Back in 2008 and 2009, before the colleges and businesses flooded Twitter, a bunch of us Central New Yorkers met on the social platform. I spent New Year’s Eve 2009-2010 with Twitter friends. Two of them were involved in my wedding, as officiant and DJ. Our photographer was a friend before Twitter, but that’s where we firmed up our friendship.
Fast-forward a decade, and Twitter was a cesspool. Facebook, and to some extent Instagram, became somewhat the same.
About six weeks ago, I was feeling buried in hatred. The bile and ugliness that has become a substitute for discourse in today’s world was too much. I went over to my Twitter account and deleted almost 30,000 tweets — 10 years of thoughts, connections, replies and occasionally a joke that didn’t land.
Something miraculous happened: nothing. Nobody said anything. Nobody unfollowed my now-empty account. I was hurt for about 12 seconds, and then I remembered that the reason I left the service in the first place was the community I’d built was gone. The followers were still there. The friends I’d made were still my friends. But Twitter was only serving as a shouting board; there didn’t seem to be any more listening.
But it turns out it’s in how you use it.
We know that algorithms are meant to make you miserable. It’s most evident with Facebook, but it can kill your Google News feed, your YouTube feed (especially if you let the auto-play run), your Twitter feed and basically any other network that runs on an algorithm trying to keep your attention.
Recently, though, I’ve tried to make things fun for me again. My Instagram feed seems to be almost chronological now, and I’ve turned off the auto-play on YouTube — that’s where it just picks a related video to play so eventually you get deeper into a rabbit hole — and I’ll tell you what I’ve done with Facebook and Twitter to make them more fun.
For Facebook, I joined a couple of groups that I enjoy being part of. Then I added an extension to my Chrome browser called News Feed Eradicator for Facebook. It does what it sounds like: dumps your feed.
When I visit Facebook, I see the usual stuff on the left and right rails, and in the middle, where you see first the option to post a status update and then your feed, I see the option to post a status update and a randomized quote:
If I want to see what a specific friend or business is posting, I can go to that profile, but generally speaking, I just go to my groups when I feel like it.
It turns out there are good conversations taking place on Facebook; you just have to know where to look. Or where to not look.
For Twitter, I did the thing that a lot of us did back in 2008 or whenever we joined: I hijacked some follow lists. Specifically, I went down the list of people Douglas Rushkoff and Chuck Klosterman follow.
It pretty quickly led me to the sort of thing I used to love finding, before you could tweet threads (I’m going to go down the rabbit hole on a couple of these items in the coming weeks because I find them interesting):
MEGATHREAD TIME: In 40 tweets I will describe 40 powerful concepts for understanding the world. Some are complex so forgive me for oversimplifying, but the main purpose is to incite curiosity. Okay, here we go:
— Gurwinder (@G_S_Bhogal) February 6, 2020
Here’s the unthreaded version (that also wasn’t a thing in 2009, by the way).
Know that if you’re fed up with social media but also either have to be on it for work or you have that dopamine addiction that you feed with likes and such, you can make things better for yourself without going cold turkey.