This week I’m sharing three posts originally written for my personal blog about my social media diet, which doesn’t include using Facebook or Instagram socially.
Originally written January 2012
I committed Facebook social suicide last year, and now I’ve decided to officially make the switch from Instagram back to Flickr. I have very strong feels about Flickr, and have a sense of needing to give it one last chance. And if I’m going to abandon it, it’s NOT going to be for Instagram. I’m also embarrassed at how shitty my photography has gotten over the six months I’ve been using Instagram.
I’m also trying to recognize and remove the “rat levers” in my digital life. These are those repetitive, mindless digital behaviors that give some sort of reward, that I repeat over and over again habitually, like one of Skinner’s rats. Ultimately, I’m starting to recognize that the habituated, mindless, crack-like behavior isn’t worth the small rewards… and that I need to find more direct ways to get the rewards I’m clearly looking for.
Facebook was the rat-lever I recognized last year, and removed as an option. In thinking about what rewards it was delivering, it boils down to:
- Judging: tracking people without actually keeping in touch, usually looking at them and having various judgmental thoughts
(downside: I do not need encouragement to get my judgey hat on)
- Quick-hit connection: easy way to get a blast of social interaction with large group of people with very low effort
(downside: relatively meaningless, no one has control over who shows up when, so FB controls who I’m connecting with which is weird)
Instagram was an especially effective rat-lever, because its photography culture not only permits but encourages GPOYs, a narcissistic habit I thought I’d mostly shaken off that suddenly flared up again because not only was it ok — the GPOYs get the most hearts! And suddenly, all the people who I’d missed seeing on Flickr (and then Facebook) were ALL over Instagram. THAT’S where they all went! And it was on my phone, so I could hit the lever any time I wanted! The rewards it delivered were:
- Narcissism: me, me, meeeee! Look at me! And how awesome my life is! MEEEEE!!!
(downside: I have more wrinkles in my face than ever, but am acting even more adolescent than I did 10 years ago? Emotional backsliding!)
- Connection: great way to keep tabs on real life friends. (downsides: none)
- Photo sharing: how I have missed the good times we used to have on Flickr! Everyone is posting photos again! Yay!
(downside: the photos are low-resolution, shit quality, and over-processed in ways that I’m already embarrassed about.)
In removing these rat levers, I cannot tell a lie: sometimes I miss them. Or, I should be clear: I really miss Instagram. I know for a fact that I am not keeping up as closely with the friends who just had a baby, or the friends who just moved to San Francisco, and the other real life friends who are living their lives and doing things I like to know about. I miss it. I really miss it. Facebook I do not miss in that same way because I didn’t use it as much to keep up with real life friends… but I totally miss the distraction.
What I’m recognizing is that the reason I hit almost ALL these rat levers is usually because I’m bored and/or lonely. I’ve run out of stimulus, so I reach out for the closest lever I’ve got. Even if I didn’t actually much enjoy the hit I got from the lever, at least it was a hit of something. Evidently when I’m bored enough, it’ll do as a distraction from being alone.
And so, what’s the new thing that I’m trying? Rather than hitting a lever, I’m trying to recognize when I want to hit the lever and instead I contact a friend directly. One-on-one. Via text or even (get this!) long-winded email. I might even sink to (clutch your pearls) calling on the phone! If the rat lever is on a certain level looking for connection… I might as well skip the digital social media lever and go straight to the source: ACTUAL PEOPLE I ACTUALLY CARE ABOUT.
I realize this is not an earth-shattering realization. But it feels like a good small step toward a few goals. (Including getting better about remembering birthdays… it’s all part of connecting in ways that matter to me with the people who matter to me.)
Coming tomorrow, the conclusion of my Social Media Diet series: two years later, it’s still hard.