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Beyond #DeleteFacebook: More Thoughts on Embracing the Social Internet Over Social Media

March 25th, 2018 · 79 comments

A Social Transition

Last week, I wrote a blog post emphasizing the distinction between the social internet and social media. The former describes the internet’s ability to enable connection, learning, and expression. The latter describes the attempt of a small number of large companies to monetize these capabilities inside walled-garden, monopoly platforms.

My argument is that you can embrace the social internet without having to become a “gadget” inside the algorithmic attention economy machinations of the social media conglomerates. As noted previously, I think this is the right answer for those who are fed up with the dehumanizing aspects of social media, but are reluctant to give up altogether on the potential of the internet to bring people together.

The key follow up question, of course, is how to fruitfully engage with the social internet outside the convenient confines of social media. In my last post I pointed toward one possibility: the development of open social protocols that support the network effect usefulness of large social networks without a centralized company in charge.

This solution, however, requires that you wait for others to make progress on a somewhat complicated technological agenda.

In this post, I want to discuss two additional approaches that individuals can put in place right now to begin their transition from social media to the social internet.

The first approach provides an intermediate step — a way to minimize the worst effects of social media without fully leaving its ecosystem. The second approach describes a more severe separation.

Approach #1: The Slow Social Media Philosophy

In my 2016 book, Deep Work, I proposed a strictly binary approach to social media: you should perform an honest cost/benefit analysis on the social media platforms in your life, and quit all services that don’t provide substantially more benefits than costs with respect to things you truly value.

The issue with this idea, as I discovered, is that many people could identify a small number of important benefits provided to them by particular social media platforms that couldn’t be easily replaced. Two common examples of such benefits include sharing photos of your kids with relatives on Instagram, and keeping up with important community or support organizations that coordinate using Facebook Groups.

This is problematic because once you allow one of these platforms into your life for any reason, they have a way of annexing your cognitive landscape well beyond the boundaries of your original intent.

The average user now spends almost two hours per day on social media — at best a small fraction of this time is dedicated to the “important” reasons most would list when asked why they need to use these services.

In other words: it’s not just what social media you use, but how you use it.

With this in mind, in the two years that have passed since the original publication of Deep Work, I’ve evolved a more nuanced philosophy that I call slow social media.

Here are the basic principles:

  • Only use a given social media service if it provides valuable benefits that would be hard to replace. Use these services only for these purposes.
  • Delete all social media apps from your phone. (Few serious uses for social media require that you can access it wherever you are throughout the day.) Instead, access social media through a web browser on your laptop or desktop, once or twice a week.
  • When logged onto a social media service, don’t click “like” or follow links unrelated to your specific, high-value purposes — these activities mainly serve the social media conglomerate’s attempts to package you into data slivers that they can sell to the highest bidder.

Practicing slow social media allows you to maintain the hard to replace value that these services might provide you, while at the same time neutering their ability to transform you into a pawn in their algorithmic attention economy games.

Adding these restrictions also has the benefit of clarifying the true value of the activities that keep you in the social media orbit. If you find that the extra obstacle of using a web browser instead of your phone prevents you from using a given service for more than a month, than you should quit it altogether.

I was surprised by how many of my readers reported exactly this experience, proving that the stories they told themselves about social media’s importance to their existence were more fictional than they had realized.

Approach #2: Own Your Own Domain

In a recent issue of The Hedgehog Review, Alan Jacobs wrote an interesting essay titled “Tending the Digital Commons.” In this piece, Jacobs highlights the dangerous tradeoff implicit in using the major social media platforms.

These services, he notes, provide you convenience (they’re easy to learn and use, and provide access to a large existing network of users), but in exchange, they maintain control over the information your produce.

They can then monetize your work in any way that suits their bottom line. As Jacobs writes, it’s incorrect to call the major social media platforms “walled gardens,” because…

“…they are not gardens; they are walled industrial sites, within which users, for no financial compensation, produce data which the owners of the factories sift and then sell.”

This is an economic state that the techno-critic Nicholas Carr provocatively describes as “digital sharecropping.”

