Life in a Digital Walled Garden

In the end, it was the Muslim festival of Eid that convinced me that I would not be able to quit social media entirely.

I wrote earlier in the year that one of my plans for this year is to use my time better by quitting social media. My plan was to delete everything except Twitter; I don’t actually use Twitter regularly (if at all), but I wanted to keep the username since it could potentially be useful later on. LinkedIn was easy to delete, just a few clicks and poof everything was gone. Facebook, fortunately or unfortunately, turned out to be a far more difficult thing to get rid of.

Facebook imposes a 30-day wait before actually deleting your account. Any attempt to check your account before the end of the 30-day period resets that clock. In my case, I had almost forgotten about Facebook when a friend contacted me to say one of my old teachers was looking for me but couldn’t find me on the site anymore.

So, back to Facebook it was to get in touch with my teacher!

After that, it was a junior colleague who contacted me on Facebook to ask about applying to Oxford. And one time, I reactivated my account (i.e. canceled the deletion process) in order to look up some information about a business that is only available on Facebook.

So yeah, this is me admitting that I will probably never be able to get rid of this one particular account. This doesn’t mean total disaster though; I said at the beginning of this endeavour that my reason for quitting is to spend my time wisely. I see now that in some cases, spending my time wisely means taking the time to connect with other people wherever they happen to be. If I’m serious about being part of the community, I doubt I can do so effectively without having any social media presence at all.

One good thing that came out of this effort is that I seem to have broken my habit of checking social media endlessly, like a hamster pressing a lever non-stop in order to get more food pellets!

My one concern is what I’ve used as the title of this post: the existence of digital walled gardens. Too often these days, you can’t even read what someone has posted online unless you’re logged in to the site i.e. unless you also have an account there. To a certain extent, this is by design, to allow people the freedom to post something without showing it to the whole world. But the downside of this is that a lot of information that shouldn’t exist exclusively on social media still only gets posted there. One example of this is official announcements from government bodies; I squirm a bit when I see that everything simply gets posted on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc, or forwarded a million times on WhatsApp, but no attempt is made to improve the public-facing websites of government institutions. Many still look like they came from the Web 2.0 or, God-forbid, HTML tables age with blinking images and visitor stat counters!

Going forward, my intention is to find a better balance between being alone with my thoughts, and spending time with the wider community. After all, there is no point in being able to brag that you “don’t use social media” if that means you have no idea what’s happening with family and friends.

The key, as always, is moderation. If you are, like me, trying to strike this sort of balance yourself, then I wish you good luck.