June 4, 2020

Unfollow everyone

I like having the remote control in hand. I like being in the driver’s seat. I like my fingers on the keyboard and mouse. Given the choice, I’ll always opt for control—and choice.

Choice isn’t always easy. It requires you to review options and evaluate their merits. Plus, there’s a possibility of making a bad decision. Choice can be frightening because it involves ownership.

Although we all claim to want choice, it can be too much. This might be why my wife and I want the other to choose which take-out to order. The later in the week it is, the later in the day it is, the more fatigued we feel. When we’re tired, even simple decisions seem overwhelming.

I believe this is part of why social networks are so compelling. When you’re low on energy, you can sign in and passively consume what’s in your feed. You needn’t choose anything; you just process what’s put in front of you.

Letting someone else control which information you consume is easy—but risky. The algorithm is built to benefit its makers’ needs more than yours.

I left social media for a couple of years. Mostly, this was for the better. Although it didn’t entirely change my life, it lowered my anxiety and left me more in control. It came with downsides, too. One was in having to hunt for new information. Facebook’s algorithm does a pretty good job of giving you content to gnaw on. Once it’s gone, you need to do that work for yourself.

Worse yet, Facebook is so entrenched in today’s web that life without it is challenging. You soon find that you can’t access apps you once used Facebook to sign into. As a business, customers try to reach you through Facebook. This means you either return to their network to respond, or let the customer feel ignored.

So, you can leave Facebook, but you’ll probably return to it. I did (regretfully). That said, I believe there’s a hack. What if a Facebook account is like a phone number? Just because you might need one doesn’t force you to respond to every prompt.

All social networks offer utility. Their addictiveness is principally delivered through the newsfeed, though. Take control of this and you can tap their utility—while gaining control of the information that comes into your line of sight.

You take control of your newsfeed by unfollowing everyone. Doing so is a tedious task (and discouraged by these networks). It is also worth your effort1.

It took me nearly 2 hours to unfollow everyone on Linkedin. I also need to manually unfollow everyone who asks to connect with me, on an ongoing basis. That said, this approach allows me to use Linkedin as a way to stay in touch. It also prevents me from getting stuck scrolling through content I didn’t choose to read.

You wouldn’t fill your kitchen with junk food. You also wouldn’t let your neighbours choose what you ate and when. So, why let others fill your mind with whichever information they choose? (A lot of what’s out there is junk content.)

I won’t lie to you. Filling the void left by an empty newsfeed isn’t easy. While there’s plenty of useful information on the web, it takes effort to find. It takes even more effort to read good writing. This is in stark contrast to the bite-size nuggets you find in your newsfeed.

Conversely, a book takes effort, time, and focus. I say the associated rewards are worth the discomfort, though.

  1. I’ve done this with Twitter and Linkedin. I have yet to do so with Facebook.

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