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A Comprehensive Guide to Successfully Breaking Up with Social Media

“The sugar high of convenience is fleeting and the sting of missing out dulls rapidly, but the meaningful glow that comes from taking charge of what claims your time and attention is something that persists.” ~ Cal Newport

In my last post I highlighted a few reasons (among many, many more) that I’ve decided it’s time to say “Baby, bye bye bye” to Facebook and my other social media accounts. (If you haven’t read it, I recommend reading it before reading this one. Last post gave the why for what I’m doing. This post goes into detail on the what and the how).

I’ve been so thankful for the thoughtful and affirmatory responses from many who have had the same recurring frustrations towards the negative impacts of social media in our lives.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to reach out!

Several people, after reading the article, said they’d love to do the same thing that I’m doing, but that they’re not ready to do so yet because of something specific they still use these platforms for which they haven’t found a viable replacement for yet.

I also neglected in my last article to talk much about what “breaking up with social media” looks like for me.

This post will be a longer-form conversation that will attempt to give an answer all those questions. We’ll be digging into the details of how to purge social media from your life, how to replace the valuable features of social media with less exploitive alternatives, and what tech usage looks like in a post-Facebook world. (Spoiler alert: it’s beautiful.)

I’ve broken this article down into What I’m doing, a brief discussion on Digital Minimalism (the philosophy of tech usage that I’m pursuing in my post-social-media life), the positive things I currently use social media accounts for that I’ll be finding replacements for, my personal social media purge checklist, and a dive into the apps and tools I’ll be using after the purge is completed.

I also share an inspiring story from my friend about how he dumped social media and what his relationship with with technology looks like these days, which I find super empowering and convicting.

I recommend you read that section, the Digital Minimalism section, and the conclusion, even if you don’t read anything else.

If you want to jump to any specific section of the article, feel free. There’s a lot here. The above links will take you wherever you want to go.

Let’s begin.

What am I doing?

It seems like every other week there’s a new scandal that comes out about about the big social media platforms, like Facebook’s privacy violations, or Instagram’s Free Speech censoring, or how Twitter has become a platform of choice for hate groups. It seems almost everyone has an ever-growing list of critiques towards social media and its negative impacts on us and on societally.

I’ve heard a lot of ideas about how to deal with these issues, from implementing stricter laws for tech giants, to completely restructuring how these services function, and beyond.

But few solutions I’ve heard seem to deal with what I’m increasing coming to believe is the actual problem with social media.

“What is the actual problem?” you may ask.

The problem, as Brian Lunduke expounds upon in his video by the same title, is that “Social Media is an inherently bad idea“.

In his words, “the root concept of [social media] is fundamentally flawed and broken”. He explains his reasoning within, which I won’t attempt to repeat here.

The first time I watched that video last year, I wasn’t sure if I agreed with him. Today, however, after rewatching his video, I’m finding I agree with his points almost 100%.

Stunningly, former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya seems to be in agreement, as well.

So then, if it is indeed true that social media is fundamentally flawed, the conclusion appears self-evident: if you want to fix the “actual problem” with social media, the easiest way to do that is to get rid of social media.

So, that’s what I’m doing. I’m deleting all my accounts for any social media platform. For me, that’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Reddit. I never really got into Snapchat, TikTok, or other platform. If I had, they’d be on this list for me too. (Technically, I do have a LinkedIn account, which is concidered social media, but I haven’t logged into that in 4+ years (not even sure if I still have the password anywhere); I also have a Mastodon account via librem.one, but it just came by default with their chat service. I don’t use their social media service at all.)

Digital Minimalism:
A Post-Apocalyptic Field-Guide to Technology Usage

Last year I stumbled across the book Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. I’ve since listened all the way through the audiobook a full 3 times.

I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Newport’s premise is that, in a world with literally millions of apps all vying to monetize our attention, the only way to maintain ownership and control of our attention is to be extremely picky about what technologies and apps we allow into our lives.

He argues that the best way to do that is to start by clearly defining your personal core values. Ask yourself question like:

What is most important to you?

What do you want your life to be about?

What do you want to be spending your limited time and attention on?

Then, after clearly and specifically defining your core values, you only let a technology or app into your life if it provides significant and measurable benefit towards those core values and doesn’t impair your other values in the process.

Anything that doesn’t fit those criteria doesn’t have a place in your life.

So, by that argument, if deep and meaningful relationships with my friends and family is one of my core values (which it is), and social media seems to be more detrimental than beneficial to cultivating those relationships, then social media doesn’t have a space in my life.

Or, if staying accurately informed and up-to-date on news is important to us, but we know that social media platforms actually spread Fake News faster than truth, then it doesn’t make much sense to have social media be our main source for news… As is the case for a huge number of us.

With this in mind, Newport recommends taking a few weeks away from all non-essential digital technologies, and at the end, only adding back into our lives the apps, services, and technologies that strictly align with our core values.

I love the idea behind this. My personality is such that I always want to try new things. As such, I’ve had the habit for years of up signing up for every new and shiny service that came my way. I signed up for things like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Reddit without spending much time actually thinking about whether or not I wanted them in my life… much less if I wanted to spend the thousands of hours of my life that I have on them!

I imagine most of us are in a similar situation — we had no idea what we were really getting ourselves into when we first clicked “Sign up!” all those years ago.

Newport invites us to make those considerations now, and in so doing, start the process of bringing our out-of-control technology usage into alignment with what we actually care about, how we actually want to spend our time, and who we actually want to be.

