The Shackles of Social Networks

Posted on 19 February 2014 under personal.

Social networks can be a blessing for information hungry people like myself. When Google announced that Reader was going to be buried six feet under, I couldn’t have cared less. Twitter and Google Plus had been my news feeds for some time and, as an added bonus, I was able to follow some pretty interesting people that could be considered experts in their fields.

As I increasingly spent more time checking my timeline for whatever reason, a darker side to social networking started surfacing. Looking back now, the information overload was inevitable. Without realizing it, my usage of Twitter and Google Plus could be mathematically described as a Gaussian function and I was on the fast track to reaching the peak of the bell curve. As you approach it, you lose the ability to efficiently filter what meets your needs and entropy floods the information stream.

Another side effect is that I soon found myself tweeting disgustingly shallow stuff, like complaining about the refereeing in a football match or ranting about life in general. It was actually someone on Twitter that flipped the switch for me. A guy that I’ve never met personally, but whose technical skills and knowledge are respected throughout the community, suddenly became obsessed with the whole “inbox 0” conundrum and also interested in sharing his routine for walking the dog. Don’t get me wrong: freedom of speech (for better or for worse) rules in social networks. But I decided to stop and think about what I was getting from all of this. The answer was frightening: I was wasting time, which could be considered one of Humanity’s most precious resources.

I pulled the plug. No more Twitter or Google Plus. My accounts are still active, but I’ve disabled all notifications (as far as I’m allowed to, at least). What I read online nowadays is only what I explicitly look for. As an added bonus, I’ve also cut down on TV. Movie channels are the only small pleasure I still indulge myself nowadays, although they’re mostly keeping me company as background noise while I attend to other matters. On a less positive note, I also cut down on talking with friends on Hangouts and interacting with them on private newsgroups. It seems like I’ve been losing touch with some people that I consider close friends, but time is so short these days that I end up using what little of it I have left to dedicate myself to my family.

All in all, it feels good. The initial fear of suffering from information deprivation quickly vanished. It’s okay to not know everything about everything (it’s not like I’m a Sid the Science Kid wannabe). Twitter is still out of the picture since mid-November 2013 (that’s a three-month total blackout) and I’ve slowly started looking at Google Plus. My initial plan was to restrict myself to 10 minutes per day, but that hasn’t been necessary so far. Most of the days I don’t even look at it and, when I do, I usually spend no more than five or six minutes. Chatting with friends is the next item on the agenda and I hope to gradually increase my interactions with them (I was able to clear a substantial e-mail backlog during the Christmas period).