Dec 25

photo credit: quotecatalog.com on Flickr

It’s been just over a year since I gave up Facebook and Instagram and I thought I’d share some observations here about the experience for those considering trying a social media fast after the holidays.

TLDR; It has its pro’s and con’s. I’ve treated it as a 1-yr “elimination diet” experiment. My plan is to reintroduce time-boxed deliberate usage on the weekends while retaining the newsfeed blocker plugins. I’ll explain in depth in this post.

What prompted this experiment?

It’s been a year and a week since I wrote this post and ceased using Facebook and Instagram. If you want the backstory of why read that post. The short version is I had (and still have) concerns that social media may turn out to be the cigarettes of our generation- something we thought that was innocuous at the time that later proves to be cancerous to our mental health. After doing some research and soul searching I decided the only way to figure this out was to withdraw completely from it and see how it felt.

What I did

  1. Installed the FB Newsfeed eradicator and YouTube Hide Recommended Videos plugins.
  2. Deleted the Facebook and Instagram apps from my phone.
  3. Switched from Chrome to Brave browser and enabled active blocking of all Facebook ad tracking.
  4. Opted out of cross-app tracking on iOS.
  5. Posted a farewell message on FB/IG.

I didn’t do the full-on Facebook Sepuku for a few reasons:

  1. Unfortunately I used Facebook as the login for a number of accounts and haven’t fully unraveled all that. It would require migrating each account to use an email address- not terribly difficult, but tedious and time-consuming.
  2. There are a number of people I met during my travels with whom I’m only connected via FB. I couldn’t bring myself to permanently sever all potential contact with those folks.
  3. Facebook still has utility to me in the form of participating in various Facebook groups in Lisbon and using the Facebook marketplace for buying and selling items. Also I still receive messages from people via FB messenger where that is the only contact info they have for me.

For these reasons I decided to keep my account and just deliberately maim it using the newsfeed extension so it could only be used for practical purposes and most importantly so that I would not be subject to info manipulated via the algorithm.

Instagram I stopped using entirely and login about once per month to check for DM’s from people who message me on there.

What I experienced

After seeing interviews with the early Facebook founders and watching the movie The Social Dilemma, I was most concerned that daily exposure to Instagram and Facebook algorithms was having deleterious effects on eroding my attention & focus, giving me FOMO and just generally allowing myself to be subconsciously influenced by constant manipulation of selective information exposure. I didn’t know what to expect giving up both platforms cold turkey but here are some of the things I experienced:
The Positives:

  • Definite improvement in focus. I’m pretty sure attention is like a muscle and the more you exercise deliberate control the easier it gets. Anecdotally I feel less ADD and more able to concentrate for extended periods whereas this time last year I was prone to distraction. In hard numbers I read 26 books this year which is double my number from last year.
  • More presence. My default in a new social setting when I’m around strangers was previously to whip out the phone and start scrolling. Without that crutch I found myself actually talking to strangers and being more present. Also prior to the social media fast when I had IG on my phone, it was muscle memory every time I used the restroom to reach for my phone and start scrolling. It took about a month before that reflex attenuated and the default became to just be at peace doing nothing.
  • Less FOMO (fear of missing out). I think even the most zen buddhist monk can be mentally hijacked if exposed to enough imagery of friends doing cool stuff. I don’t care how much mental fortitude you have but no amount of discipline makes you immune to FOMO. The only antidote is by throttling exposure. Indeed this had the desired effect of eliminating the window into everyone else’s lives and resulting in again more presence.

The Negatives

  1. Isolation: the flip side to the above is that not having this exposure makes you feel less connected. This is an interesting one because when you look at it logically you’re not truly connected with the passive exposure of seeing pics in newsfeeds- it’s purely the feeling of connectedness, even if it’s a false feeling. I can’t deny that I feel less connected and aware of what all my friends are up to without social media even if it’s an absence of a false sense of connection.
  2. Obscurity. This is a weird one but it’s the other side of the “seeing and being seen” coin. In the same way that I’ve lost visibility into my friends’ lives by failing to consume social media, I’m also not producing surface area in the form of photos and posts that would allow me to occupy mental real estate in the minds of others. As silly as it sounds that periodic confirmation of a like or a comment gives you the affirmation that you still exist in the minds of your friends.
  3. Loss of spontaneous meetings. Having done Remote Year, Wifi Tribe, Nomad Cruise and a number of different conferences and events, I’m lucky to have a diverse group of friends spread across a number of locations. A good chunk of these people still travel and pass through Lisbon. Failing to be on these platforms means that I’ve missed a handful of people who came through my city this year. You could argue this is like losing something that was unnatural to begin with but I do like seeing when someone’s in town and reaching out to grab coffee and meet up. This is something you lose when you go dark on social media.

