A Retrospective on Disconnection

Part 1 is about my experience is disconnecting from big tech social media.

So I experienced many positives especially initially in disconnecting from big tech social media. I felt less addicted to checking, happier because I saw fewer manufactured “fake” self-images, and also felt free of being judged by the social media image that I crafted of myself.

However over time, I realised that I messed up because I lost many valuable personal connections. There’s nothing more important in life than personal connections! An online connection today is like the phone call of old times. While online is no equivalent substitute to meeting in person, it can help people arrange meeting in person, or at least keep people connected over distance.

It was frightening to see my number of friends and acquaintances dwindle. Not only did I not keep up with old contacts on social media, whenever I met a new person I’d tell them I don’t use social media and lost the chance to stay in touch.

In the beginning it was no problem, but over time I lost more and more potential connections and that meant becoming more isolated, with just the people physically around me in my everyday life. I realised that just being around people isn’t enough, because social media adds another dimension to maintaining relationships with important and interesting people who don’t often meet in person.

Also no, ethical social media and small communities such as Mastodon and forums are just not an alternative to Instagram.

Part 2 is about my experience in trying to break away from other big tech services and software.

So I first started using free and open software for my work as web developer 13 years ago and couldn’t be happier. These are amazing tech platforms and are free with no corporation trying to figure out a way to squeeze you. For example I am really happy with the free and open source Brackets code editor.

However for some other software such as Photoshop, I just couldn’t find any alternative that was as good.

I also spent some time trying to free myself from Gmail, which as you should know is spyware that reads your emails and allows the US government organisations to read your email. However I found that Gmail was just too good compared to the alternatives. If I were starting over I probably wouldn’t choose Gmail, however I also realised that the alternatives are just not comparable.

Nice. Great to hear about your experiences, @Free!

You make an important point that there is value to be on social networks. It all depends on what you get out of it, and there is a delicate balance to be found to make optimal use of them.

If you want to be a principled activist (for e.g. privacy reasons, or anti-Big Tech, or otherwise) and you completely disconnect, then this has its implications, as you say, that may put you at a disconvenience. It is not just FOMO, but you are actually missing out.

Apart from valuable personal connections, there is also good content to be found on e.g. Twitter, FB and YouTube. But you have to be careful to not be sucked into the bad parts of these networks. This can be done by carefully managing who you follow, what your privacy + notification settings are, etc. And there are tools you can use to help improve this experience and also - in many cases - use alternative clients to access these social networks. See awesome-humane-tech for a list of candidates here.

I’m more or less bound to Whatsapp for the reasons you describe. Giving that up in favor of, say, Signal app would mean losing personal connections. The only other big tech platform I get some value from is LinkedIn (mostly as a ‘rolodex’, and for what it’s meant: job-related stuff).

Each social media platform, forum big or small has its own purpose and pros and cons. The reasons to be there or not are very personal.

I love Fediverse / Mastodon for a number of reasons: the overall culture, the audience I’m interested in (humanetech and human rightss activists, FOSS community, open-minded critical thinkers, etc.). The grassroots nature of the Fediverse and how it evolves holds a promise for humane technology in itself.

PixelFed is the tiny little sister alternative to Instagram. The fact that Fediverse is small, nowhere near in size and scale compared to the Big Tech social networks, to me is an advantage also. It feels like the Web in its early beginnings. Fresh, and not dominated by big commerce at all. Plus I fear for the time when Fediverse gains real network effects. Hope it can deal with that at that time. There’s danger there, see: Are we ready for the threats posed to the upcoming decentralization movement?

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