Social media decluttering: why I don’t believe in the digital detox

Social media decluttering: why I don’t believe in the digital detox

Digital entrepreneur, social media strategist & analyst. Emanuela Zaccone is also the co-founder and marketing manager for TOK.tv, the social network for sports fans, with headquarters in the Silicon Valley. Over ten years she gained experience with social media and as a consultant she collaborated with several companies, associations and startups, including TIM, Eridania Tate & Lyle and LUISS Guido Carli. She writes for Digitalic, Wired and Nòva de il Sole 24 Ore.

On October 22, 2016 she was a speaker for TEDxBologna, with the most social talk of the event: “We are Screens“.

She is the first to write in our new section dedicated to the changemakers, those who live and share the TED values. Emanuela talks about social media decluttering and digital detox: “What would happen if we started to clean up our social channels and actually use them for what they are really worth?”.

Enjoy!

I don’t believe in the digital detox. Not that I don’t think it’s useful, but I just can’t help getting the same anxious feeling I get from extreme diets done right before the first weekend at the beach: they only solve the issue temporarily, not longterm, becoming an emergency plan used from time to time, not a lasting solution. It doesn’t mean that we don’t need to get off from social media every now and then – honestly we should do it several times a day – it’s just the idea of detox that poses a problem for me. It implies, in fact, that something is harming us, intoxicating us, to be exact. This means that there is a strong fundamental issue: we live the web, especially social media, as intoxicating, harmful for our personal and “social” balance (if we extend this idea of  intoxication to the presumed isolation that comes from introducing socials in our lives. I completely disagree with this idea, but that’s a different story).

     I don’t believe in the digital detox. Not that I don’t think it’s useful, but […] it’s just the idea of detox that poses a problem for me.

If the fundamental thought is this, then our approach to social media is completely wrong. These should be channels that enrich us, thanks to the possibility to share with others and get in touch with people and content of value. When this doesn’t happen the solution is not a digital detox, but a social decluttering. The word decluttering implies, in general, a selection done to discard what we don’t need and keep only what is really valuable to us. A classic example of decluttering is the one done to our closets: we take out old clothes that we no longer use, to leave only the ones we really like. It means to clean up. I am not going to go into details about techniques to declutter the different social media – I have talked about it already several times, on Medium and Wired – I just want to highlight the consequences. What would happen if we started to clean up our social channels and actually use them for what they are really worth?

To maintain a clean ecosystem means to better it

Let’s think of social media as an ecosystem where there has to be balance for it to function. In this case each one of us, with our group of contacts, represents an ecosystem that is obviously subjective, because the contacts each one of us chooses to link with, determine the components of each ecosystem. When I am capable of identifying the sources of disturbance in my ecosystem I can push them out, so that it stays healthy and an enjoyable place. It’s not uncommon to read statuses of users that notify their contacts of an upcoming clean up, due, for example, to their contacts’ stand on politics or current events. It’s a way to maintain the ecosystem in line with our values. It’s not censure, it’s about feeling comfortable in our own space.

Let’s think of social media as an ecosystem where there has to be balance for it to function. In this case each one of us, with our group of contacts, represents an ecosystem that is obviously subjective, because the contacts each one of us chooses to link with determine the components of each ecosystem. When I am capable of identifying the sources of disturbance in my ecosystem I can push them out, so that it stays healthy and an enjoyable place. It’s not uncommon to read statuses of users that notify their contacts of an upcoming clean up due, for example, to their contacts’ stand on politics or current events. It’s a way to maintain the ecosystem in line with our values. It’s not censure, it’s about feeling comfortable in our own space.

We are already a filter bubble, let's help shape it

Most social media are based on algorithms that should select the content that is more relevant to us, based on our interactions of course, but also on other elements (advertising, priority granted to some type of content, etc.). To select our contacts can then translate into a higher interaction with who we really care about and so an indirect optimization of the algorithm. Not just that, the benefits in terms of shaping our timeline based on our likings could trigger vicious circles: if the selection allows me to see only what I am interested in, I will be motivated to continue doing it.

Social decluttering translates in a better knowledge of social media. Or so it should be.

It’s a sensitive issue because each user (and often this is also some brands’ point of view) believes that using social media is easy, that there is nothing to understand or learn about them. Until we found ourselves stuck in a place we don’t know how to come out of, or in a situation we can’t handle. Just think about trolls’ attacks, comments of strangers on Facebook on our public posts and such: all cases where the content privacy settings and common sense could have helped.

Social decluttering is also a selection of the channels

When we think about decluttering usually we think about the users that we want to take off our lists of contacts. It’s not uncommon to see “calm” users on different social media that they probably don’t use. To be present everywhere but inactive is not a virtue: this is not Risiko, you don’t need to plant flags, but it’s important to be selective. Close down the channels you don’t use and concentrate on those that can enrich you or where you find yourself at ease.

The issue with the social detox is that it doesn’t solve the problem. Or rather, it does, but not completely: if we are discussing a matter of independence from social media, then to impose ourselves a digital detox could help us understanding that there’s more to life than scrolling, but it doesn’t resolve the problem. Instead, moving towards a selection that puts first the quality of our interactions over the quantity of them, cold really make a difference. If you go out and leave your house a mess, you will find it a mess even when you come back. To live our social media means to create value for ourselves and for others. It’s not easy, it’s not immediate and it does need a lot of attention. But the advantages long terms are certainly guaranteed.

Emanuela Zaccone emanuelazaccone.com @zatomas

We are screens

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