The year’s end is about temporary disconnection: stop our usual routines, stop refreshing our phones a hundred times a day, perhaps attempt to get off of our computers altogether. I read a couple of books, went snowboarding, ran a half-marathon on Christmas morning with Diana and stayed in on New Year’s Eve.
As I think about it, I realize I’ve been slowly moving toward disconnection in full. Two years ago I removed certain forms of media from my phone – Twitter and Facebook in particular. I was always too distracted. I wanted to put an end to my snacking habit, earning little treats throughout the day as I pulled the lever to refresh the feeds. Then two months ago, I logged out of them on the web, too.
I wanted to lead up to the New Year fresh, and to continue the habit well into 2018.
I needed to change my media diet. As Ethan Zuckerman wrote in 2010, “many of us overestimate the amount of diverse, international information we encounter through the internet and other communications networks. We run the danger of being “imaginary cosmopolitans”, convinced we’re encountering information from all corners of the world, while we might be trapped in homogenous echo chambers.” This information diet is an even more important idea nowadays where many of us are getting a big part of our news from two such networks, each flawed in their own ways, and increasingly run by algorithms and the people that write them and game them.
I wasn’t gaining anything meaningful from Facebook: no improvement in well-being, no new learnings, no sense of staying in touch with friends. And Twitter just kept making me angry. Their slow responses to fixing things like abuse and their lack of feature improvement on the platform made the service hard to use and less valuable over time. And as we all know, the course of politics this past year turned it into a platform where everyone seems to be outraged all the time, somewhere between one-hundred-and-forty and two-eighty characters at a time. (I even muted some political terms early in the year but that didn’t seem to make much difference). The crowd that was on “early Twitter” back in the day are now on other “small” networks: Telegram, Signal, Slack. I’ve joined them in those places instead.
In his post last week, Om framed the idea of disconnection-by-algorithm most poetically: The algorithmic world we live in puts convenience and speed ahead of these abstract concepts of human consciousness and connections. Facebook has blunted the idea of friendship, and relationships, LinkedIn has turned business relations into a spectator sport of likes, follows and recommendations. Algorithm writers forget that we all need narratives, stories we need to tell each other to have a real connection.
I would add it isn’t just the rise of algorithms that’s broken things, but also that people on the platforms end up having to act like algorithms themselves: both are playing a game that only the algorithm (and the underlying platforms’ bottom lines) can possibly win.
The reasons for disconnection were many.
My hope was to put an end to those little snacks throughout the day. It was to stop my distracted nature, jumping between different tabs that might be interesting but instead make you feel like you are in a corner store glancing at all the gossip magazines and fake headlines you’d rather wish you hadn’t seen.
When I come out the other side of it all, I hope it will mean an end to my own short-term thinking. It will open up time for reading more books and writing more. It will force thinking for the long-term and lead to a connection I’ve been seeking: one with real meaning, with new learnings and challenges and the opening of all parts of my mind.
A reconnection for 2018.