Perhaps more pernicious than the ability of these “walled industrial sites” to exploit your labor, however, is their ability to control your behavior — nudging you toward certain ways of describing yourself and encountering the world that make you more profitable to the social media barons, but might alienate you from your humanity.

(This is the chief concern voiced by Jaron Lanier, who first warned us about these issues over twenty years ago.)

What’s the solution? Here’s Jacobs:

“We need to revivify the open Web and teach others—especially those who have never known the open Web—to learn to live extramurally: outside the walls. What do I mean by ‘the open Web’? I mean the World Wide Web as created by Tim Berners-Lee and extended by later coders.”

To be more concrete, he’s suggesting that if you want to connect and express yourself online, the best way to do so is to own your own website.

Buy a domain. Setup a web hosting account (my host, A2, has introductory packages that cost less than $4 a month). Install WordPress or hand code a web site for this account. Let people follow you directly by checking your site, or subscribing to an RSS feed or email newsletter.

In other words, acquire your own damn digital land on which you can do whatever you want without anyone else trying to exploit you or influence your behavior.

I’m biased, of course, because this is my approach to the social internet. I’ve never had a social media account. (For the record, @CalNewport is not me — it’s a fake Twitter account that I know nothing about.) Instead, I’ve built my own little empire here on calnewport.com where no one can bother me, or insert advertisements against my will, or, ahem, use my behavior to help influence political campaigns.

I can tell you from experience that this approach is harder than simply setting up a Twitter handle and letting the clever hashtags fly, but it’s immensely more satisfying to produce things when you’re not a data point in some Silicon Valley revenue report.

It’s also, however, humbling.

As I wrote in Deep Work, part of the power of the social media business model is that it  introduces a type of attention collectivism, where I’ll promise to pretend to care what you have to say (by clicking “like” or leaving a quick comment), if you do the same for me. This is incredibly seductive, though ultimately hollow.

When you run your own site, reality is harsher. If people don’t truly care about what you have to say, or don’t truly care about you, they’re not going to stick around. You have to earn their attention. Which can be really, really hard.

But I don’t think that this is a bad thing.

For those who want recognition, this reality provides a useful forcing function for helping them through the deliberate work of cultivating thoughts worth sharing.

For those who don’t crave recognition, it induces a digital life that’s more localized to closer friends and family — a state that’s more congruent with our fundamental human instincts.

Conclusion

Slow social media and escaping the walled factories of industrial social media are two ways to step toward a more authentic social internet experience. They’re not, however, the only ways. As with my last post on this subject, I’m more interested in sparking new ways of thinking about your digital life than I am in providing you the definitive road map.

79 thoughts on “Beyond #DeleteFacebook: More Thoughts on Embracing the Social Internet Over Social Media

  1. Interesting insights and thanks for sharing. I’m curious about the social protocols you mentioned. Like you, I’ve spent more time on my own domain creating great resources and less time on the social networks. When I first started internet marketing in 2005, I leveraged radio channels to get attention. In 2006, I partnered with other bloggers to get traction. Now, social channels are a hub of activity and an effective way to get noticed. I’ll be curiously watching how the social networks change over the next few years.

  2. jaycel adkins says:

    Any thoughts on naming your domain after your own name vs. another title (i.e. Wait but Why, MarginalRevolution, OvercomingBias, etc.)?

    1. I’m “old school’ and agree you have to earn your place and maintain it from the ground up. Your followers will come organically, trusting you have knowledge and expertise that will enhance their lives. If for no other reason, that is the purpose you promote your work; for the benefit of others.

  3. Kathit anjaria says:

    This is incredible.

  4. PN says:

    The more I read about this Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal, the more scared I become. Not really about data and privacy, exactly – but more about the influence social media is having on our day-to-day lives. The information we’re being exposed to on a daily basis has become dependent on the algorithms by companies like Facebook and Google – algorithms that prefer content that is novel, ‘popular’, and dumb in relation to content that is useful, analytical, and needs to be read.