And now, in this age of Coronavirus, it seems like the level of purposefulness with technology that Newport describes is all the more vital. Millions of us all around the world are still required to do most of our work remotely and online. If we want to live fulfilling and purposefully in this season, it’s super important for us to have a solid and well clarified relationship with these tools and platforms we’re required to use.

When the devices we’re working on have the potential to be simultaneously the most productive and the most detractive(/destructive) tools in our lives, having a solid and well implemented philosophy of technology becomes vital to maintaining both our productivity and our sanity.

Digital Minimalism, in my opinion, is one fantastic framework to accomplish that.

I recommend following Newport’s advice and taking a period of time (a calendar month is a great option), to go without these platforms (and without, any non-essential digital technologies), so you can get a taste of what your life is like without them.

When you go a period of time without these technologies, you begin to see how full your life actually is without them, and how little we actually truly benefit from them day-to-day. (For a full discussion on how such a “Digital Declutter” could look for you, see the chapter with the same name in Newport’s book)

The rest of this article proceeds with the assumption we’ve had a chance to do some form of a digital declutter, that we’ve seen that a life without social media is the life we want to live, and that we’re now ready to burn down the old tech habits/accounts, and rebuild in a new, Digital Minimalism focused way.

What Am I losing?

With all that in mind, before purging our lives of social media it’s worth thinking a bit about what values we do derive from these platforms. If indeed there are things from them that we want to replicate in our post-social-media lives, it’s worth planning how to do that.

Here’s a list of functions and benefits I’ve used social media for, of which I might want to find replacements for post-purge. (There’s also a few functions that all of these services provide which I won’t list individually, such as chat, online identity, etc. I’m not covering them individually here, but will be replacing generally in the tools section).

Facebook

  • Phonebook/Universal Online Directory: Facebook has been called “the Walmart of Social Media” because everyone seems to do their “shopping” there. Facebook, for years, has been the default place to look to find someone’s online presence. You might not have their email address. You might not have their phone number. But if you know their name, you could find them on Facebook. In some fields (politics or journalism, especially), Twitter has taken up the baton of “default online community to find someone at”, but for the majority of my circles, Facebook still seems to be the go-to platform.
  • Groups/Forums: I’ve also personally used Facebook Groups a decent amount. Facebook Groups functions basically as a free private online forum, so there are several online communities that I’m a part of that exist primarily on Facebook Groups. There were several people who told me the main thing keeping them from deleting their Facebook was the groups they’re a part of, whether that be resources and connections in the form of support groups, or for keeping connected with a cause/brand/camp community, or otherwise.
  • Birthday Reminders (& Event Invites): This is actually something I’ve used a LOT this last while, and which I’ve been thinking a decent amount about how to replace. I love it when people reach out to me on my birthday, and I try to do the same thing for others. Facebook has been really convenient for making that easy.

Twitter

  • News: It seems like every news organization and journalist (not to mention, world leader) has an active and vibrant presence on Twitter. For years, I used Twitter as an aggregator of news sources so that I could follow global events, and see opinions from all over the political spectrum. It wasn’t perfect, but seemed like it did the job at the time.
  • Online Customer Service: There’s been a bunch of times when I had issues with a product, and a single message to the Twitter account of the company started the process of getting the issue fixed right away. (In retrospect, a phone call would have done the job, too, but I often took the Twitter route.)

Reddit

  • News: For a season, Reddit was one of my main source of news. However, I found it does that job poorly. It’s great for finding out what people are upset about… but these days its efficacy for providing ‘news’ ends around there.
  • Following and sharing niche content: This was THE thing that kept me on Reddit for years. I’ve got several niche passions that more personal platforms like Facebook aren’t great mediums for. Language learning, technology, coffee, fitness, etc. Reddit provided a great place to find content related to those niches, and also a great place to share and spread content that I had created within those niches.

Instagram

  • Memes: A lot of the best jokes and memes I’ve come across over the last couple years came from Instagram. It’s great for sharing a laugh with friends.
  • Photography/art pages: Instagram lends itself to a generally more artistic style of content than many other platforms. That applied to visual art, of course, but also many other forms. I followed some spoken-word poets who used Instagram as their main distribution platform, for example, and I loved their content.
  • Internet Memes: One can find a plethora of memes on Instagram, which can lend a humorous boost to your day.
  • Contact with friends who aren’t on other platforms: I haven’t noticed this with other platforms, but Instagram seems to be quickly becoming the new “default” platform in my circles. Many people have dumped their Facebook in the last few years, but have kept their Instagram as their main social media platform.
  • And occasionally, the platform can also be great for memes…: Yeah, I’ve spent a lot of time on Instagram looking at memes and webcomics.

Instagram is actually the one platform that I considered keeping, as it does indeed seem like the most innocuous of the platforms that I’m currently on. However, I’ve found it can be a MASSIVE time suck to me. Especially if I end up coming across some memes and web comics (which happened a LOT 😂), I’ll quickly slip into a scrolling vortex, and completely lose track of time for a whole hour or more. Instagram is designed to be just as addictive as any of the other platforms, and it’s based on the same data-exploitive, attention economy paradigm as all the other platforms, so I’m getting rid of it too.

The Purge

So, we’re ready to bite the bullet. We’re ready to burn the bridges.

We’re ready to see what life after social media will look like.

Here’s my personal checklists for getting rid of these platforms while saving what’s worth saving.

This section is necessarily long. If you’re not interested in the detailed process of exporting important info from your social media accounts and deleting them, feel free to jump to the next section about what happens after the purge.

If you want these instructions later, they’ll still be here.

Facebook

For me this is the most time consuming account to get rid of. It’s the account that I have had the longest, and it’s the one from which I have the most I want to save.

But it’s also the one I’m most convicted I need to finally get rid of…

So here we go!

