Exchanging social media for productivity and health

by & about Work-Life in Technosocial

If you’re reading this post, you’ve probably typed something like “should I quit social media” or similar expressions of the same thought into your favorite search engine. Don’t you worry, we’ll feed your confirmation bias right here. Alternatively, have you watched Cal Newport’s Why you should quit social media yet? If not, do you prefer reading an interview with Jaron Lanier or dive deeper into one of Lanier’s books?

Both of us have very different starting points for our decision to quit social media. On Sanja’s end, she never really started them in the first place. In 2014, she tried out Google+, then went through several Twitter accounts that all had a specific purpose of landing a specific job, and she has been using LinkedIn for a few years as well. Sanja is an avid deletist and believes in getting rid of what’s not needed, so you won’t find any of her old accounts anymore as they’ve been deleted.

Janos, on the other hand, was on most of the platforms available: Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and a few others. Most social media platforms to him were about following the people he cared about: personally or professionally. However, as these platforms needed to start making money (or make even more money), they became less and less useful. Ads, company postings replaced genuine messages, or the almighty algorithm just started showing posts that it deemed to gain the most attention. Usually it was doing a pretty terrible job at it, since Janos, unlike the typical user, had all kinds of ad blockers running and generally didn’t like anything the machine could make sense of.

How effective is social media? ▲ Back to top

This brings us to an important point: how effective is social media? For some jobs, you might benefit from social media - we’re talking about a big maybe here. You’ll know best for yourself. We weren’t quite sure, so we decided to look at some stats.

Recently, Janos created the 512-byte VM project for work. We took a screenshot of the VM and posted it on LinkedIn:

Screenshot of a LinkedIn post from Sanja with the following text: 512 byte VM (with tests). “Why? Because when you test integration with virtualization systems such as oVirt (hint, hint), you often need a VM image to upload. If you have to run dozens or hundreds of test cases you don’t want to be uploading GB-sized images.” This text is followed by a screenshot of an oVirt ASCII art. Shows over 6000 views.

As you can see, this post got a fair bit of attention. One would assume that this amount of attention would lead a few people to actually look at the linked project on GitHub… right?

754 views, 164 unique visitors

From over 6000 views and 76 reactions on LinkedIn only 26 people actually clicked the link. It had more people finding it through GitHub itself. Even factoring in a generous margin of error, this means that the general social media pattern goes like this:

  1. Scroll
  2. Scroll
  3. Scroll
  4. React
  5. ???
  6. Profit (for the social media company)

What does that tell you about the effectiveness of social media? To us, it’s not only ineffective, but also eating away at our time. (To be clear: your mileage may vary. Our content isn’t exactly something that’s typically hot on social media.)

As an additional experiment, Sanja posted a comic as well. It “achieved“ roughly the same views and reactions as the VM post. Was there a point to this? Not really. Maybe the comic creator had more views on their website afterwards? Did that help them in their life? Highly unlikely.

A screenshot of a post on LinkedIn with a comic gaining 8706 views, 115 reactions and 8 comments.

Why do these statistics even matter to us, though? It’s very simple. If we are spending even one hour per day on social media, it is one hour we are not talking with each other, working on our projects, doing sports, cooking, or spending time with our family. If the benefit is negligible or unclear, but there are ample disadvantages, then the decision is pretty clear: for us, it means quitting social media to improve our productivity and health.

Social media wasn’t always here ▲ Back to top

Social media wasn’t always here. Nowadays attention is fragmented between the 42 tabs in the browser, the various dings and dongs on the mobile phone when a message arrives over a particular service, ads, posts, mindless scrolling when we are too lazy to find something meaningful to do.

The attention economy evolved imperceptibly slowly. Initially, it was just interesting: oh, look, WAP pages are now available on mobile phones! How nice, our 3 friends are online on ICQ! Now it became a torrent of information, a shouting match. Whoever, or rather: whichever service can shout the loudest, wins.

What’s lost in the process is being able to focus on the things we are actually doing. That’s true both on the creator and the consumer side. In recent times, we have been drastically reducing our social media usage and deleted accounts that were no longer useful. For the past few weeks we haven’t been using any social media at all.

As you probably know, the world didn’t stop turning, our careers are doing fine. We have even noticed being a lot more creative and productive. We spend more time with each other and have lots of new project ideas. We also go outdoors a lot more.

Are we worried that we won’t get more views to our future creations? ▲ Back to top

The only thing that’s going to stop more eyes and hands on our future creations is bad creations. We don’t use any sort of analytics on our website, so we can’t tell. What we can tell, though, is that we both like creating content, and we’ll keep doing that. Funnily enough, looking back at the statistics of our ContainerSSH project, social media posts barely got any attention. What got this project the most attention were conference talks. Also, releasing a new version caused a significant bump in the graphs.

Both talks and releases cost significantly more time than sharing or resharing a few characters. As Cal Newport said:

In a competitive 21st century economy, what the market values is the ability to produce things that are rare and are valuable. […] What the market dismisses, for the most part, are activities that are easy to replicate and produce a small amount of value. […] It’s something that any 16-year-old with a smartphone can do.

Where do we go from here? ▲ Back to top

If you’ve been following us for a while you may have noticed that we just overhauled our website. Previously, we only had the blog on here, but now we added a whole new projects section where you can keep track of what we are currently working on. If you want to follow us, you can do so on GitHub, occasionally check this website, or use any of the numerous RSS feeds. If you don’t use RSS, you can pick any one of those feeds and plug them into any of the RSS-to-email services out there. (No, we are not starting a newsletter, we don’t want to trust a third party to store your personally identifiable information.)

Now to you: what are you doing with the tail end of your life?