Leaving Social Media, one step at a time

After about 2 years of having been mostly inactive on my personal Twitter account, I decided to initiate the next step in my ongoing process to withdraw from Social Media, by deleting 24,300 tweets. It didn’t hurt at all. It feels pretty good actually, although the high number of tweets that I had accumulated since getting “hooked” on Twitter in around 2009 kind of shocked me. It made me realize how much time I’ve spent with the service; and how things have changed. There was certainly a time when I truly loved Twitter. This was before it became a place for polarized, impulsive political and ideological discussions and group think.

A few weeks ago I also finally deleted my Facebook account. It wasn’t such a big step because I already had stopped consuming the news feed and stopped posting way before, also about 2 years ago. Before I deleted the account, I accessed each 3rd party service where I previously had used Facebook as login, and generated a separate login, to make sure not to be locked out later.

Currently I’m working on reducing my Instagram usage. I’ve found somewhat of a primitive hack: When I want to have a look or check private messages, I download the app, browse around for a few minutes, and delete it again.

There are still some aspects of Instagram that I appreciate. It’s a nice way to connect with people one meets for example during travel, or to share some shots from places few people have visited before (= meaning places which I consider at least potentially interesting for others, if I happen to be at such as a place), but that’s it.

I’m still ambivalent about Instagram. But like all other major Social Media services, Instagram is built for distraction and as a way for the company to gain as much user attention as possible. Because Facebook has to make money with Instagram, the experience has gotten much worse lately, in my eyes.

I know some people who appear to be neurologically “immune” against the various habit forming patterns of social media apps. Good for them. I am not, which is why I have to take to radical measures such as deleting accounts.

In some ways, I am cheating a bit: I created a new Facebook Messenger account to be able to keep participating in a few messaging groups. Also I am operating 2 publication-specific Twitter accounts for promotional reasons. Both have a very clear narrow content profile and little activity on my part. In addition, I use Nuzzel to get a quick overview of the articles shared by those I follow with my personal Twitter account.

So am I happier without the major social media services, as several recent studies have been suggesting? No idea. But I don’t miss them at all, I definitely have more time, and it’s easier to focus again. That’s good enough. It also feels great not to contribute anymore to the business models of the giant tech firms which increasingly get into people’s minds and impact the way everybody thinks. I like to think for myself, and to come to my own conclusions, instead of being exposed around the clock to algorithmically-reinforced impulsivity and outrage, mob mentality, dogmatism, moral grandstanding and narcissism. It’s also pleasant to free oneself from the temptation to blare out any impetuous thought through the big digital megaphones that comes to my mind – a behavior which the platforms reward and incentivize. For me, adding some friction in that regard has been a good choice. So has been leaving social media, one step at a time.

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A culture of responsible behavior is possible and could save the web

Here you can read a German version of this text.

In order to prevent the web’s demise, the emergence of a culture of responsible behavior is required. Examples from the “analogue” world prove that under certain circumstances, such a culture is possible.

Why do people participate in elections, even though they know that abstaining wouldn’t have any measurable impact on the result? Some other force drives them to invest time and energy into casting their vote: A learned and internalized sense of responsibility which derives from the realization that many small actions taken together lead to a big impact.

A similar principle comes into effect when people separate and recycle trash. This is a very popular “sport” in my country of origin, Germany. Again, the individual effect of not separating is negligible. And unlike with voting, there isn’t even immediate direct feedback about the positive effects of recycling (or the negative of not recycling) available. So technically, until very recently (before a law that went into effect in 2015 actually made recycling mandatory), there was very little incentive to put the effort into separating the trash. Yet, in 2006, an astonishing 92 percent of Germans reported separating their trash. Continue Reading

The post-social media era and the evolution of social networking

Here is a German version of this text.

A few months ago I published a critical personal evaluation of the current social media landscape. During a recent podcast exchange about the same topic in which I participated (in German), what got apparent was the need to distinguish between the two components that social media is made of: the media consumption, and the networking. The first one is primarily about content, the second one primarily about people. No matter how much my skepticism about the dynamics and long-term consequences of today’s social media world has grown lately, that doesn’t change the fact that I still very much appreciate social media’s capability to get to know interesting people, potential business partners or – very simple – new friends. Over the past 10 years, I have met a lot of great individuals thanks to social media. I certainly would not want to have missed that opportunity.

What I am describing here is the “networking” element of social media, which predated the other aspect, the consumption of content within the networked environment of social media platforms. In the early years of the so called Web 2.0, the focus was mainly on building contact lists, showcasing an online profile and on exchanging messages. The services which offered these opportunities such as Friendster, MySpace and even the early Facebook were labeled “communities” or “social networks”. Before the rise of these services, there were of course “instant messengers” such as ICQ or MSN. The term “social media” didn’t emerge until around 2008. What happened at that point?