1) Download the archive of your data

Note: This will likely be something you want to do on all the platforms you’re leaving.

I have 12 years of videos, photos, and posts on Facebook, and I’d like to be able to keep them for the future. There’s some deep and personal moments on my account, and I don’t want to lose them if I don’t have to.

There’s lots of instructions around about how to do this, so I won’t rehash it. Here’s an article explaining it.

2) Save important contact information

I mentioned last post that I have over 1,200 friends on Facebook. We’ll want to be able to contact many (though, not all) of the people on our friends’ list after we get rid of Facebook, so we’ll need to figure out whose contact info we want, and then reach out to get it.

There’s no easy or fast way I know of to do this, but in short, here’s what I did:

  1. In the archive you got in the last step, there’s a folder called “friends”, and in that folder is a file called friends.html. You can open that file up to see all your current friends on Facebook, from the most recent added to the oldest.
  2. Look through the list and see who all you want to be sure to stay in contact with after you delete Facebook, and take note of them. (Or, if there’s LOTS that you are sure you need to follow-up with, you could do what I did and copy the list into a spreadsheet or text editor. From there, I just deleted any name that decided not to take the time to reach out to. This is probably the more time-consuming route, though.)
  3. Message the people on your list, and share your non-social-media contact info with them. Ask them what the best way to stay in contact outside of Facebook is.

The tempting thing here is to try to get the contact information from everyone (or almost everyone) in your friends list. However, unless your friend list is really small, that would take forever. The truth is, you’ll likely lose your motivation to delete the platform before you’d finish.

Here’s a few thoughts I’ve had that have helped me in this process:

i. Set a deadline.

I set a date about 2 weeks after I announced my departure from Facebook as a deadline to have everything I needed saved by. This had a dual-fold effect for me. First, it drove me to make sure I contacted those I really needed to before I deleted my account. Second, it provided a mental cut-off for me. I could have kept trying to get all the value I wanted from Facebook indefinitely, but setting a deadline had an effect like a mental “bookend”, after which I just knew that the Facebook chapter of my life was over.

ii. Start by asking, if I permanently lost access to Facebook account today, and I was only able to save 20 people’s contact info before that happened, who would be on my “save” list?

Write those names down, and contact them. The list doesn’t have to be 20 people, but that kind of constraint on your mind is helpful. For most of human history, our maximum number of active friendships/relationships we could consider keeping was somewhere between 100-200, while the number of close friendships we were able to have was probably something like 10 or 15. The idea that most people could have active friendships with over a thousand people (and that having so many connections counts as a “fulfilling social life”) is only an idea that has developed in the last decade or so, largely because of social media platforms trying to sell us on the idea that we need their platforms.

So, start by asking yourself, “If this was 1995 and the only way to communicate with these people was to call them or actually write and mail a letter to them, who would I care enough about to take the time to do that?”

Follow up with those people. Get whatever contact info you need to be able to keep in communication with them. If it would help to share my post about why I’ve left social media with them as an explanation for why you’re leaving too, feel free.

iii. If you find people you haven’t talked with in a decade, whom you realize you want to keep in contact with, send them a note!

I’ve had this happen several times since starting this process. There’s tons of people whom I’ve lost contact with over the years. This transition season away from social media has been an awesome time and an awesome reason to rekindle those old friendships.

iv. Change your profile photo

When I anounced my departure, I changed my profile photo to the photo from my previous post, and wrote a message on it inviting people to contact me if they wanted to keep in touch. Because your profile photo is the main thing people see when you interact with them on Facebook, any further interactions people have with you until you leave will allow them to see your new profile photo, and reach out to you if they want.

v. It’s ok to let old relationships go.

Unless you’ve been super purposeful with chosing who is currently on your friends list, the chances are high that there are many people on there whom you don’t really know well, and probably never will. The truth is, if neither of you are willing to to put the in time/energy to grow your relationship meaningfully, it’s ok to let that relationship go. That feels weird, but giving yourself that grace can actually be really freeing.

In the end, I ended up reaching out to about 200 friends on Facebook to get their contact info.

3) Save the Birthdays you want to save

I mentioned that Facebook’s birthday reminders have been one of my favorite features of the service this year, so I want to save as many birthdays as I can. Here’s how I did it.

  1. Go to the Upcoming Birthdays page.
  2. Scroll to the bottom… then when the next “month” worth of birthdays loads, scroll further down… and repeat… until the full year is loaded.
  3. Once the full year is loaded, you’ll see the profile photo of every friend who has their birthday listed. When you hold your mouse cursor over a friend’s profile photo, it’ll show their birthdate. Save whomever’s birthday you want to remember to your calendar system of choice (I personally use Nextcloud, but most people use Google Calendar or Apple Calendar).

SUPER nerdy side-note: If you have some skill in dealing with code, you can actually open the developer tools on your web browser after step 3, and save the birthdays_content element to a text file, then find the inner values for all the instances of data-tooltip-content, and save them to a file. If you do that, you’ll end up with a list of every birthday from every one of your friends who has their birthday published on Facebook. This is what I did. Though, I realize most people won’t be able to do this, I thought I’d add it in for those who would benefit from it.

4) Do the deed

It’s time.

Photos are saved.

Videos are saved.

Important contacts are saved.

Birthdays are saved.

Time to finally delete our Facebook accounts!

CAN YOU FEEL THE SUSPENSE!!

There’s tons of great instructional articles on deleting your Facebook account, so I won’t rehash that here.

I will, however, share Brian Lunduke’s Livestream where he deletes his Facebook and Instagram live. He also shares some Frank and comedic anecdotes about social media along the way. (If you watch that video, you’ll appreciate how awful of a pun that is 😬😅.)

