rid of traditional social media and be more intentional with your technology, watch three of my favorite authors below.  (Get links to their books in my library.)

Dr. Cal Newport, author of Deep Work and Digital Minimalism discusses quitting social media:




Watch Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains discuss the (deeply troubling, dehumanizing, dystopian) findings in his book: 


Watch Nicholas also discuss the perils of artificial intelligence in his latest book The Glass Cage: How Computers are Changing Us:




If you're not convinced that maybe, just maybe, we should all log off more often, then watch Adam Alter discuss his book Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping us Hooked: