I recently switched my Twitter handle. It was @exvelleitier (read here for details on what that means), but for brand reasons, and because it’s admittedly a bit hard to spell, I decided to use the longer-but-easier @unlikelyradical. If you want a way to keep in touch with what’s going on here at Unlikely Radical HQ, please follow me!
With this in mind, I thought it might be interesting to survey the landscape of social media from the Unlikely Radical perspective.
Table of Contents
Reasons to be wary
I operate under a few basic principles when it comes to interaction online:
- Nothing is free. These sites don’t allow you free access out of the kindness of their heart. They are selling a product, and the product is you. Your information, your history, your actions, all are being sold to marketers in order to sell you things. This is a classic Devil’s Bargain, and because of this, the benefits of usage need to outweigh the costs.
- Everything is permanent. Just like putting food coloring into your cake mix, there are some actions that are irreversible. Putting something online is like that, and that makes it different from something we say in person. And while I don’t think that we should self-censor because of our future employment prospects (see this excellent XKCD comic) I think we just need to ask the forward-thinking question before posting anything: “Do I want this to be available online forever?“
And with that, let’s get to the roundup.
Status: Not using.
I was just out of college when Facebook was college-only. And when it started becoming more mainstream, I entered a period where I didn’t have much I wanted to say publicly to anyone. With email and in-person working just fine, I didn’t see a need for Facebook and never signed up.
This turned out to be an fascinating choice. As the “network effect” took off with Facebook, I stayed on the sidelines, first out of a natural tendency toward being obstreperous, but it gradually changed toward fascination and an honest scientific inquiry: Could I maintain meaningful connections without Facebook?
So far, the answer is a resounding yes. Everyone who I want to keep in touch with, I do. And anyone who matters to me will find a way to do so.
And yet, I have been called a “high-maintenance friend,” an epithet that I have since embraced. Here are some of what I miss in my life by not using Facebook:
- Updates from people from my past (high school, etc.)
- Daily activities of friends
- Event planning
Moreover, some people may “forget” about me because they don’t see me in their “feed” every day. But all of these tradeoffs seem to be worth it for me. I lose some signal, but I lose a lot more noise.
My original reasons for not being on Facebook have been described at length by other people quite adequately elsewhere. Personal information harvested, the devaluation of connection, the waste of time, the mistrust of the company, none of this is really all that surprising by now. But instead of just complaining about these things, I’m actually opting out.
(Okay, I did sign up for a fake account for a month, just to look around. I saw what was there, but nothing changed my mind. The experiment continues.)
Status: Not using.
An ongoing question, similar to the Facebook question: Do I need a LinkedIn account in order to get a job? Is one company so powerful that I can be shut out of the job market by opting out? That seems preposterous to me, but enough people seem to get on LinkedIn because of this, that I guess I’ll just have to see.
Or, if I continue to build my own income sources, maybe it won’t even be relevant.
Also, LinkedIn, from what I’ve read, appears to take the “everything is permanent” aspect of being online a bit too literally. I’ve heard from secondary experience that once you have a profile, it’s all but impossible to delete it. I’ll wait.
Status: Not using.
I’ve been a Gmail user since well before it was open to the general public. I also use Google as my primary search engine. Between these two (although I tend to try not to be seen online) I feel like Google pretty much already knows everything about me that it could possibly know. Fine: this is a fight that has already been lost.
But while Google usually has inward-focused services (to show ads to you, etc.) Google Plus is primarily an outward-facing service (to show yourself to others). Call me paranoid, but I don’t think it’s a good idea for a company to have both focuses. I would want an outward-facing company to know little about me, and I would want an inward-facing company to not show its hand.
And plus (ha!) I haven’t quite seen the need for Google Plus. Jokes aside on how it’s the “social network ghost town” I’ve never felt like I’ve missed anything by not using it.
And now back to Twitter. While I do wonder what their long term plan is, and whether their service will degrade as they chase profitability (which is usually the point in which the company starts to do things I dislike), the honest truth is that Twitter doesn’t seem to be all that dangerous or problematic.
The only information they could possibly track is what I’ve tweeted, retweeted, who I’ve followed, and what tweets I read. Perhaps if I relied on Twitter for more important communication, this would bother me, but honestly, I don’t see the big deal. Sure, I’ll tweet.
Now, I don’t really have much interest in talking about the daily aspects of what’s going on in my life (frankly, most of life isn’t all that interesting), but when I do think of something that I would want to share, I do share it. And while I don’t usually engage in Twitter conversations, I will respond to pretty much any tweet sent my way, so if you want to ask a question in a more public way, find me at @unlikelyradical.
Michael Hyatt talks about social media being “embassies“, places that aren’t your home turf (you own neither the content, nor can truly trust the owner) but where you can interact with others. Perhaps I take this mistrust a bit far, but I’m allowed to. And while my lack of “visibility” on these social media sites no doubt contributes to a slightly decreased visibility in general, this is a tradeoff that I’m willing to live with for now.
So I’m not against all social networks. I just elect to make my own choices on what to use and when to opt-out. Feel free to retweet that.
But enough about me. Have you intentionally opted out of any social networks?