When you’re done, take a deep breath.

Welcome to freedom.

But we’re just getting started.

Instagram

I currently have a total of 12 photos I’ve shared on Instagram. Needless to say, I’ve used it much less than Facebook (again, with the exception of the memes).

The steps I’m taking are similar to with Facebook:

  1. Get contact info for anyone whom you care about but don’t currently have on other non-social-media platforms (like in the Facebook instructions above).
  2. If you have any accounts that you still want(/need) updates from after deleting Instagram, save their handles. You can import them to your RSS reader (explained in the tools section) when you set it up later.
  3. Download an archive of your account.
  4. Delete it!

Another deep breath.

Take a moment of silence for the memes.

Now, time for MOOOOREEEEE FREEEDOM!!!

Reddit

While I won’t be keeping my Reddit account there are several subreddits that I wouldn’t mind being able to get the occasional update from, post-deletion.

You can go to your Subreddits page on your account, and make note of any subreddits that you want to keep. You can save the URLs (web addresses) of the subreddit, and use an RSS Feed Aggregator (discussed in the Tools section below) to be to keep up-to-date with anything new, if that is vital to you. To access a subreddit’s RSS feed, just add .rss to the end of its URL. So, https://www.reddit.com/r/languagelearning/ becomes https://www.reddit.com/r/languagelearning/.rss, for example.

You can also add /top/.rss?t=week, /top/.rss?t=month, or /top/.rss?t=year, if you only want to be updated when there’s a new post that is “Best of the Week/Month/Year”, respectively. So, to get the RSS feed for any new “Best of the Month” from /r/wholesomememes you would add https://www.reddit.com/r/wholesomememes/top/.rss?t=month to your RSS reader.

In the same way, if you’ve posted anything that you want to save from the platform, you’ll likely want to download it before deleting your account. You can request an archive of all the content in your Reddit account on their Data Request page (which, by the way, was frustratingly difficult to find, and isn’t currently smooth and automated like the other platforms; it also takes several weeks to have this request go through, as they currently require manual intervention on their end to send you your data).

When you’re done, we’re ready to destroy another time-suck.

Put Reddit Out of Its Misery.

Beauty.

One more to go.

Twitter

I have little specific to say about deleting Twitter because I actually deleted my Twitter account at the start of the year, and it was largely a non-event for me. Similar to the other platforms, if there’s anything you’ve posted that you want to keep, be sure to back it up! You can request an archive of your account in the same way as other platforms.

Then, here’s instructions to delete your account.

If there are Twitter feeds that you find vital to your day-to-day life that you want to keep updated on after you delete your account, save their Twitter handles somewhere. You’ll be able to import them into your RSS app later.

YouTube

I’m not currently planning to delete my YouTube account, but I’ll mention it here in short because, like other forms of social media, it’s been a significant time-suck for me over the years.

However, I believe I’ve mostly succeeded in reigning in my usage of it (for now), so I thought I’d share what I’m currently doing, in case you want to try some of the same techniques.

Like other social media platforms, YouTube makes its money by keeping you engaged for as long as it can, so it can show you as many ads as possible. They’ve invested billions of dollars into making it easier for you to keep watching than to just watch the one video you came for and leave. That’s why going on a YouTube watching binge feels so normal and natural. They designed it so.

So, in order to make sure we can get the value we desire out of YouTube, we need to make sure we keep watching because we want to, not because we’re tricked to.

In order to do that, here’s 3 tools/tricks I’ve implemented that, at the moment, seem to be helping:

1) Don’t use YouTube’s App or Website on your Phone

I find it much easier to slip into a YouTube binge when I do it from my phone, instead of from my computer. As such, I take great pains to make it hard to watch YouTube on my phone. Specifically, I deleted the YouTube app from my phone, and I use BlockSite to keep me from opening it in my phone’s browser.

There then remains two ways for me to watch a YouTube video on my phone:

  1. Someone sending me a video on WhatsApp, where it plays in-app, or
  2. to download the video on my computer (either using with a browser plugin or by using the youtube-dl script) and syncing it to my phone (via something like DropSync or OneSync). From there, I can later play it directly on my phone without internet (using a media player like VLC).

I’ve actually automated most of step #2, such that all I need to do is type 5 keystrokes on my computer and the video will be automatically be downloaded and synced to my phone. However, I still find the extra steps to do that makes me MUCH more purposeful about what I actually watch on my phone. Plus, downloading and syncing the video in full resolution means both no buffering, and always having the highest resolution on the videos I watch.

Josh loves watching his HD video without buffering.

2) Install the Improve YouTube! and/or Distraction Free YouTube Browser Extension(s) on your Computer

This one was a game changer. I originally got Distraction Free for YouTube when I realized how toxic YouTube comments had become, and decided that I didn’t want to have to see them anymore. You can configure these plugins to show or hide anything you want on YouTube’s site. So, for example, I currently have Improve YouTube! installed and configured so that it:

  1. Hides all video comments,
  2. Hides the recommended videos on the front page (If I’ve come to YouTube, I usually have a specific thing I’m looking for, so I’ll just search for it in the search bar),
  3. Automatically opens every new video in Theater Mode,
  4. Blocks AutoPlay, and
  5. Shows the whole of YouTube in a Night-Mode theme.

It’s wonderful! The menu for Improve YouTube isn’t the most intuitive, but enough poking around and you’ll figure it out. Distraction Free has a more simple interface, but it’s much less powerful than Improve YouTube.