    I want to use the internet to explore and be exposed to NEW ideas and alternate viewpoints, not what these companies think I want to read. We are being reinforced with our own worldview and we are slowly becoming ignorant beings trapped in our own comfort bubbles of information. How tragic is that?

    1. citc says:

      For those seeking an example of open protocol social media, try diaspora, e.g.:

      https://pod.disroot.org/public/citc

  5. DT says:

    I another option that’s worked for me is literally slowing down my internet – the addictive properties of many sites simply disappear if you are forced to wait a few moments for them to load.

    1. Hmmm, this feels a little like cutting one’s nose to spite one’s face…

  6. Julie says:

    This article describes what I am doing right now. I am taking back my social network by returning to my neglected domain & blog, clearing away the cobwebs and making it my new & improved social internet space. I haven’t deleted my Facebook account yet, but have deactivated it and plan to delete it as soon as I introduce my blog to my friend’s & family members.

    I don’t expect many of my FB connections to follow my blog, but the people who want to stay connected with me will. Since I use Word Press, there’s some built in social network in place over there, and if I feel so inclined I can find new social connections over there.

  7. Kate says:

    The problem is most people are not tech savvy. and they are lazy.

    These “walled factories” know that. People know how to make profiles but not setup website.
    And these things are “free”.

    1. This is a pretty important point, Kate.

      Although I wonder if there’s an opportunity here for web hosts to allow users to create websites that are in effect as easy as setting up a profile.

      WordPress still needs a developer. Squarespace makes it much easier, although still a few hoops to jump through. Wix/Weebly I haven’t used in a while but I gather they’re progressing quickly.

      So I wonder if in five years’ time (even without social protocols mentioned above) it will be just as easy to set up a website as a social profile?

      Of course, the subsequent problem is that even if you get this far no-one will know you’re there (whereas on Facebook a simple @ mention or friend request can alert anyone instantly…)

      Interested in seeing where this all goes. Finding a way to productively use the Internet without contributing handsomely to these “walled industrial parks” is so big a problem that somebody somewhere might make a lot of money solving in an open, transparent, sustainable manner.

  8. Thomas says:

    It is possible to accomplish most of the tasks that provide value without using the official apps.
    But, I think there will always be people making sites, which we trust, that collect and share articles of interest. If good, they will sell advertising, profiting from your work. And, they may even influence our views through the selection process.

  9. mimokrokodil says:

    Look into Mastodon: https://joinmastodon.org/ IMO it’s fun and fair way to do social networking.

  10. smith, agent smith says:

    i remember the good ol’ times when i used to waste my digital life on irc …
    but despite that now i stay away from almost all social networks

    i even closed my uber account because of ideological reasons but man it’s tough to have a clean digital life when people that you care about are caught into this madness

    i don’t think i could ever give up everything the way Richard Stallman preaches and i don’t know if there’s another middle way for this …

  11. Cal, do you have any how-to guides for implementing our own “empires” on a self-hosted domain? I currently host my blog on GitHub Pages and it’s nice (and free!) but limited, and I have been thinking about moving to a self-hosted solution (actually looking specifically at A2) to give myself more room to grow. But, I’m not sure I know how to do the back-end part of this well enough to maximize the benefits. I’d love at some point if you could blog about that, or put out a little whitepaper for self-hosting newbies. Or, if other commenters could link to something that already exists. Thanks, appreciate your work as always.

    1. mimokrokodil says:

      Try https://neocities.org/ It’s fun. GitHub Pages are fine for a meaningful content too though.

  12. Jessica says:

    Thank you Cal. I enjoy your angle on this conversation and the ideas for how to stay connected online without social media. Personally the bloggers and sites I’ve followed for a long time are domains who don’t advertise on their blogs and or don’t use social media. It’s a cleaner, high value experience.

  13. I appreciate your insights and guidance on creating a personal “digital land.” While it does require more work and substantive contributions, I believe we have more opportunities to influence, inspire, and engage in constructive dialogue. Your recent articles on this topic have given me the needed nudge to continue to build my own “digital land.” Thank you.

