Social media as a means to an end

This blog post is about using social media mindfully, from the perspective of a software developer who has benefited from it. Read on if you feel this will be useful to you.

When discussing social media topics, I see people in either of the two camps. There are those that use social media and encourage that behavior. The second camp encourages us to shun the use of social media, mentioning that it is a waste of time – in the worst case degradation of social norms and acceptable behavior. Let’s talk about it.

I watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix last month and had some discussions with friends about it. One friend said that people would just talk about it and not care about taking any action about it. I also felt the same way. Perhaps the whole film was about getting more attention to Netflix on these very social platforms, thereby increasing Netflix’s revenue and market share. Which, quite frankly, is both absurd and ironic.

Truth be told, I have benefited quite a bit from social media. But, I can totally see why it can turn into total chaos. And – as they say on the Netflix show – tear apart our social fabric. I have seen it play out among people, in the form of hatred, jealousy, anger, and bitterness.

In this blog post, I thought to add some words about using social media mindfully. The real question here would be, “Is it even possible?” I believe yes.

Choose the platform

I guess the first question to ask would really be to choose your social platform. I have accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

If you were to ask me, I’d say skip Facebook. Also, skip Instagram if you can help it. Stick to Twitter and LinkedIn. Ignore the rest.

Let me explain from the perspective of someone working in tech.

Developers love to hang out on Twitter. There are communities that share their learnings in public. There are folks teaching courses for free, and there are important discussions going on about the direction of the tech world (not talking about tabs vs spaces 🤨). Heck, there are many people who have got jobs via Twitter, including me.

LinkedIn is great as a resumé too. Because you can list all your accomplishments there, including your schools, awards, and publications.

However, here’s a Tweet, which I actually agree with:

Choose what you want to share

Let’s say you have chosen the platform. What do you share on it?

It’s better to stick to what’s relevant to you as a person and as a developer. Also, stick to what the audience would find useful. When someone gifts you a follow, they are giving you their attention. Try not to disappoint them.

I loved what Chamath Palihapitiya said in his interview with Stanford Graduate School of Business.

He said (I’m paraphrasing) these social networks make you short-term focused. He gives an example of the temptation to share a photo of your meal. The same brain that gave you that temptation is the one that is going to be used when you are building your business or working at a job, solving tough problems. He says, when social media rewires your brain, it gets harder to focus on the real problems that bring about real, positive change to yourself and by extension, the world.

Also, my personal opinion is to skip politics and religion. Mainly because I’m pretty sure my followers did not click on the follow button to get my opinion on these. Even if they did, my opinion does not matter. And there are far better, more suitable folks to talk about these things.

Few important points on these:

In general, be kind, be respectful, and be a good Netizen.

Choose how long you spend your life on it

No matter how many motivational posts you read online, the online world is draining by design. They drain your mental and physical wellbeing. Drain your energy. And drain your social relationships in the real world.

I guess the solution is to set limits to your usage. Perhaps use it only on a given device, given location or for a given time.

Remember, social networks do not replace real, social relationships.

Choose who you follow

This may be the most important part of social media. It is the same as who you allow into your life.

Say no to racists, spammers, attention-seekers, and the willfully ignorant.

Follow anyone you think is posting something useful for yourself.

Some social media influencers online are more like influenza, so run away from them (if you can).

Remember the “why”

When I said “as a means to an end”, I mean social media should never be the end goal. Like the actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt said in his TED Talk, seeking attention through social media is draining and leaves us empty.

Because there really is no end-goal. Will you be happy with 1000 followers? Perhaps 10K? A 100K? A million, perhaps? I know the question sounds ridiculous. Because most of us will never know the answer. But I trust Robin’s judgment on it.

The quote below is especially important for those of us working on problems that require creativity:

If your creativity is driven by a desire to get attention, you are never going to be creatively fulfilled.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt

So, what is the “end”?

Only you can answer it. If you do not have a compelling “why”, then perhaps social media may not be the answer.

For me, social media helped in getting to know folks from WordPress and React community. Why would I want to know these community folks? Because I can get a good job and a decent livelihood. And why should I have a good livelihood? So that I can be happier.

Since happiness is our ultimate goal, we cannot let these networks ruin our inner peace by misusing them.

Why is that we cannot put our phones down or look away from the screen and these social apps?

It is not entirely our fault. Because these apps are designed like that. They are designed to make us addicted to them. Sort of like a tussle between our better judgment and our need for affection, attention, and social connection. In other words, our brains are waging a war against algorithms. And the bad news is we will not win most of the time.

Let’s end on a good note?

Perhaps this post was not the positive, inspiring piece that I would have liked to write. But, I believe the solution lies in realizing when we have taken social media too far. We can all ask ourselves honestly if these apps really contribute to our happiness or are they just temporary pleasures leading to emptiness and a less-fulfilled life.

The solution may also lie in giving attention instead of craving for it. How do we give attention? Perhaps by reading a good book, listening to an interesting podcast, or working on a tough design, engineering, or business challenge. Perhaps it is in exercising or playing a good game of football. You will know what is best for you in giving your attention to.

Let me end with a quote from someone I admire, who is also an advocate for quitting social media. I have used the same quote in one of my older blog posts written in 2016.

The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.

Cal Newport

Having said all that, I will be sharing this blog post on at least one of the social networks. In other words, I do not advocate for entirely quitting these social networks, but merely to use them more mindfully. Let me start by implementing my own advice.