I know what you’re thinking; ‘this is a huge trap’. I completely agree, but let me give some context here.
During my vacation throughout Europe (specifically my tenure in London), I met with a few friends, new and old, and caught up as best we could with the time I had. It was definitely a blast, and I definitely want to do it again. However, something I noticed is that when it came to my older friends, I certainly did not as good of a job staying in touch as I could have.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done my due diligence, keeping in touch with my friends via email or instant messaging. I try my best to maintain a frequency of contact with many of them (usually a month) thanks to my usage of a CRM. However, one of my friends while on my trip made a good point; I’m paraphrasing here so, my friend, if you happen to see this, sorry:
It sucks you don’t have Instagram, cause that way I could just see what you’re up to without having to text you. Sometimes, messages fall through the cracks, or we forget and that way threads of conversation take a while. It’s best if you could just pop in to my feed, and we could just chat naturally when it occurs.
My knee-jerk reaction was “damn, I guess that’s what it takes to get people to talk to me?” But after putting away my monkey brain for a second, I got to thinking, to be honest. If you read my blog with any frequency, you’ll know that I avoid social media like the plague, but for the first time, my friend made a good point. It’d definitely make it easier to share what I do if I used it. So, for argument’s sake, let’s play devil’s advocate, I opted to ask myself a question:
Why shouldn’t I use social media?
What are the pros?
The pros are immediately obvious, thanks to my friend. If I were to share what I do with my friends using a social media platform, the platform would do the work of actually spreading the news to my friends for me. This eliminates my need to deal with it personally, individually, for all my friends. So, for example, if I were to share my adventures during this vacation in Europe, I could just share a picture or two and Instagram would do the work for me of sharing it with whomever.
Another pro would be the converse; I’d also see what my friends are doing, which is a massive plus. I’ve noticed that IM conversations where small talk consists entirely of what we’ve been doing is very dry. Little other talk seems to spark from such conversations, so perhaps keeping a sense of proximity using Instagram or Facebook would help.
Lastly, it’d make me take more pictures, which I something I definitely struggle with. I tend to not really document my life outside journaling, and I have to admit making real albums of memories would be quite nice.
Certainly, some solid pros, not gonna lie, and pros that I absolutely agree with; keeping contact with my friends across the globe and photography are not bad things to take up, but…
What are the cons?
Thanks to my current stance of social media, I can think of three big ones. Here’s a quick and succinct list:
- The ethical and privacy concerns of using social media, of which I have no shortage of examples.1
- The potential time wasted using social media, which anecdotally I’ve seen to be a problem, both in myself and others.2
- The dark patterns latent in every social media app that I find quite annoying, along with being the primary driving factors of bullet points (1) and (2).
Now, these have always been deal-breakers for me, but since I’m playing devil’s advocate here, I figured that I try to deconstruct the above arguments.
Life is not very private anymore
My ethical and privacy concerns with social media have always been very applicable, and frankly have no direct arguments against them that can save social media. There is one exception, I suppose, which I will admit is sadly quite real these days; “you can’t avoid Facebook/Google/etc.”
This, unfortunately, is very true; Facebook as a company already has swaths of photos of me that come in the form of pictures taken by my friends, whether it be in stories or posts, so my face (and name) is already out there. Google also does the same in the form of Workspace accounts and plenty of other services I use, so I can’t avoid that either. In other words, in my crusade of avoiding all the bad tech companies, I failed pretty badly.
I could go all Snowden and hide my face from every social media picture, or ask my friends to delete them, but that seems like an ineffective approach nowadays. I think I’d rather fight this battle along with more obvious routes, such as political or legal ones (EFF or other organizations). So, since it’s kinda too late now, I suppose point (1) could be addressed by either:
- Dismissing it
- Deleting ALL my data from ALL social media platforms
Point (b) here is quite doable, thanks to the GDPR and other data regulation policies, but I sincerely doubt Big Tech actually listens. Additionally, the vigilance required to keep my friends from posting my pictures might be too tiring, so I suppose I can dismiss this point for now.
I would rather not waste time
Social media is excellent at taking up your time, and I don’t think this point needs to be clarified. Anecdotally, I’m sure you’ve personally wasted time on social media in one form or another at some point, and found it hard to stop; this can include Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, etc.3
Screen Time on iOS helps, but I definitely still have lapses every once in a while, and I’d like to avoid them. And, more importantly, I’d rather not willingly stir up those flames by adding another social media app I might accidentally check. So, if I were to use social media, I’d absolutely not use the official apps; instead I’d build interfaces to access them on my terms, while also using Screen Time to limit them in case it gets out of hand.
What’s the verdict?
Well, as an experiment, and since it is a summer of procrastination, I figured maybe we’ll give something a shot. I figure I can try to use Instagram to upload pictures but avoid using the app. That way, my friends can see what I’m doing, and I don’t get baited by dark patterns.
Sadly, though, Facebook has made very sure that it is extremely difficult to avoid their apps. Their API’s do not work for individuals, only for businesses, so it’d require converting my account to a Business account, effectively nuking all my followers and friends that are there (which kind of ruins the point of this whole thing).
As such, I’ve opted with a much simpler, roundabout, but viable solution. Instagram will be installed, its notifications disabled, and additionally, its Screen Time will be set to zero minutes (with a random third-party selected Screen Time passcode) such that it is impossible for me to open the app4. Really weird, but it achieves the intended objective.
I am acutely aware I’m playing with fire here, but here’s to hoping this experiment works; if I notice friends being more aware of my general life story, along with me not using Instagram, great! If any of those two stops being true, then the experiment will be over.
I’m dipping my toe in social media to the absolute minimum I find valuable. If things start getting out of control, then I’ll pull the plug.
I sure do hope it won’t be like the ring from Lord of the Rings.
Note that every word links to a different page with a separate example. ↩
To be fair, in this case, Screen Time on iOS has my back too, where a tech company clearly highlighted the huge amount of time we spend on our mobile devices because of social media and other mobile apps. ↩
I’m going to dismiss platforms like YouTube and Reddit because they are “technically” content aggregators and can be regulated quite well by RSS, which I already do. For the purposes of this blog, I’ll only address apps that are notoriously annoying about only letting you use the official app. ↩
I know what you’re thinking; “what about DM’s, you can’t access those with 0 Screen Time?” That may be, but I never checked my Instagram DM’s to begin with. In those cases, I’ll redirect my friends to other platforms like Discord, iMessage or email, etc. ↩