  14. Wow, for me, you nailed it with this one. All I can do is echo your ideas here. Thanks for the encouragement to stick with the open web and such. In my situation, I’m thinking this will mean I should move my domain from WordPress.com to self host and use WordPress.org for my blog, but I’m not sure yet.

  15. Josh says:

    Excellent post Cal. I’m happy to see a more nuanced view of social media since I think there are some (although likely very, very few) valid ways to use social media that add significant value to one’s life. And your alternative of staking out your own digital territory by buying and maintaining a domain seems like a difficult, but doable, and rewarding way to interact with the world. It would be fascinating if people like Cal and Lanier were in charge of orchestrating the future architecture of the internet.

  16. Brian Saturnino says:

    Is YouTube a social media similar to Facebook?

    1. corey lambrecht says:

      That’s a great question. I think it is.

  17. Roshan Mishra says:

    I read your book ( deep work) and came here to thank you i have nothing to add at this point but I am trying to make changes to my life to support deep work when i do i will surely write about. From the bottom my heart thank you. I am also buying your other books. I really appriciate taking the time to write those books. So thank you again.

  18. Sepuku says:

    Since reading Deep Work last year, I removed the Facebook app off my phone… This was my primary device for looking at it, and found that my usage of Facebook plummeted after doing that. The simple act of removing the app meant no notifications, and my battery life was better (Facebook background processes used to use over 1/3rd of my battery life apparently). I can still access the site via the browser, but because the user experience is a bit clunky, I’ve found I just don’t want to use it. Not missed it in the slightest… only real reason I keep it around is to keep in contact with my wife’s family who live in a different country, sharing photos, etc… I wasn’t a heavy user before though, so maybe that could have been why I didn’t find it difficult, but I was certainly a couple of hours a day, now down to 20 mins per day (ish). If you are struggling with curbing usage, delete the app and see if that helps…

    1. jaycel adkins says:

      That’s awesome. Unless you need it for your job or it’s the only way to keep in contact with family on a daily/weekly basis, I would suggest deactivating your account for 30 days as a next goal, per advice via DEEP WORK.

      I’ve deleted all my social media and have suffered no negative consequences via ‘missing out’ on anything that is truly important, plus a much better level of equanimity.

  19. EA says:

    Cal – great post!

  20. Yunuen Herrera says:

    This text is great!
    Deleting Facebook doesn’t seem to be enough; Mark Zuckerberg and his team must go to jail.

  21. Sam says:

    “art of the power of the social media business model is that it introduces a type of attention collectivism, where I’ll promise to pretend to care what you have to say (by clicking “like” or leaving a quick comment), if you do the same for me. This is incredibly seductive, though ultimately hollow.”

    This is true for Twitter and Facebook but not on Reddit, on Reddit the best content eventually rise regardless of who wrote it, I am not addicted to Facebook and Twitter as I am to Reddit news, it took me a while to control the urge to argue and correct people on Reddit on political and philosophical issues, when I am suppose to do productive work.
    reddit may not be traditionally considered a social media site but I personally found its effects on productivity and attention not that different from other social media.

  22. Cal, great read. Love the idea of “acquiring your own damn digital land.” So true. I write and share for myself and just hope others want to follow along. No russian ads, no bullshit. Adding you to the blogroll!

  23. Shawn says:

    Question: I left my social media accounts on at test basis for the last 3 months after hearing Cal’s interview on the Contemplify podcast. Here is the thing though, there are about 10 to 15 people I really like to keep up with on FB because there is an illness or hospitalization in the family and I like reading the updates to stay informed and help where I can. Do you know of any app or software that will let me obtain – e.g. – the last status update (or two) of the named “friends” and dump it to a dashboard of sorts? I dont need to be able to interact with it – just see it. Know of anything like this? Thanks!!

    1. AGS says:

      I’ve looked for this exact option, but have found nothing. Your best bet is to unfollow everyone/everything but the top folks/groups you wish to keep tabs on. The other option, which I’ve started to use the most, is to simply send a note, call or text these people I’d like to stay in touch with a couple times a month.

