Limiting Toxic Technology

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Apuseni Moutains, Romania, near the Scărișoara Ice Cave
Apuseni Moutains, Romania, near the Scărișoara Ice Cave

Toxic usage patterns of technology, begone — inspired by a self-help book book 🤷‍♂️ I changed my philosophy and habits regarding the use of technology.

I’m doing this because it felt like the use of online services, driven by my smartphone, has been consuming me. I might say that I’m a smartphone or an online addict, craving shallow online socializing over meaningful face to face conversations, and wasting time on social media, over productive work. The Covid-19 pandemic has made things worse.

Social Media use #

In regard to social media use, the only winning move is to not play!

There are advantages to using services like Twitter or Facebook, but overall social media is a toxic environment. I still want to follow some people, or find out about cool technologies, but drastic changes in my usage patterns are needed.

On Twitter:

  • Only follow people talking exclusively of programming (via a limited client, e.g., RSS Bridge).
  • No likes, no retweets, no comments, no private messages, no engagement whatsoever.
  • Some people will fall off my social radar and that’s fine.
  • All of my blog posts will get published automatically (via IFTTT or similar).
  • No engagement analytics checked, ever; as a commitment to this rule, if I ever end up checking the engagement on my blog posts, I’ll give up blogging.

On Facebook:

  • Only follow my family and very close friends.
    • Excluding those that talk of politics.
  • No likes, no shares, no comments, no engagement.
  • Or I might just go through with its deletion.

On Reddit:

  • Only follow it via an RSS/Atom feed reader, and only programming channels;
  • No likes, comments or other engagement;
  • Use it primarily as a search engine 😉

If I want to send a comment, I’ll pick up the phone, or write an email.

PRO TIP — if you want to delete your social media account right now, to work around the 30 days deletion period in which you can change your mind: change your email address to a “masked” one, using your service of choice (e.g., FastMail), change the password to something random, change your username to something random, remove your phone or other contact details from your social account, delete your account, delete your masked email address, then delete all traces of your new username, and password. This should make it next to impossible to recover.

Smartphone use #

The smartphone is a slot-machine. Even if you go off Twitter, the smartphone provides an endless stream of apps that are behaving like slot machines, giving us that dopamine hit we crave for. I actually contemplated switching to a dumb phone, but I still need some smartphone functions that would be hard to replace (e.g., maps, internet hotspot, etc.).

If I pick up my smartphone, I shouldn’t have any statuses to check, or anything on it to fix my boredom. Therefore, the rules are:

  • No social media;
  • No video entertainment (Netflix, TikTok, YouTube);
  • No games;
  • Browser allowed only for 15 minutes per day;
  • Messaging restricted to essential (team members, close family members);
  • Audiobooks and podcasts allowed, but only if fiction, or about programming;

Laptop use #

The laptop is primarily a work device, and it should remain a work device.

  • Block all social media, or news websites;
  • No games allowed;
  • Restrict all noisy apps;
  • Restrict app choices (e.g., web browser, text editor, etc.).

The only way I stay in the loop is via a highly curated list of feeds, to which I subscribe via my self-hosted FreshRSS instance, in combination with Reeder.

  • Only subscribe to technical blogs, no politics allowed.
  • Save interesting articles for later;
  • Read those saved articles on the weekend;

WARN: the feed reader is a slot machine, too, the reason for why it’s added in the “laptop” section, being banned from my smartphone (via DNS-level blocking, to serve as a useful reminder).

Video entertainment #

My use of Netflix/Disney+/HBO Max tends to be pretty unhealthy too, as I end up watching alone, and during late hours.

Rules:

  • No binge-watching, I’m allowed only a single episode per day;
  • Only watch on big screens, no personal devices allowed;
  • Prefer to watch with another family member, as watching movies can be a social activity;

Audio entertainment #

For programming, listening to music is useful, as it plays the role of white noise, something to help with concentration. Unfortunately I ended up wearing headphones everywhere else, e.g., while walking on the street, during my commute, during house chores, or while eating.

That’s not very productive, as it’s anti-social, and it deprives you of just thinking, aka meditation or solitude. Due to in-ear headphones I also ended up with an in-ear irritation that was hard to treat. And the habit eventually evolved to listening podcasts, many times with political topics too. Listening to podcasts or audiobooks is actually tiring, and should be done after work, not before, or during.

I still like listening to music, or to podcasts, however this habit needs limitations too. I’m yet to figure out some good rules for it, but these days I find myself increasingly without headphones.

Analog entertainment #

A common advice given to addicts of technology is to prefer manual chores as leisure activities. Thankfully, we now live in a house with a yard, which provides an endless stream of things to do.

Reading books, having meaningful face to face conversations, or just thinking are always good options. I’ve also started running again.

Boredom is good, actually.

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Tags: Personal | Opinion