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In which John describes what he has (and hasn't) learned in his first month away from his twitter, reddit, instagram, and facebook.
Crash Course Navigating Digital Information: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLlv2o6UfTU
An Art Assignment video I wrote about Agnes Martin and the limitations of screens: https://youtu.be/phYyRNrhZwc

I also wrote another Art Assignment video, this one about the Antarctic pole of inaccessibility and the art that survives in places where we cannot: https://youtu.be/gNBOO_ggypg

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Good morning, Hank. It's Tuesday.

So as of tomorrow I will be one month in to my year without social media. I left Reddit, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter because I felt like I couldn't effectively regulate the amount of time I was spending on those platforms or the experience I was having, and also I was looking at my phone hundreds of times per day which just kind of freaked me out. So I decided to take a year off.

For my computer I use a Chrome extension called StayFocused which has a so-called "nuclear" option where you can block access to certain websites completely. And then I use the screen time app on my phone to disable safari and the app store and I deleted all of the, like, attention grabbing apps.

Now, my phone still does a lot of things. It can order food, and hail rides, and check in for flights, and take high resolution video, and predict the weather, and also it's a phone!

Now that I think about it, it's basically a magic wand. It's just a magic wand that can't tell me how people feel about Will Smith being in the Aladdin movie. 

How's it going so far? Um, okay. The first thing I learned is that without really being aware of it I type the words "Reddit" and "Twitter" and "Facebook" into a web browser, like, dozens of times per day.

Like I had noticed that it had become harder to, like, lose myself in a book, for instance, without feeling the urge to check my phone or open my computer. But I did not realize how fractured my attention had become or how many times per day I would answer the first hint of boredom or stasis by going to Reddit.

 A month in, I am happier. Or at least less anxious.

One of the weird things about social media for me is that it tends to make me feel very itchy in a way that only social media can scratch. And turning it off has mostly cured that itch.

Also I have more time. I had time, for instance, to write an Art Assignment video about Agnes Martin, which you can check out in the doobly doo. And I have more time with my family, which is nice. 

Another advantage is that I spend less time looking at the news, but I think I might be better informed. Like I have a much better idea, for instance, of what's going on in Yemen than I did a month ago. 

Also because I'm reading my hometown newspaper I feel like I understand my IRL community a bit better. 

Lastlly, I'm getting bored more often. Now, don't get me wrong, boredom is unpleasant. But if I can let myself be bored, which is a big "if" as I'll get to in a moment, then I find myself, like, having thoughts. Which is really nice. 

Also those thoughts, because I can't share them on Twitter, are, like, mine.

All that noted, leaving the social internet hasn't been, like, the magical experience I'd hoped for. 

For one thing, I miss it more than I expected to. I miss reading funny Reddit threads on soccer. I miss the feeling of camaraderie on Twitter.
 
But the bigger issue (and maybe I should have seen this coming) is that simply eliminating certain social media platforms from my life doesn't fix anything.

It doesn't unfracture my attention and it doesn't make my information diet inherently healthier because it turns out there are lots of other websites that are happy to feed without nourishing and distract without enriching.

Not being able to get to, like, any websites on my phone has been really good for me, I think, but I need the internet on my computer and more to the point, the internet is not the problem. My internet is the problem.

And the thing that I've learned this moth is that for my internet to change, need to change.

For the next ten weeks over at CrashCourse I'm hosting a series on navigating digital information. It tries to take an evidence-based approach to evaluating the quality of the information we encounter online and spotting and dismissing misinformation.

Now, I have sometimes believed that I'm, like, immune to misinformation, but I've come to understand that such a belief actually makes you more susceptible to it.

And the tools I've learned through working on this CrashCourse have been super helpful to me. Both in terms of how I research online, and in terms of what kinds of information I ingest.

In fact, I think it's positively affected my internet more than any particular website I've blocked, so I really hope you'll check it out. That said, I am gonna stay off social media for the rest of the year.

I don't know that I recommend it in general, but I think it is necessary for me. I need to discover more of what lies on the other side of boredom. 

Hank, I'll see you on Friday.