      I’ll be following to see if anyone does know of an option.

    2. Kay Collier says:

      Hi Shawn,
      I use whatsapp to talk and send photos to family worldwide…you can also do face-time or make a phone call all for nothing…well, it’s all in your internet cost…negligible.

      You download the app and create a family group and stay in touch every day if you want! Me and my family find it invaluable…hope that helps.

    3. Thomas says:

      I let Facebook send me email notifications of those whom I follow have posted something. I can then decide if I want to actually look at their post.

  24. jmart21 says:

    Thanks for this Cal.
    1) I’ve decided to get the hell out there and get my own damn land to work.
    2) You are creating content people actually care about -> well done.
    3) I will sell you @calnewport twitter handle for 7000 USD or 400k Ruble.

  25. David says:

    Not that the topic (#deletefacebook) needs more fuel (actually, it does), here’s what Business Insider released today: “Whether you’re using Facebook, Twitter, Google, or the other myriad “free” internet services, you’re always paying somehow. In the case of Facebook, you’re giving up your personal information.” See article: http://www.businessinsider.com/facebook-free-services-deletefacebook-2018-3

  26. Jake says:

    I really enjoyed this. The one suggestion that I am interested in trying is eliminating the social media apps from my phone. I think that is a great idea! I get on social media way to much because I get notifications all the time. Only using my laptop to access social media will definitely slow down my use and wasted time on it.

  27. Erik says:

    Regarding “Approach #2: Own Your Own Domain”: this is what the IndieWeb movement is about. See https://indieweb.org/

  28. Fabrício Marchezini says:

    Great post! But, sadly, even if everyone leaves social media, but our personal websites keep using Google Analytics or the Facebook button, we are still being tracked by them.

  29. Grace says:

    Hi Cal!
    Another possible approach: I like the community that forms around a certain website or blog. For instance, when I come to Study Hacks I read your posts, of course, but also the comments. I have found sites, books and articles I like because readers have suggested them. I also have had conversations about topics I’m interested.

    1. Grace says:

      … So, even though I don’t have a personal blog or website, I still can use social internet by following some blogs and websites that I like, and interact with writers and other readers. That is how I used internet before social media, and how I am using it now that I deleted all accounts.

  30. jmart21 says:

    Its funny, after reading this latest Cal post a few days ago I started setting up my own wordpress page to “get some of my own damn internet land”.

    Its been sitting there for 2 days with no content. I don’t have anything to write. This exercise has shown me how much I REALLY have to say (very little), and how useless things like social media really are.

    1. jmart21 says:

      Replying to self as a follow up:

      Has anyone here successfully done this (cultivated their own damn internet land)? What kind of stuff do you post about? Does it serve as a niche area that you’re knowledgeable in or more of a facebook wall?

      1. Grace says:

        I used to write about voluntary simplicity and minimalism (not in English), and some people read it. A researcher even got inspired by the blog to do her thesis on the subject (I was really happy about that).

        I felt I said what I had to say. So I stop writing and a few years later deleted the blog.

        Have you check Aaron Swartz’s Raw Thought? I really like that model: “So I figure I’ll just start writing about it here and see if anyone cares. Maybe it’ll grow into something, but even if it doesn’t at least I’ll clarify my thoughts and hopefully get a few good suggestions for further reading”…

      2. Jenny says:

        Good luck starting your own blog! I can understand that you’d find it difficult to create content. I’ve been blogging off and on for a while now, but unlike almost everyone who comments on this blog, I’m not a professional or even doing paid work. I’m a housewife and mother. I blog about things I’m cooking or creating — really just “slice of life” type stuff. I suppose I treat my blog like Facebook and Instagram. I honestly think I misuse Facebook, since I’m one of those users who writes “essays” to go along with the pictures of my family. Since I use Facebook just for family and close friends, I think this is okay, though. I would love to have more people from Facebook read my blog, but I think it’s too inconvenient for them. I very reluctantly joined FB in 2016 to keep up with family and have enjoyed it for the most part. It is a tremendous time waster for me though and really clouds my mind.