Continue Reading

Medium can be the better Twitter

I have changed my mind about Medium, the service created by the Twitter founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone in 2012. Initially I was concerned about the startup’s effort to centralize content and how that would weaken the distributed publishing structure that made the web such a great place. 2 years ago I wrote:

“Nobody could be interested in a scenario in which all non-paid-for content is appearing first and foremost on Medium. A centralized approach like this means that one entity is in full control over who gets to publish what and how it is being monetized. Also, a centralized approach introduces a single point of failure. If Medium’s servers crash, all the content would be unavailable”

A lot has happened since then. Among other things, at least for me, existing social media platforms have lost most of their appeal. Especially Twitter became unbearable, and I am far from the only one who has come to this conclusion. Just read the comments here (and this article).

The reasons why Twitter turned from an exciting tool for networking and access to valuable information into a toxic, polarizing and frustrating time-sink are multifaceted. Based on my long-term observation, one of its core weaknesses is its brevity. In a time of mounting global complexity, a service that due to its limitation to 140 characters acts as an outlet for impulses, emotions and binary, one-dimensional simplifications is the worst that can happen.  Continue Reading

The year when social media died

Here you can read this article in German.

To me, 2016 was the year when social media as we knew it died. About ten years after the rise of the Web 2.0, the emergence of mass-market social networking (which started in my definition with Facebook, not with MySpace) and Facebook’s introduction of the news feed, 2016 marked for me the end of an era. During the last quarter, I dramatically reduced the time spent with the leading feed-based (and story-based) social media services. I stopped tweeting and paying attention to my Twitter timeline, only using the app for direct messaging and as a push channel for this blog. I don’t post a lot individual stuff anymore on Facebook, and when accessing facebook.com, a browser extension hides the news feed. I also spend only a tiny amount of time with Snapchat (where I wasn’t really active anyway) and Instagram. And I feel great, experiencing no fear of missing out (FOMO) at all.

These steps are the result of a plain and simple personal cost-benefit-analysis. For about ten years, I perceived social media to deliver large amounts of value to my life and society with comparatively little costs. That changed in 2016. I started to see one-to-many social networking rather as a burden than as a source of pleasure and useful interaction. After a few months of introspection I decided that it was time to close the chapter; to stop permanently consuming and filling social feeds and to abandon constantly thinking aloud in 140 characters.

Let me explain what the costs are that led me onto this path. Continue Reading

When you hear about everything bad 1.5 billion people do, almost instantly

Most people, especially those who pay attention to online media and social media, will have a hard time not to notice: It seems as if there is a constant and every-increasing stream of bad news involving violent acts coming from places close and far. Shootings, terror attacks, gang rapes and so on.

Lots of people are debating whether the subjective impression of more “large-scale” incidents is representing reality accurately or whether it is just the consequence of selective perception caused by Internet-fueled changes in the media and news landscape. Plenty of statistics are pointing towards decline of violence over the past decades. However, there is always a delay until statistics are available for the most current times, which is why a definite verdict about the period right now is difficult. Continue Reading

Facebook, Snapchat and others must hate Pokémon Go

Here you can read a German version of this article.

When it comes to mobile consumer tech, the past days have in my opinion been the most interesting so far this year. First, an utterly impressive iPhone app called Prisma emerged and shortly after blew up. Then the AR/mixed reality smartphone game Pokémon Go was released (in English-speaking app stores, other markets are expected to follow soon) and managed to captivate casual gamers, geeks and curious people alike. In the US alone, a reported 7.5 million people have downloaded the Pokémon Go app over the course of only a few days, instantly bringing activity key performance indicators to levels of famous, well-established apps such as Tinder, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram. Update: According to estimations, on Monday the game saw almost 21 million daily active users in the U.S. alone. Let this sink it.

I haven’t been playing the remake of the iconic Pokémon franchise (largely to protect myself from getting obsessed with it) but have observed people who have. They got instantly hooked. Yesterday evening, one said something remarkable: “I haven’t been using Snapchat once today, and Facebook (the feed) neither”. Continue Reading

The challenge to tackle mob mentality on the Internet


Much has been written lately about social media’s tendency to be the breeding ground for huge shame-storms. A thoughtless or dumb comment on a major platform can cause an intense, global outrage which has the potential to destroy careers, lead to harassment and cruel cyberbullying or even worse. Due to some recent incidents, the topic is highly present in the media now even at the center of a new book called “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed”.

I did not plan to write about shame-storms because a lot of smart things have already been said and written about it. But then I saw this video of a cute little dancing fella which is currently being shared widely on Facebook. As indicated by the many likes, shares and comments, seeing a toddler with such unusual dancing skills makes a lot of people happy. But as always, there are a few who have some additional thoughts. Like a woman called Elaine. She could not hold herself. She had to be the killjoy, pointing out that the kid is “cute but FAT”, and that he probably would not reach 40 at this rate. Continue Reading