3) Subscribe to Channels through RSS instead of your YouTube account

As with most other important things on the internet, you can get updates from any YouTube Channel through RSS (again, explained in the tools section. Instructions to find a channel’s feed here).

Up from the Ashes

Now that we’ve burned the bridges and purged our social media presences, we can start to rebuild and recalibrate how we incorporate technology into our lives, free from the binds of corporations designed to exploit and monetize our friendships.

I have a bunch of tools I’ll be making use of myself, which I’ve found line up with my core values as discussed above.

However, first I just want to share with you a story from one of my friends.

What’s possible?

I have a good friend I used to live near. For the longest time, he was struggling with the same questions and frustrations that we’ve been talking about here: What is the kind of relationship I want to have with technology? Where do I want stuff like social media, smartphones, internet, etc. to fit into my life? How do I align my usage of technology with my core values?

My friend came to a conclusion much different than most of us will, but one that I think is insanely inspiring, and that I think more of us need to consider.

He decided that there were two important things in his life: his relationship with God, and his relationship with those around him.

That’s it. Full stop.

He realized that technology, for the most part, doesn’t help him with those things. Having a smartphone was great to keep in contact with people around the world, but it actually deterred him from focusing on those who were right in front of him.

So, he sold his smart phone, and his computer. He bought an old flip phone, and an mp3 player, and that was it.

These days, if you need to get a hold of him, there’s basically two options: call him on his flip-phone, or email him… But, if you email him, don’t expect a prompt reply! He only checks his email once a month, when he borrows a roommate’s computer for a couple hours to send a short update letter to friends and family, and to follow up with any emails from the month before.

That practice may seem a bit extreme.

But, I’d like to suggest that maybe we actually need something a bit extreme in this season. Most of us bought into the digital lives we’re now leading without ever giving thought to the question of whether or not they lined up with the lives we actually want to live….

Without considering whether they helped us become the people we wanted to become…

And without assessing whether these science fiction, magic boxes that are now ubiquitously found in every single person’s pocket actually helps us pursue our lives’ callings.

My friend took the time to make that consideration, and found technology lacking.

I wonder, if we honestly made the same raw and painful assessment, what would our conclusion be?

If you have a conversation with my friend today, you’ll notice a couple of things about him. First, his love for people and his love for Jesus are both readily apparent and tangible. And second, he doesn’t get distracted when he’s talking with you. He’s not checking his phone, or getting distracted by notifications when you hang out. He’s 100% there, 100% engaged, and 100% focused on what you’re saying.

Which, if you remember, was his goal and his core values — love God well, and love people well.

He recently told me, “I’ve adjusted to living without tech and it’s hard to go back knowing how much better my life is without constant internet access.”

Getting rid of his smartphone and computer helped him align his life with his core values in a way I’ve rarely seen paralleled.

I find that so inspiring!

The Tools

Alright! Now that we know what’s possible (and how lame and moderate my application of Digital Minimalism is compared to my friend’s 😂), let’s go through some tools that can help you take back the reigns of your digital life.

When I selected these tools, there’s 6 criteria I assessed them by (after, obviously, the core values criterion discussed above).

Those 6 criteria are:

  • Not addictive by design: These tools shouldn’t be financially obliged to keep you engaged in the platform for more time than you want to spend.
  • Not exploitive of your data: As discussed in my last post and in The Great Hack there’s a lot of damage that can be done when companies use our data for their own good at our expense. We want to avoid that, if at all possible (and it is actually quite possible).
  • Interoperable and Universal: I want the tools I use to be able to work on whatever device I might want them to work on, and to be able to be used by whomever else could want to use it. I have a 10 year old, $40 netbook that I often carry around with me in place of my main laptop (I’m actually writing this article on that netbook right now). I can get most of these tools working just as well on that 10 year old netbook as I can on a brand new laptop, or on a state-of-the-art smartphone.
  • Open Source: These next two might be a little more ethereal if you’re not actively involved in conversations about software. But basically, you should be able to control the code running on your device. If you’re not allowed to see, verify, or change the code you’re running, it’s possible to be exploited by it. So, with Open Source software, you’re never going to be sued for using software you paid for when a tech company decides they don’t want you using an old edition of their programs, you will never get locked out of using your device or program because of licensing issues, and you’ll never have to worry that the programs you use are spying on you.
  • Open Standard: Like open source, open standard means that anyone can write software that works with the files/protocols you’re working with. Email, for example, is an Open Standard. Anyone can install, host, and maintain an email server for themselves without paying to be part of the “email” network. (compare that to WhatsApp, owned and run by Facebook, which doesn’t let anyone make “WhatsApp compatible services” without specific and rare permissions).
  • Secure and Encrypted (Where possible/helpful): If you do or share anything on the internet that is not encrypted, anyone with the right skill-set can get that information. At first, that doesn’t seem that bad. “I have nothing to hide, so why should I care?”, is the common response to this, which at first seems reasonable. However, there’s a lot of reasons we should care. That conversation is beyond the scope of this article, but a great primer on the importance of privacy and encryption in our tech conversations can be found in Brian Lunduke’s talk, They’re Watching You. In short, though, we want to use services that make it harder to illegally listen to your conversations and steal your data. Privacy respecting and privacy enabling is key.

So, with all that in mind, here’s the tools I suggest for consideration in your post-social-media life:

Your own website

Before social media came along, if you wanted to share updates, photos, videos, or spread your message online, there was basically only one way to do it:

Set up your own website.

Today, as we recognize the ever growing list of flaws implicit in modern implementations of social media, the idea of setting up a personal website and becoming a landlord of your own little piece of the internet is growing in popularity. As you’re reading this on my personal website, you can probably see that I’m a fan of the idea, myself 😁.

