It's a new year and here's a small thing to make you a little happier: stop browsing unlimited content feeds. Become a seeker instead.
You know the sites I’m talking about. They list thing after thing and, when you reach the bottom, they load more automatically. And it goes on forever, often with the content getting worse or less relevant to you the more you scroll. But you still scroll and scroll looking for a happiness that never comes. Maybe you squeak out a smirk now and then but eventually you give up and feel like a pile of garbage.
Or something like that.
Companies are trying very hard and spending millions of dollars to get you to stare at their feeds for longer and longer. It’s a war to make you miserable for their profit. Even Facebook, a site built around such a feed, admits that reading feeds passively makes you unhappy. It’s time to do yourself a favor and slow this passive feed consumption.
Which is not to say you shouldn’t use these networks or information services, many of which are fantastic at other things. With Facebook, for example, you can delete your Facebook account but c’mon, you aren’t going to do that. What you can do is unfollow (not unfriend!) every person in your network. This empties your feed completely, but you still get messages and groups and marketplace and whatever else you find useful with Facebook.
This is not to say you should stop reading what your friends post! Instead, when you go to Facebook, you can go to a person’s timeline and read about their life with intent. We all have those moments of wondering what a friend has been up to – a perfect trigger to go to their Facebook page and read about them. Maybe give them a call afterwards and talk about what you found.
That’s what a feed-free 2018 is all about. Removing the passive endless scrolling that you don’t really pay attention to, and replacing it with intent-ful information seeking.
Getting a Head Start
I’ve been working on this shift for a while now. A few months ago I went cold-turkey on Reddit, probably the worst site on the internet for this behaviour. I still use Reddit, but only from search results or looking up a specific subreddit when I’m curious about something. I want the information and discussions I find there to serve my intent, not “entertain” an empty mind.
For Facebook, I unfollowed everyone quite a while ago. I use it for messaging and groups and still read the timeline posts of people I care about, but I no longer have a feed of things to pull my mind in every social direction at once.
Those Thieving Birds
Using sites without their feeds has been pretty easy to do, with one exception: Twitter.
I really do enjoy Twitter, but my feed often skews my thoughts in ways that I don’t enjoy. Often I’ll see many tweets on a popular topic that I care about, but that is not something I want my mind focused on at that time.
To solve this, my first reaction was sorting. I created columns in TweetDeck and lists for all of my interest areas: dev and design, management, tech companies, company building, money, and a few best of columns made of people I know well or trust highly. Then I sorted and added people over months to create a better feed that I could selectively pay attention to as I went in and out of areas of study. My TweetDeck now looks like this:
It was a brilliant idea that hasn’t quite worked. I still found my brain derailed by topics I didn’t want to think about on a particular day, and the consumption is still too passive. When I really enjoy Twitter and feel energized by it is when I’m conversing on it, something I don’t do as much as I would like. Maybe the answer is to use Twitter only if / when I’m a social mood. I would think of it not like reading a magazine by myself, but like going to a packed bar on game night.
If you come up with a way to use Twitter in an engaging and interesting way, I’d love to hear it.
Start Slow, Replace Don’t Remove
If you choose to join me in a feed-free 2018, go slow. Eliminate one thing at a time, and have something to replace them in your habit-space. Have another form of entertainment ready for when you’d normally be browsing feeds. Keep Steam ready to go with a few games in your queue, or keep a Kindle charged and with a few books ready to read. You know, the standard habit building stuff.
Even if you don’t wanna go feed-free, maybe you can take this idea and toss it around your head: feeds are unhealthy but that doesn’t mean they are evil. Sometimes a row of Oreos is the best thing in the world, but have one every day and ick.