Joel Spolsky has a post up about how the design of software affects society, which has some great points about how ignoring Twitter and Facebook and other feeds of information that are constantly coming at him makes us happier. He’s not alone in thinking that the design of software intimately affects the people that use it. Here’s a great post from 2003 on social software by Clay Shirky.

Joel says:

I gave up on the feeds because they were making me angry. A lot of times I was angry because of politics, but even on non-political things, the feeds seemed like they were full of conflict and stress.

I can’t tell you how much happier I am without them. Am I the only one that hated reading feeds? Do they make everybody unhappy? And if they make people unhappy why are they so popular?

And then goes on to examine how these companies have leveraged human behavior and technology to keep us coming back.

I have had issues with this myself (I’m no snowflake).  For Facebook, it’s “I wonder what happened to <old acquaintance>?”.  For Twitter it’s “what are people talking about now?”.  What has worked for me?

First, take the applications off my phone.  The phone is ever present, and if I have access, I will look at the feed.  “Oh, I wonder who has posted something interesting to Twitter.”  Yes, I should limit my access to my phone too.

Then, I changed my password to something hard to remember, that I have to look up someplace (from a password manager).  This means that I can’t login on a whim, but have to take the extra step of looking up my password.

I use the applications for limited purposes, not for general entertainment.  For Twitter, I limit idle scrolling and really focus on the ability to communicate with anyone anywhere, as well as friends I have on Twitter.  Rather than logging in to post something, I’ve set up several zaps to push content from other sites to Twitter.  I also have stagnated at about 500 followers, so if you are looking to be a Twitter influencer, don’t ask me for advice.  For Facebook I’m even more careful.  I stay logged out of Facebook, and only login when I have specific tasks–share an article or contact someone for whom I have no email address.

I never allow the applications to send me notifications.  The emails they send to pull me back in are bad enough.

These platforms have tremendous value, but if I am not careful I get sucked in and waste time and brainpower.  There’s a great book, Feed, and a primary plot driver is how humans will act when we have access to the wonders of the Internet embedded in our brains.

It’s a dystopian novel.

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