There are SO MANY ways to set up your own website.

Usually, you’ll want to start by buying your own domain name (joshmuller.ca in my case), which you can get from sites like from Namecheap for usually around $1-2/month (paid yearly).

After that, I’m a big fan of renting a Virtual Private Server, like from Vultr (Affiliate Link, should give you your first month of hosting free), which usually costs around $3.50-$5/month. That gives you freedom to set up your website however you want, but it can also require a bit more tech skill to make happen. Here’s a tutorial to set up a site this way, if you want to take this route.

There are also hundreds of more user friendly options, like setting up a website on WordPress.com, Wix or Squarespace. However, those services tend to offer you less control over your site, and I personally prefer the option that gives you the most control, even if it comes with a bit of a learning curve.

You can use a personal website for most of what you would have used your social media profile for. It can be your “online home”, or a way for people to get in contact with you. You can post videos, photos, blogs, your CV, or anything you want. It can be as full or as minimal as you want (you’ll notice I’ve chosen the latter 😊).

You can do whatever you want with your website.

Another benefit of owning your own domain name is that you can use it for a bunch of different purposes other than just a website. You can set up an email address with a custom domain (like, [yourname]@example.com). You can use it as a URL shortener (I often get people to send me files at joshmuller.ca/send-files, which is much cleaner and more memorable than the Dropbox link that it forwards to). If you can imagine a purpose for your website, there’s probably a way to do it.

RSS – News and Updates

Around the time I got my first social media account, I also got my first RSS app. Now, 12 years later, preparing to erase all my social media accounts, I find myself returning to and brushing off this tried and true technology.

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. It was originally developed in the late 1990s as a way for websites to make it really easy to let their users know when new content from their sites was made available. Basically, the idea is that every website (or every “feed” worth following), would have a page of code (called an RSS feed) that would update whenever new posts on the site were published. Users would then take the link to that RSS feed and put it into their app (called an RSS Aggregator). When they did that with a bunch of feeds, the RSS Aggregator would show at a glance all the new content from all the user’s feeds.

RSS is the solution I’m leaning on to keep up-to-date on the things that are important to me in my life after social media. It’s an open standard; many (but not all) RSS Aggregators are open source; and there’s apps for it that run on everything from the newest iPhone, back through to desktop computers running Windows 95.

These days there are MANY RSS Apps and services available, and depending on how you want to access your news/updates, some apps will fit your situation better than others.

For a long time, the king of RSS Apps was Google Reader. However, when Google killed Google Reader in 2013, the following three services rose up to take its place:

Each one of these services are cross-platform (Linux, Windows, MacOS, Android, and iOS). They’re fairly intuitive and feature-rich. They all have free plans, but they have a cap on how many feeds they’ll let you use for free (but, it’s a high enough cap that the free plan is enough for most people).

I personally use a little command-line program called newsboat, which I love because it lets me keep all the URLs for my feeds in a single, clean text file, which is super easy to sync between my devices. It’s not the best solution for most people, as it requires a bit of knowledge about how to work in the command-line, but it’s exactly want I want.

To use an RSS app, first you’ll need to import the RSS feed for whatever site/page you’re wanting to follow. Each app will have a different way to import an RSS feed, but usually it’ll just be a simple “Import” button somewhere on the screen or in the menus. From there, you’ll simply copy the RSS feed address into the textbox, press “save”, and you’re done.

I advised in the Purge section that you to save the accounts/subreddits that you wanted to get updates from after you deleted your accounts. This is where you can make use of those. Each service has a specific way to access its feed. Here’s a list of the ones we’ve talked about. Unfortunately, getting a Facebook RSS feed is much more complicated, and is beyond the scope of our conversation.


Instagram

RSS Feed Address:
https://bg.endl.site/u/[account_name]/rss.xml
Sample Account:
@storycoffeeroasters
Sample URL:
https://bg.endl.site/u/storycoffeeroasters/rss.xml

Twitter

RSS Feed Address:
https://nitter.net/[twitter_handle]/rss
Sample Account:
@SocialDilemma_
Sample URL:
https://nitter.net/SocialDilemma_/rss

Reddit

RSS Feed Address:
Just add .rss to the end of any Reddit URL; see discussion earlier in article
Sample Account:
r/DecidingToBeBetter
Sample URL:
https://www.reddit.com/r/DecidingToBeBetter/.rss

YouTube

Several methods available; see Mark Headrick’s article for specifics.


Being able to follow a handful of accounts without actually having a social media account yourself can be really helpful. As one example, there are some businesses that only post updates on their social media — not on their websites or email lists. The above @storycoffeeroasters for example, is my favorite coffee roastery, but the only way to know when they have sales or special deals going on is through their Instagram.

There are other Twitter accounts and subreddits with similar utility to me.

Most blogs, news sites, and other services online have RSS feeds as well, though sometimes you need to dig for them. For a WordPress blog (like you’re currently reading) you can access the feed by just adding “/feed” to the end of the URL. So, the RSS feed for my blog is https://joshmuller.ca/feed

After adding all the feeds I currently want to keep up-to-date on, I’ve got a list of 55 feeds (Blogs, News, Instagram accounts, YouTube Channels etc.) that I’m following in my RSS Reader.

Text and Video Chat

As I mentioned above, Facebook Messenger has become an effectively ubiquitous way to be able to get in contact with people around the world. Because almost everyone has a Facebook account, almost everyone has Facebook Messenger by extension. Finding a solid alternative to Facebook Messenger has therefore become an important way to stay in communication with the people I care about.

