Let's save the world by making social media harder to use
I think about Bo Burnham's Inside all the time. This Netflix comedy special, if you haven't seen it, was filmed by the comedian in one room over the course of 2020, and captures the feeling of that era perfectly. One particular moment, when he's lying on a floor surrounded by a jumble of cables, is forever stuck in my head. He says:
I don’t know about you guys, but, um, you know, I’ve been thinking recently that… that you know, maybe, um, allowing giant digital media corporations to exploit the neurochemical drama of our children for profit…you know, maybe that was, uh… a bad call by us.
I think it's safe to say that the age of "optimizing for engagement" has been a disaster. Research, some of it done by Facebook itself shows that we're all more angry, anxious, and depressed than ever before, and that the social networks we spend time on are part of that. It's gotten so bad Facebook felt the need to pull the old Comcast/Xfinity move and rename themselves Meta. That suggests, to me, that the company that made Facebook is ashamed to be associated with that product. Honestly, that's fair. Their core product made the world worse.
How did this happen? Again, I think the ruthless pursuit of "engagement" is the biggest problem. It's all about incentives. Some of the smartest people in our society were hired to make these social networks as addictive as possible, and those people did their job well. They moved fast and broke society.
I don't know how to fix this on a planetary scale, but I'm trying to fix it for myself. Social media companies worked hard to make their products as frictionless as possible, making things so easy that we all post and scroll impulsively. With this in mind I've started adding friction. Here's a few ways you can do the same thing.
- Schedule your posts. I used to constantly tweet whatever I was thinking about as I thought about it. These days I schedule posts using Buffer, a social media management tool with a pretty generous free version. This way, if I have second thoughts about what I said, I can delete it before it goes out, which is probably why I haven't been cancelled (yet).
- Don't install social apps on your phone. The web version of every social network is less cluttered than the app, and generally doesn't even have any ads. This is especially nice if you use Instagram, because Meta hasn't gotten around to ruining the web version of Instagram with an algorithm yet. Bonus: you won't get any notifications, so you won't get pulled into a scrolling session when you only intended to quickly check the weather.
- Log out of social networks when you're done with them. Don't just close the tab—actually log out. You're less likely to scroll through Facebook during downtime if doing so requires typing your password, especially if your password is long. Bonus points if you use two-factor authentication, which will make logging in even more annoying, decreasing the odds that you do so.
This won't all be practical for everyone, but it's been helpful for me. Let me know if you think of any other ideas.
Stuff I Wrote
- Tired of Instagram? Try Discord The Wall Street Journal. I wanted to tell a story of "social network" that functions better specifically because there is no algorithm. I think I did that.
- Retweets ruined Twitter. Here's how to get rid of them.. Wired Twitter is a hellsite. We all know it. The question is why. My theory: Retweets did it.
- A stovetop espresso maker is the best part of my mornings. WSJ BuySide The handle on this moka pot hasn't melted yet, which is why it's the best moka pot.
- Five essential apps for brewing your own beer Popular Science. I swear I'll eventually just pivot to writing about beer.
Stuff I did
We brewed a delicious raspberry sour, which I'm drinking as I write this. I made this with Philly Sour yeast, which apparently was first discovered on a tree in a graveyard in West Philadelphia. With this magic graveyard yeast, you don't need any bacteria to make a sour, which makes things quicker and easier, which means we're going to be brewing more sours.
It's also blackberry season, which means the forest behind our house is just infested with ripe blackberries. This delicious invasive species has utterly conquered the Pacific northwest and we should all do everything we can to fight back. My humble sacrifice is to turn several pounds of berries into beer every year. The plan is to make a porter and a sour. I recommend you do the same thing.
Mira found a sunbeam. I hope you find one too. Have a good week.