How to win the social media algorithm game with digital essentialism
Phase 1 of clearing out the clutter
Digital clutter. It’s worse than physical clutter. At least with the latter, you can shove it all into a wardrobe and pretend it doesn’t exist. Or make it go away by putting it in a box. Digital clutter, however, permeates in every crevice of our modern day existence. From the thousands of photos on our phones, the multitude of files and folders on our computers and laptops and cloud-stored files.
But that stuff is static digital clutter. It only grows at the rate we contribute to it.
There’s actually another kind of digital clutter that no one really talks about and that is the social fueled kind.
A feed of our own creations
There’s a lot of talk on the Internet about quitting Facebook, Instagram and Twitter — about how it’s ruining our mental health, relationship and taking up all our time. However, what we often fail to realize is that these platforms only show us what we’re following and subscribed to.
If you were to create a brand new Facebook account with no friends or following, your feed will look somewhat empty. Over time, we add people, we follow pages and join groups — and it is their activity that quickly fills up our endless scroll of a wall.
It is the same with Twitter, Instagram and any other platform that shows you user-generated content. We create our own feeds — as much as we want to deny it. Algorithms merely facilitate the connection.
Finding the root of our digital misery
Over the past half year, I’ve had an on again, off again relationship with social media. Some days I find myself alright to look through the things it gives me. Some days certain videos would drum up maternal gilt or some sort of social anxiety for not being able to be everything that everyone else is being. It wasn’t until recently that I realized that I’ve been doing it wrong.
The hyperconnectedness of social media feeds our voyeuristic nature and entices us to compare our reality with the realities of others. We peer into their snapshot moments and wonder where we went wrong. We try with all our might to keep up — only to find ourselves a little bit more miserable each day — until one day, we snap and call it quits only to come crawling back once the memory of misery begins to fade.
The cycle begins again and we curse our feeds for making us feel like crap.
But what we fail to realize is that it’s not the platforms fault but those we follow and are ‘friends’ with that makes us miserable.
Re-calibrate and make it known to the algorithms
I started making changes to my social following last month and the results have been interesting.
It first started with Instagram, then quickly followed by Twitter. Last night, I spent almost 3 hours dealing with Facebook. As part of my depth year, I decided to eliminate the unnecessary and begin practicing the concept of essentialism.
Essentialism is a form of minimalism but one that focuses and ascribes to the philosophy of quality over quantity — that you only maintain the things that are vital and essential to your goals and well being.
It’s not about whitewashed walls and beautiful selected furniture but living a life that has meaning and purpose — both on the material and relational spheres. Digital is one that falls under both categories. It connects us to people and we consume what’s been created by others. By disconnecting oneself from unnecessary social relationships, it reduces the noise and clutter created by the masses and focuses your attention on what truly matters.
When you do this, you are re-calibrating your place in the digital socially connected world by explicitly telling the algorithms that run the platforms what you want and don’t want to see.
Complaining about your social media feed won’t do anything to it. Complaining in the form of a response in a post will only be seen as an interaction. Removing, unfollowing and unliking is a clear message to the algorithms that whatever you removed, unfollowed and unliked no longer deserves your attention.
The process of digital social essentialism
The longer you’ve been on a particular platform, the more clutter and crap you’re going to have on it. However, there is no shortcut (well, unless you delete your entire account and begin again) to curating your feed.
Determine your values
Figure out what kind of person you want to be and what you want to achieve from your social profiles. Create distinct boundaries for what they are used for and what you want to see on them.
Eliminate the unnecessary
Unfollow everything and everyone. As you are doing this, you will begin to notice the abundance of empty connections you made. Most of them don’t really matter and you probably followed them years back when you were a different person. They probably won’t notice anyway that you’ve unfollowed them.
There are a lot of people out there that have 1000+ Facebook friends. To them, you’re just another number and chances are, they might not even remember who you are.
By the time you complete this task, your feed will look significantly different — if not completely empty. I recently did this to my Facebook and it was the first time that I managed to scroll right down to the bottom without any additional autoloading. Sure, I got a few ads but even they were different from the usual ones I see.
Follow only what is nourishing
Go back and follow or re-friend the people that truly matter. You will remember the names of these groups and people. They’re the ones that truly matter.
By now, your feed will look so different that it’s almost unrecognizable. Give the algorithms permission to only show you what you need and nothing else that is excess. By following people that produce content that is good for your mental health, learning and personal well-being, you are in control of what the algorithm shows you.
The algorithm is not an evil thing — despite what we may think about it. At the end of the day, it’s just there to show you what others create. When we eliminate the content that we’re not happy with or the stuff that makes us miserable, our social feeds become less cluttered with the bad stuff we don’t want to see.
By curating your feeds, the people you follow and are friends with online, you are curating your digital space and reduce the amount of content you are consuming. It gives you control over your social profiles without being overwhelming and never-ending. It’s another way to digitally detox without completely disconnecting yourself — you’re still connected to the world, but not as hyper and over connected as you were before.