Thursday, August 13, 2020

Digital Decluttering Part 1: Social Media

Previously, I've written about how to declutter physical items. Minimalism and keeping tidy spaces are important to me in being happy at home and at work... and as an IT professional I think it's important to bring decluttering practices to our virtual worlds.

Recently, I have embarked on a journey to reduce my digital footprint. The process of decluttering my virtual world has so far been similar to the process of decluttering my home. Some of the questions are much the same as I'd ask when discarding a physical item, like whether or not I'm happy to have it follow me into the future, or how useful it will be for me to keep it long-term.

The first area I decided to tackle in my digital decluttering process was social media. I have never been big on social media sites to begin with, so I only had three sites to consider initially: Facebook, LinkedIn, and an IT community. Of each service, I asked:
  • Do I get what my time is worth from the platform?
  • Am I making meaningful social connections on the platform?
  • Do I want/need my posts to follow me into the future?
  • Is the sometimes-personal data I provide a fair trade-off for the value of the service?

For Facebook and LinkedIn, I quickly and confidently answered "No" to every single question. For the IT community, I felt I could answer "Yes" to the first three questions and "Close enough" to the last... for now. With those questions answered, I proceeded to remove as much as I could from Facebook before scheduling my account for deletion. I had posted next to nothing on LinkedIn, so I closed my account without much effort put forth to remove information from my profile.

Removing as much as I could from Facebook before leaving ended up being a week-long project. I posted two final statuses informing my small group of friends that I'm making an effort to reduce my online presence, and that they could find me on a couple of chat apps that I fully intend to keep long-term. If they missed their opportunity I decided to treat decluttering my interpersonal relationships as a perk--if they couldn't make time for me, they shouldn't expect mine in return. It took an entire week to declutter my profile and remove as much as I could before closing my account. It's not terribly necessary to remove everything before account deactivation, but it was a lot of data that I didn't care to let Facebook hold onto for any longer than they had to. I saved important photos back to one of my computers, and when I was satisfied with how much I retrieved and removed, I closed my account and removed the login information from my password vault so I wouldn't ever log in accidentally and break the timer for account deletion.

For the first couple weeks, I caught myself trying to type in facebook.com when I opened up a browser out of boredom. After that, however, it started to become forgettable and I found more interesting things to do online and offline. Having time back to fill with more quality activities felt good. I started to wonder what I could do next, and within a few weeks of requesting Facebook account deletion, I cleaned up and deleted my Pinterest account as well.

Overall, it seemed easiest to remove Pinterest and LinkedIn from my online presence. Because I wanted to leave Facebook in what I felt was the "right" way, it took a lot of time and effort. However, I'm over a month removed from that journey now and I feel better for it. My time online is now mostly spent talking to friends and reading articles about topics that interest me. It's easier for me to pick up my Surface to draw on it and produce art than it is for me to pick it up and mindlessly surf the web. I'm no longer emotionally bogged down by negativity and superficial "who's got the best life?" contests on social media. 

Reducing social media's hold on my time has paved the way for increased productivity and given me the motivation to clean up and minimize the rest of my online presence so I can spend more of my time on things that matter to me. So, was it worth it to leave Facebook, LinkedIn, etc? Absolutely! I would highly recommend doing so to anyone whose digital life feels cluttered and dissatisfying. It really is worth the effort because the end result is more time available to spend on meaningful and fulfilling activities. For me, that means reading and enjoying my friendships. What could it mean for you?

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