Unfortunately, there’s no “one size fits all” solution I’ve found that completely replaces Facebook Messenger — especially its ubiquity — but there’s some awesome tools that can get us close.

Here’s a few tools that I’ve been making use of:

Email

Email might seem simple and antiquated, but the truth is…

It is!

And that’s what makes it awesome. It’s so old and universal that everyone has it, and it’s not going away any time soon.

We’ve had email solved for over 30 years. Everyone who has a social media account also has an email account. And, while it’s far from the most secure way to communicate, it checks all of our other boxes above — open source, open standard, universal, works on everything, etc. It’s also not too difficult to secure it up by encrypting your emails if you are willing to learn the process (or use a service that does it by default).

The only issue with email when we measure it by our criteria above is that most free email hosts have exploitive data practices in their services. Gmail, Yahoo, and Outlook/Hotmail all closely track your internet browsing habits, and use that data to direct ads to you. Those tools are built on the same principles as the ones that Cambridge Analytica was able to harness like we talked about in my last post.

If we can avoid that kind of invasive tracking, it’s preferable.

Luckily, there’s lots of services that make their money by actually selling awesome products, instead of selling our data.

Here’s just a few that I’ve researched and recommend (first two have free services; last ones are paid):

I personally use Zoho Mail. They have a free email plan, but for a very low cost (about $1/month) you can hook up your own personal domain, so you can have whatever email address you want (like [yourname]@example.com).

Instant Messaging Platforms

There’s a plethora of instant messaging apps and services available. Unfortunately, none of them enjoy as universal of a user base as Facebook Messenger. But there are some that get close, and some other’s that have features that make them far superior.

WhatsApp is currently the most popular chat platform in the world, and while it is owned by Facebook, it doesn’t (currently) have a lot of the most damaging features that Facebook has. Unfortunately, it’s not currently open source/standard, but it does kinda check some of our other boxes (supposedly encrypted, somewhat interoperable) . Most of my messaging and calls now happen on WhatsApp, and a majority of those whose contact info I saved from Facebook ended up giving me their WhatsApp number.

There are also other fantastic services like Signal, which I use and that very closely align with our criteria list, but my current favorite Instant Messaging service is called Element. Because it’s open source and open standard, anyone can set up their own server, which is awesome! It allows you to confirm that no one is exploiting and monetizing your data. It also means there’s currently thousands of servers around the world, all of which allow any user to communicate to any other user on the network. I personally use Librem One because I really love the company that hosts it and I believe in the work they’re doing. But you can just as easily sign up for the biggest server here.

Send me a message at @joshdm42:librem.one, if you do 🙂

Video Calls

Facebook Messenger also has been a services I have a lot of video calls on. It’s fairly consistently been the app that both my friend and I have installed, and that we know works when it comes time to make a call.

The chat platforms I mentioned above all have some kind of calling feature built into them, but if you’re looking for a dedicated video call solution, my favorite right now is Jitsi. It has end-to-end encryption on calls (including in group calls, if you enable it; I haven’t found end-to-end encrypted group calls in any other service yet). Many people have been using Zoom for video calls lately, but Zoom was recently outed because it was advertised that they had end-to-end group call encryption when they actually didn’t, and also because it turned out China could see decrypted calls that happened on the platform.

I like Jitsi because it’s super simple to get people on a call from whatever other service you were talking on. Everyone simply joins with a link — no usernames or accounts to remember. And it’s open source, so you can run it on your own server if you want.

There’s occasionally a few bugs in call quality, but they’re making things better at an impressive rate.

Community Forums

The most common reason I heard for why people weren’t ready to delete their social media was specific Facebook Groups they were a part of that they got a lot of value from — whether support groups for health conditions, or communities gathered around specific niches, or otherwise.

These communities are great, and they’re actually one of the main reasons I kept my Facebook for the last couple years.

There’s two options I want to suggest for replacing them:

Find (or start) a Dedicated Online Forum

This year one of the things I’ve been enjoying learning a bit about is retro technology. Specifically, I’ve learned a lot about how computers and the internet used to function decades ago.

It turns out, “online community where people can come and talk about a super niche thing that only them and a few other people in the world want to talk about” is basically what the internet was founded on. It’s something we’ve more-or-less had mastered for like 40 years — looong before Facebook came along.

Reading up on the online Bulletin Board Systems of the late 1970s into the early 1990s makes me realize that almost everything I actually want to use Facebook for was actually really well set up, even before the internet was fully realized.

And in truth, it’s actually just gotten better for that since then.

These days, if you want to find a community focused on a given niche or domain, you can just search for the topic of the community you’re looking for and “forum”, and you’ll usually find a bunch of options right away. As an example, you could search “language learning forum” online, and you’ll find a myriad of communities of people who love studying foreign languages.

In many cases, these online forums can provide a more welcoming and helpful platform for discussion and sharing of ideas than their Reddit and Facebook counterparts… often without the addictive nastiness and general tenancy towards vileness that Reddit and other social media platforms seem to be continually leaning towards these days.

So, for me, where possible, I’m going to be looking for online forums in the future, instead of social media groups.

That being said, there will be times where there’s a community that currently only meets on Facebook (or some other platform), which there might not be a substitute for yet.

In those cases, something to consider is the possibility of starting your own online forum.

It’s a bit more of a time investment than just setting up a group on Facebook, but it’s literally never been easier or faster (or cheaper) to be able to create and host your own online forum. It’s a very real option (and maybe, honestly, the best option, in many cases) to start the platform you wished existed, and become a host to the discussions that you want to see happen.

