Intentional Technology

I quit Facebook…and Instagram.

In 2020, hearing something like this might be cause for alarm for some. “How could you disconnect from social media!? You won’t be able to keep up to date with what people are doing and miss invites to important events!”

To that, I simply reply: Does technology really have that much control over our lives? I was able to keep up to date with the things happening in the lives of my friends well before social media became an essentially mandatory prescription for Internet users. Also, invitations to events come in many forms, and I think that by relying on a single website to manage these social interactions says more about the creator of events than the person that chooses to pursue more meaningful connections outside of the social media bubble. It’s just a website.

However, it’s true. I deactivated my Facebook and ‘temporarily’ disabled my Instagram (only temporary because there was no option to make it permanent). For many months (or maybe even years) I’ve been thinking about doing this because of these key questions:

How intentional is my technology use? 
How much time am I wasting?

That second question is key. I’ve recently starting reading a book by Cal Newport called Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, which has helped put into context what I’ve disliked about social networks for some time (I haven’t finished the book yet).

I should point out that social networks can fulfil very useful functions in our lives, from reconnecting with long-lost friends, to interacting with groups of like-minded people and making new friends. I argue that the value of many of these connections, whilst strong at first, are unsustainable especially when with people you’ve never met or live thousands of kilometres away, unlikely to ever meet. If you meet someone on a social network that you genuinely believe adds value to your life, find a more meaningful way to share your life with them rather than by clicking ‘like’ on a post occasionally or saying only ‘happy birthday’ to them when the moment arises.

There are many ways to connect online without submitting to the infinite scroll of a (purposely addictive) news feed. Whilst it’s still considered an ancient form of communication these days, e-mail still serves an important purpose. If you avoid using e-mail because it’s usually filled with junk, unsubscribe from the junk. If you’re still using an embarrassing e-mail address that you made when you were a teenager, make a new one. Forward your e-mails from the old one to a new one, and slowly update your details as e-mails slowly stop being delivered to that embarrassing location.

Make your inbox work for you.

Facebook Messenger is still a very useful communication tool, one I won’t be giving up on any time soon. I connect with my Japanese friends primarily through LINE, one of the largest communication services in Japan. One fully-fledged social network I’ve decided to keep (for now) is Twitter, but I made significant changes to how I use it. I’ve unfollowed everything that I don’t necessarily want to see in my feed, using it mainly for access to up-to-date news and current affairs. No offence to my friends, but I don’t need to know what you’re doing or how you feel via a short tweet. That’s not how I choose to use this service.

Technology doesn’t usually play a front-and-centre role in the lives of digital citizens, and I’m convinced that part of the reason for that is that people don’t choose to use it intentionally. They use it because other people use it, or had once been referred to use it by a friend and signing up simply ‘because they do’. I used Snapchat years ago, and kept it because a friend of mine didn’t use anything else. But I realised that he chose to use that service as his intentional way of using technology to communicate with loved ones.

It’s entirely possible to use social networks in useful ways, but the point I’m making is that you should choose which is right for you and how you want to maintain and develop new and existing relationships. That’s something only you can decide for yourself. These products are designed to be addictive, and are usually veiled behind the idea of ‘a connected life’, but in reality you’re being force-fed hundreds of advertisements. Are social networks really that useful?

I’ll be breaking this subject down even more in the future for two reasons: because I’m still going through the process of minimising and choosing ways to use technology intentionally in my own life, and because I firmly believe that by making changes to how you deploy technology in your life, this change can be the catalyst for positive shift in how technology influences all of our lives. It starts with you.

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