Welcome to Hunter-Gatherer, a weekly newsletter where I give you one thing to try, to think about and a question to respond to nurture your relationship with the Internet. In an online-first world, we're all hunters & gatherers of information.
Recently, a lot of my conversations have centred around the Netflix movie Social Dilemma and one of its themes is how social media companies get users addicted to their platforms. Social Media and the Internet in general, is easy to get addicted to and we lose sight of it the more pervasive it gets within our lives.
One way of summarizing what I try to accomplish with Hunter-Gatherer is to help you take notice and harness the incredible value of the internet, with intention not addiction. And so today, I want to take some of the ideas shared in the previous letters and combine it all into a coherent step-by-step guide to escape the social media addiction.
These are habits that work against the habits of uncontrolled consumption. And in my experience, all it requires is a little discipline and a few configurations. It is actually quite easy to get over social media addiction.
Step 1: Escape all Status Games
Ironically, NetFlix itself is in the business of getting you addicted to their platform. The CEO of NetFlix said that their biggest competitor is "sleep". One of the obvious ways they get us addicted is by auto-playing the next episode. To combat this, we have a no binge rule in my house. Anybody who binges is frowned upon. And such a social dynamic has proven quite effective. A similar phenomenon was reported by the fitness tracking app Strava. Their social sharing features helps its users to hold each other accountable and motivated into achieving their fitness goals.
However, this same social dynamic can lead to toxic episodes. Innocent sharing of lives can quickly devolve into being about show-off and status games. This is what was first commoditized by Facebook likes. It is essentially the market's supply to our demand for attention.
Social media makes it easier to signal wealth via conspicuous consumption. Consuming food, travel, clothing on Instagram and Facebook. Want to escape? Avoid Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat. Avoid venues and media built around group signaling and conspicuous consumption.
- Naval Ravikant
I like Twitter, where following insightful people tends to be more about sharing ideas and thoughts than signalling. Escape all aspects of social media apps that are about signalling: Facebook completely, Snapchat Stories, and some aspects of Instagram. Instagram is great when it serves as a medium for artists to reach their audience. Hence, I've muted all of my friend posts (and are confined to Stories) and my feed is only populated by creators.
I sense a lot of interpersonal social activity online to be collapsing back into DMs and Chat Groups and I think that's a good thing. My friends and family share their lives with me by sending pictures on WhatsApp, and it is these people who I must really be sharing the various intimacies of my life with.
Step 2: Intentionally Consume Content
I open Twitter with the intention to consume tweets and nothing else, Instagram to consume pictures and YouTube to consume videos. Knowing what I am getting myself into helps me decide exactly when I am in the mood to consume mindfully (more on this later).
Addiction is all about taking away control from the addict. Baiting you into consuming all kinds of content when you intended only one kind is exhausting and quickly turns into a passive consumer. Another is letting an algorithm pick the content for you, further taking away control.
Across all social media apps, you can skip the Discover/Explore section. Now, all social media feeds have algorithms. On Twitter, you can simply turn it off and on YouTube, you can confine yourself to the Subscriptions tab (which is actually an easy habit to get into).
I've come to entirely depend on direct recommendations from people whose judgement I myself have vetted. I also ask them the 'why' and save it all to my Google Keep notes app or a read-later app like Instapaper. I consume when that why appeals to me. This way it is not only of high quality (which we've no shortage of today), but also caters to specifically who I am. Which is also the promise of algorithms, but while algorithms can be good at finding something you like by giving you more of the same, people have a better chance at surprising you with something you would love.
Algorithms feed, People nurture.
People can recommend you the content by telling you the why in a tweet, and hence I tend to confine most of my discovery to Twitter. This way I usually stumble upon content that engages me in a much deeper way. Which leads us to the third step!
Step 3: Mindfully Consume Content
There is obviously still the problem of an endless amount of content to consume like an addict. I counter this by chasing engaging pieces of content to not have the time or energy for many.
Stop consuming when you’ve enough to think about.
Take for example a book. I make it a point to highlight, and I do it for both fiction and non-fiction books. Simply because it makes me engage more deeply with the substance of the book. And this works as an indicator of quality as any book that doesn't have excerpts worth highlighting is probably not worth reading.
I took insight from this and applied it to my Instagram Feed. I go through my feed with the mindset of sharing great posts in Stories. This makes me pause and actually indulge in the art shared and I avoid Instagram when I don't have the energy to do this. Just like I would never read a book if I don’t have the energy to highlight.
Deeper indulgence with content works against the mindless indulgence of a social media addict.
Watch yourself turn from a passive consumer to an active one.
Step 4: Let no information be pushed at you
In the previous letter, I described to you how all information can be categorized as: information that is pushed at you, information that you pull out and the information you create.
As a rule, I've all my chat notifications and most notifications turned off. My phone must never distract me from whatever I'm doing. It must never push itself into my attention unless it requires me to immediately act on it. I instead use home screen widgets to quickly check for updates, whenever when I want to.
When you're inside an app, say Twitter, tweets are continuously being pushed at you by those you follow. But that's fine because that's what you intended when you opened Twitter. But there are times when the tweets lead you to an article. Here, instead of being led down the rabbit hole when you actually intended to consume only Tweets, I suggest you save these articles to a read-later app called Pocket or Instapaper. I talked about this in the very first letter and the core-insight was this:
"No impulse purchases" should be a rule applied to anything we pay for in time, attention or money.
Every day, for an hour or so, I open Instapaper to check out all the content I've saved, as they compete for my limited attention while I pick the best. And that's really the point here: your attention is scarce, so create a system that focuses on quality over quantity. There’s no ceiling to quality in an information abundant world. We live in the golden age of content.
In my personal experience, the steps above are some of the ways I've kept things under control without needing any forced discipline.
In this letter, I've tried to avoid the debate on whether social media is a net good or bad. Over the years, I've come to believe that if you follow the right people on Social Media, you'll fall in love with Social Media. Here's Naval Ravikant giving us the golden rule for this:
"Block the Outraged, Mute the Nitpickers, Like the Kind, Follow the Insightful."
Lastly, I want to say that through this letter Hunter-Gatherer, I am with you by your side in this Modern Struggle.
“The Modern Struggle :
Lone Individuals, summoning inhuman willpower,
Fasting, Meditating, and Exercising,
up against armies of scientists & statisticians weaponizing abundant food, screens, & medicines into junk food, clickbait news, infinite porn, endless games & addictive drugs.
- Naval Ravikant"
My entire understanding of social media is oriented by this short and gorgeous Twitter Thread by Naval Ravikant → (Link)
You can further pair this letter with: → #3 Should you Read News?