If you’re keeping social media for just one on two groups that are only available on that platform, I’m guessing there are a lot of people in those communities who are also sick of social media, but like you are keeping their accounts for these communities. Consequently, they’d likely be willing to leave if there was an alternative available. For them, it might just mean they need someone to provide that alternative, and give a new space where those conversations can happen.

You can do that.

If you’re wanting to make that happen and need help in doing it, let me know. I’d love to help.

All that being said, there will indeed be times when there are communities on these platforms that are genuinely valuable to you, and which you can’t find anywhere else, and which won’t move to another platform.

If you’re in this situation, there’s one final option you can consider:

Create a Dedicated Social Media Account

One thing that Cal Newport suggests in Digital Minimalism is that, if there is indeed some significant or vital value that you draw from a given form of technology or social media that you can’t get from somewhere else, your focus should be on optimizing the way you engage with that technology, in order to maximize the value you get out of it, and to minimize the ways it impacts you negatively.

So, in our current situation, if you know that a given group (or set of groups) provides a significant and legitimate value to you, and you recognize that everything else in the social media ecosystem actually has a net-negative impact on your life, then one thing you could consider is creating a dedicated account (maybe using a pseudonym, or a nickname) that you only use for those groups. You don’t add “friends” on this new account. Actually, you just disable friend requests altogether. You don’t post anything on your profile. You don’t even have it searchable. Block everything except for the groups you’re there for.

This account is expressly and explicitly for these groups.

Doing that allows you to still benefit from those communities, without getting sucked into the addictive vortex that is the rest of Facebook’s platform.

The one downside of this method is that it’s a major “lopsided arms-race”. Facebook has invested BILLIONS of dollars into making it so that we’ll stay on their platform as long as possible, and they’ve gotten REALLY good at it. Consequently, to do what I’m describing takes purposefulness, self-awareness, motivation, determination, and discipline. I’ve realized, I don’t have enough of those things to compete with Facebook’s algorithms, so I don’t plan to take this route.

It’s a really slippery slope, when Facebook recommends a “Friend you might know” that you indeed know well, to think “Aah, I’ll add just them“. Usually, it doesn’t stop there. You start doing adding several other friends, and within a short time, you’re back to hundreds of Facebook contacts, and back in the scrolling vortex of addiction.

I’ve tried this method in the past, and I always ended up back in the vortex. So I don’t currently plan on implementing this plan for myself.

But for some, if they have the discipline to not use the account for purposes other than the two or three groups they’re a part of, this method can work out great!

Baby photos

Another common reason I’ve heard people for people’s hesitancy to delete their social media is that they want to be able to see (and share) when family and friends have updates concerning their kids. Instagram and Facebook both have been helpful platforms for mom’s and dad’s to share and brag about their little ones, and to bring geographically far away loved ones into the growing-up journey.

Several of the tools we’ve already talked about already can be great for this job. Running your own WordPress site allows you to share private content to your subscribers, so you can allow whomever you want to see the photos you share. Similarly, many families I know use group chats to share precious moments with their loved ones, which you can do in any of the chat platforms highlighted above.

There are also solutions that are dedicated for just this purpose. I asked one mother I know who recently deleted Facebook what she’s using to share baby photos with her friends and extended family. She recommended Family Album, which is a service dedicated for the task we’re talking about — sharing family photos and videos with loved ones, wherever they are in the world.

She also pointed out that social media (specifically Facebook) was an awful way for her to be able to get those updates that she was keeping the platform for. She wasn’t actually seeing updates when those she cared about the most were posting, and was instead usually just shown the posts that would frustrate her, make her anxious, and sell her products.

She told me it’s been much better for her and her relationships to actually reach out to her loved ones once in a while and have an actual conversation with them, instead of simply pressing “like” on an occasional post.

I find myself in 100% agreement with her.

Conclusion

“Where you spend your attention is where you spend your life.” ~ James Clear

When I finally made the decision to delete my social media, it honestly felt like a huge weight lifted off of my chest. And I’ve been riding that wave of euphoria for several weeks now.

At the time I’m writing this, I haven’t actually pressed the “Delete” button yet. I’m still working through the instructions I laid out above to keep in contact with the people who are important to me. This hasn’t been a decision that’s been quick or simple to implement, as is evident by this epistle of a walk-through that you’re currently reading. However, I can honestly say that even now it’s been tangibly worth it to me, and I would highly recommend it to everyone.

I’ve caught up and had wonderful conversations with friends whom I haven’t talked to in years. And I’ve felt more at peace, more present, and more hopeful than I’ve felt in months. (Seriously! I honestly feel hope and excitement for the rest of 2020! Who else can say that?)

I don’t think that low-grade, always-present anxiety that my generation has gotten used to is normal, natural, or necessary.

It’s not what we were created for, it’s not healthy, and it’s not you.

Seriously.

I’ve come to believe that a lot of that anxiety comes from the place we’ve given social media platforms in our lives. I think that’s mostly had the effect of stealing our peace.

Being always online, always subject to notifications, always just a tap away from the latest outrage is not what we were created for.

If you don’t believe me, try it yourself. Shutter your social media for a month. Switch out your smartphone for a flip-phone for a few weeks, and tell me you don’t feel more mentally well at the end of it. Tell me you don’t feel more yourself at the end of it.

THAT is normal. Peace and mental wellness is normal. Being present in the moment, and able to fully engage with the people, situations, and projects in front of you is normal.

The effect that social media has had on us is decidedly abnormal.

It’s my hope in reading these posts that you’ve felt empowered to take back control of your relationship with technology and social media.

It’s my hope that it leads you deeper into peace, deeper into hope, and deeper into the fullness of who you were created to be.

If this has had any such effect, please do let me know!

Peace!
Josh