February 02, 2015

On Filtering Out Internet Crap

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Take control of your newsfeed, otherwise you’ll end up feeling miserable and unable to figure out why.

We don’t have any control over what we might see when we go online and automatically flick open our many (many) social networking apps. No control at all. The photos, the people and the videos that we scroll through have an active effect on our emotions, without us even realising it half time. They catapult into our brains at lightning speed. We only choose who we follow, but even that can soon spiral out of control. The fact that we cannot predict what we might see on social media is what makes it so addictive, our brains wanting to find out what’s going on around us. It’s the reason we grab our phones as soon as we wake up to download new information. We panic.

What have we missed.

We might discover a best friend has just got engaged, or that your cousin has passed their driving test, or that someone you went to school with is drunk-tweeting again. Or that another celebrity has taken another selfie. All sorts of things are undiscovered until we discover them and imprint them in our short-term memory. We don’t want to be the only one who hasn’t seen that “really funny YouTube thing” yet or the intelligent commentary on that thing we don’t yet understand.

Our lives have become so increasingly digital; contacting friends on different platforms (Friend: “I’ve messaged you.” Me: “But WHICH inbox?”) and checking so many different news sources. 500 million tweets are sent everyday. That’s 500 million pieces of new information we can discover and share and retweet and feel feelings about. Spending even one day offline could mean you miss out on huge milestones, historic moments, and varying opinions and conversation. You have to wade through the shit to get to the good stuff.

Because let’s be honest: there’s a LOT of “stuff” to always keep up with.

The Internet is noisy. It’s chaotic, messy, crowded and most of it is bullshit. It’s full of crap. Most information on the Internet is “meh”; either factually incorrect, boring or just plain useless. But everyday, we roll up our sleeves and log on, trying to locate the pieces of information that are meaningful for us on a personal level.

Something that really interests me, might not interest someone else. For every opinion there is someone who 100% disagrees with you, 100% agrees with you, sits on the fence, or just straight-up doesn’t care. For every idea there are thousands of think-pieces responding to it. So many comments on articles, some angry, some passive. Bite-size opinions are catapulted into the air and smash into each other like colliding atoms, waiting to be discovered, argued against and then disregarded.

Everyone can share their opinion and this is the beauty of the Internet. But sometimes, it can get too much, or become irrelevant.

Sometimes I forget what I am there for.

As someone who has worked in the social media industry for almost five years I have gathered up handy ways to ‘manage’ channels, both personal and professional. From brands (of communities of up to 12 million people) to magazines to blogs. Making sure things are always taken care of, monitored, curated and aggregated, responded to, and that information is (hopefully) useful and engaging for the reader.

But something I’ve learned recently on a personal level is that I want to filter out the shit. I don’t want to see things that have a negative effect on my life or my thoughts. I want to follow positive and inspiring people; people I like; people that make me be better and work harder and get that fire going in my belly.

Following people who make me feel anxious, or make me frown or always take down other people isn’t enjoyable. But I realised that unfollowing or ‘muting/hiding’ people who don’t make you feel good isn’t a cop out. It’s not you ‘running away’ from things or doing the whole ‘ignorance is bliss’ move — it’s as simple as this: you are one step closer to becoming more in control of the type of information you want to see on a daily basis.

Since filtering out the negative nancies, the content that bores me, the websites that I don’t find enjoyable anymore has made a MASSIVE difference to my day to day levels of motivation. I’ve realised that if I cut out the digital garbage, my days are more productive, happier, more exciting.

I’m not saying that you 100% can live in your own little online world (and that’s not recommended), but the point is that if something niggles you then do something about it. Cut it out. You’d do the same in real life: if you don’t like someone, you wouldn’t invite them over to your house for dinner, so why would you want to see them regularly online?

I discovered Eli Pariser a few years ago, a clever guy who did a Ted Talk on the danger of “the filter bubble” I was obsessed with this concept — the fact that the Internet will keep you in a perpetual bubble if you’re not careful. I didn’t want to be kept in a bubble. He shows how your personal information is used to create a tailored online algorithm will always give you information that data says will interest you. He noticed that the first page of Google was different for him and his mates even if they Googled the same thing. Just like when Amazon says “you might like this” and then hooray — you realise you actually do and buy five new books! Amazon gets it so right. But do you want every online experience dictated by a robot saying you might like this? Sometimes you want to stumble across something, just because. I get so excited when I stumble across a random blog and end up reading it for hours.

So, quite early on I’d already decided I didn’t want to be inside a filter bubble of algorithms. I wanted to explore, find new things, look outside of the box of “things I might like”. I still use Stumble Upon a lot.

But actually? At this point in time — I realise I do want a filter bubble — but not dictated by the algorithms, I want my own. I want to filter out the rubbish and decide what I want to see and who I want to follow. I want my online life to be one I’ve chosen, just like the friends you choose in everyday life. You don’t go to the pub with assholes, so why would you entertain the idea of befriending them online, or even have them enter your world?

I recommend having a look through your social feeds. At the start of every new year we place huge importance of getting rid of “stuff” lying around our houses. But what about our online spaces? It’s important to have a clear out there too. Get a virtual bin bag and unfollow the things that make you feel weird or get in the way of your doing what you need to do.

Cut the crap. Filter your feeds. Take control, otherwise you’ll end up feeling miserable and unable to figure out why.

  • I actually like the idea of creating your own personal bubble free of time-wasters and negative stuff, and I can totally see what you mean with wanting to explore new things at the same time. But I have to admit that I do like it when Amazon recommends great books.. And I think it’s important to see surprising new things (online), so how do we sort out the rubbish but make sure to discover exciting new stuff? I think we have to limit our possibilities, but not too much. So cleaning out in the digital rubbish seems like a great idea (thank you!), though I’ll probably be keeping some of the weird stuff anyway. At least just to mess with the algorithms ;).

    http://rangeofperspective.blogspot.dk

  • Love this post. You’re so right. A digital cleanse is just as therapeutic as a spring clean. Going to check that Ted Talk out now – thanks for the recommendation.

  • I completely agree. I had a love/hate relationship with twitter as it had a huge impact on my emotions. I cut out the negative feeds, followed pretty pictures on Instagram and hey presto, I feel much better.

  • I literally did a clear out of my Twitter follows last night and already feeling the benefit! It’s so true that digital clear outs are just as good, if not better, than physical ones. My brain turns in to smush if I don’t sort it out!

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