Taking a Break from BUMMER (Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram)

A friend recommended I read “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now” and while I was initially turned off by the title (see what they did there!) I read it. I don’t know about boycotting anything, but on a personal level it dovetailed nicely with a journal entry I had written last week, reflecting on how much my ego used to feed off of media hits and the dopamine hits I got from “engagement” (manipulation?) of a large Twitter following. Was I a narcissist? I still don’t know, but what I do know is I dislike who I am when I’m on Twitter and to a lesser extent on Facebook.

It also explores a lot of feelings I’ve experienced regarding my use of social media, but had a hard time giving a name before. This goes back to the times of bulletin boards, and many of the much older platforms… but now we are beyond the earlier adopter stage, and the vibe has changed.

I like to test these things out, and I’ve been living a little differently since I went on sabbatical in mid-May. Why not? Would these things be deeply missed, or simply go the way of my accounts on MyDiary.net, Livejournal, MySpace, Flickr, Photobucket, Xanga, Svbtle, and so many more? Barely missed, hard to even remember the names and proper spellings required to construct that sentence.

Earlier this week, I deleted Facebook and Twitter mobile apps from all my mobile and tablet devices. The withdrawal has come in waves, and I have started keeping a journal to jot down random thoughts I would have tweeeted in the past. Often, these are turning into 500-1,000 word journal entries.

Then, yesterday I archived and deleted all my tweets. It’s been 24 hours, and I don’t think anyone has really noticed. I’ve been liking some friend’s posts from the web interface when I log in to see what the reaction is to my empty account (nothing). I’m pretty sure hitting publish on this blog post is going to auto-tweet, and I can’t figure out where the heck I set that up so I’ll just have to go an manually delete it.

Today, I took what for me will be the hardest step yet, and removed the Instagram mobile app. It’s the one I am the most addicted too, and I had rationalizeed it was not a source of low self-esteem or time suck, and that I didn’t actually get many ads there. Then a pair of His and Hers slippers for my husband and I arrived in mail that I knew I had found on Instagram through an ad. Then I saw the same ad again today (and told Instagram I was seeing it too frequently). Then I wasted 45 minutes looking at my feed of Instagram models and vacation lifestyle accounts. Ok… maybe this is actually more of a problem than I thought.

I’m not ready to delete my accounts outright. I have some big questions about identity on the Internet, and I fear someone would take my username and then manipulate people who thought it was me. I also might come to regret this whole experiment, or decide to just go back to using these services like normal. I don’t know what will happen yet. I am also still trying to figure out what I am going to do with the accounts for my dog Emo, who is a source of sweetness and happiness to a couple hundred people and one of the best things in my life. TBD.

I emailed my immediate family and Kevin’s immediate family to let them know I was taking a break from social media, so not to worry if they didn’t see posts from me and to reach out for 1-on-1 communication by phone, text, or email.

Of all the arguments in “10 Arguments”, the most compelling is the last one — about religion, specifically AI heaven or the singularity. In our race to fulfill this fantasy, we’ve built a hierarchy that places machines above humans and formed a religion that evades the responsibility of consciousness. What we build is a choice, and the point of the book is to advocate for different choices. I am certainly pondering this as I contemplate what I build next, given I can’t unsee what the author has made clear.

“AI has become a fiction that has overtaken its authors. AI is a fantasy, nothing but a story we tell about our code. It is also a cover for sloppy engineering. Making a supposed AI program that customizes a feed is less work than creating a great user interface that allows users to probe and improve what they see on their own terms—and that is so because AI has no objective criteria for success.”

As someone evaluating companies for angel investment who claim to be building “AI” and turn out to have very basic technology that trains and classifies on some set of UGC I see this fiction re-written in decks daily. As someone who just spent 5 years leading a company that leveraged machine learning in a meaningful, and sometimes meaningless, way — this rings so true. I am wearing an old Mattermark shirt that says, “building the basilisk since 2013” and the irony is not lost on me.

In dreams begin responsibilities.

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