  31. Dave says:

    I think they can still fix this matter. Let’s just give them the chance to prove themselves.

  32. kaavah says:

    Dear Cal ( Dr Newport)

    I cannot say how much your blog has changed my life, I came across it a month ago and regret that I didn’t know about it while in my undergrad. especially about that passion vs career goal!
    however right now I am doing a certificate in data science (my undergrad has nothing to do with computer science and I chose this after reading your book ) and currently also have gone back to your older posts and starting to read them back to front!
    my question is How Can I use deliberate practice for my current course (which entail R and statistics)

    1. Naomi says:

      Ok clearly not Cal but as someone who teaches data analysis and tries deliberate practise themselves in this area. There are lots of datasets online many with step by step tutorials. Also R has some data preloaded that can be used and some libraries have data. So I would suggest using these to practise skills you learn in class. I also like Datacamp which has a mix of free and paid lessons (accessed by subscription) but you may find that unnecessary if enrolled in a certificate. The other suggestion I have is when you want to do something with data even if you can do it quicker in a spreadsheet try doing it with R instead.

  33. Nayeem says:

    Valid stand!! Actually we are on transition,,somewhere its acceleration is low and somewhere is fast…

  34. Yevgeniya says:

    I used to share poems on Facebook.
    I started a blog, but no one is really reading it, and it’s not private. I want to keep my poems friends only for now.
    I have shared poems by emailing them to friends.
    I am thinking of creating a newsletter to send poetry that way. But I”m not sure if it’s worth the time? It will be private and I will have control on who reads poetry. Plus if it’s a private newsletter, it won’t considred “published”, so I can still send my poems to magazines. My poems have been published in Time of Singing, Anti-Heroin Chick, Ancient Paths, and other publications.
    Is it worth to create mailchimp with my poems? Anyone has done something like that?
    Here is my poetry page on my church website.

  35. Yevgeniya says:

    Since I became less active on Facebook, it has made me calmer. However, what is an alternative way to keep in touch with people/accointances without looking needy? Should i always be the one to call? Text? Email? Facebook was a digital marketplace where everyone was hanging out. I hate that my data was packaged and sold, and my mornings were ruined due to Facebook. But now there is no digital marketplace to hangout. And I dont want to look like a needy friend.

  36. Kristina says:

    Thank you so much for posting this. I recently bought my own domain and while I was scared to blog about anything before; I am now more inspired than ever to own my own damn digital landscape and write whatever I want without anyone else profiting from it.

  37. Sam says:

    At the beginning of 2016, I took a hiatus from Facebook, which developed into deleting Facebook (at around the time I was reading Deep Work, though I think I was already well on the way). Since then I have been free from the majority of social media. However, I certainly missed having some on-line presence, and often had thoughts of maybe starting just a personal blog. Cal, this article convinced me to take the plunge, and own my own little corner of the Internet. Bravo.

  38. Bruce L Bair says:

    I have social media accounts in my name just so someone else can’t. Good article, I agree with your philosophy.

  39. Jhon says:

    Social Media Sites are like junk food in real life. ( Everyone knows that its not good for Productivity but they loved using ). 😀

  40. Soni Kumari says:

    Intriguing bits of knowledge and a debt of gratitude is in order for sharing. I’m really interested in the social protocols you specified. Presently, social channels are a center of movement and a viable method to get took note. I’ll be inquisitively observing how the informal communities change throughout the following couple of years. Thanks a lot…!!!

  41. Preston T says:

    While I love our technology of today, I often find myself worried about our falling ability to communicate verbally. It’s actually interesting how we are slowly trading in our verbal skills for our online social media skills.

  42. Alex Bailey Dillon says:

    This is an older post but I don’t know what your comment policy is – I’m really interested in your idea of “digital land” and I’m wondering if you know how build-a-website companies like Squarespace and Wix fit into that model? Are they landlords or realtors or something in between?

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