Overall assessment

In spite of the negatives I think overall it was a net win and good in the way that doing a full elimination diet then allows you to consciously add back in foods and test your reaction now knowing your baseline without them. Some random observations in no particular order:

  1. There is so much power in the hands of these companies in how they dictate exposure to information for so many people. I don’t know the silver bullet of what constitutes optimal regulation of the platforms but I tend to err on the side of freedom in these questions and given the incredible gatekeeping positions they hold at the very least I believe there needs to be transparency in how their algorithm’s work, how one’s personal information is sold and used and the right to make informed decisions as a user of these platforms. BTW this is an excellent podcast interview on this topic. I imagine as more research is done we’ll see the equivalent of “surgeon general’s warning labels” on these platforms to at least advise of potential harmful psychological effects as they are better understood.
  2. Parkinson’s Law at work: My Twitter and LinkedIn usage expanded in absence of Facebook and Instagram. LinkedIn I feel is disposable at this point and its real utility is in the networking features, not the content syndication. Twitter is more useful with 10% gems, 60% noise and 30% filtered news curated by people I like so I don’t have to read mainstream news daily. My “social media fast” wasn’t a complete fast across the board given that I still used LI and Twitter but of the 4 platforms I believe IG & FB were the right two to eliminate.
  3. Quitting a substance like sugar or alcohol cold turkey is unarguably a good thing. I’m not so sure with social media. It’s become so pervasive and a form of social connective tissue that’s so embedded that outright abstinence carries its own detrimental psychological effects. I think there may be a responsible healthy way to engage with it and I’ll explain that in the last section here.

My plan going forward

As before I’m not intending to kill off either my FB nor Instagram accounts going forward as they still have utility to me and I’m at least aware of the trades data privacy-wise and psychological impact-wise now. My plan instead is to keep the feed blockers in place, to keep the apps off my phone and to continue with the current plan indefinitely with one exception: I’m allowing a 1-hr window of time-boxed usage on the weekend to scroll mindlessly and get a window into my friends’ updates. I’m also giving myself ability to make one post per week during that time. I feel like by having a deliberately time-bound constraint for consumption & production it should mitigate the downsides while still upholding most of the upside of this experiment.

For censorship resistance and immutability I’m looking at using something like Mastadon as an intermediary and having that push via Zapier or IFTTT to Twitter/FB/LinkedIn.

I intend to slowly De-Facebook and De-Google my life in terms of account logins. The convenience of single sign-on is not worth being inextricably coupled to these services so I will be using email logins exclusively going forward and migrating off of single sign-ons for past accounts as I find them.

On my Christmas visit to Phoenix I reached out to a number of friends scheduled lunches, coffees & dinners with about 15 different people. It doesn’t take the excuse of a physical visit though to give you permission to reach out to someone you haven’t talked to in ages and just catch up over the phone.  I started scheduling catchup calls before the holidays and I’m hoping to loosely continue slow playing that trend throughout 2022. Weirdly I actually like audio calls more than video calls for the purposes of catching up. It has a different tenor and you can really focus on what the other person is saying when it’s just audio. Time will tell but I plan to keep up that tradition of reaching out to a few people per month.

If you want to do more research on the effects of social media in our lives I listed a few resources in this post and highly encourage watching the documentary The Social Dilemma on Netflix.

What are your thoughts on this stuff?

Feb 02

I’m seeking to improve my chess game. I’ve played casually for years now and recently have been more deliberate doing 1-2 games per day against the Squareoff AI. This is a physical chess board which communicates via Bluetooth with an app on your phone and allows you to play other people online or play the computer. What’s nice is it generates the chess notation file at the end of the game which you can then upload to Lichess.org for Stockfish to analyze your mistakes and to run whatif scenarios of how the game might have gone otherwise with different decisions. This coupled with the daily chess quizzes on Lichess and occasional study of the theory via their large lesson library is the best way I’ve found so far to improve.

What I ideally want though is to find someone who I mesh with who can weekly review my games and then do a weekly 30min zoom with me to walk through the games using those as an opportunity to correct my mistakes and teach strategy & tactics. It’s nice to have the computer tell you where errors occurred but it would be far more helpful to have someone talk me through the “why” behind the mistake and what I should have been thinking in that situation.

I’ve posted below my last few games from Evernote. If you know anyone who is both adept at chess but more importantly, a good teacher who can analyze where I’m at and help accelerate my progress, please send him/her my way. I would welcome any intros and am happy to pay their hourly rate to test them out and convert to a monthly retainer assuming it’s a good fit. Thanks in advance.

Game Date
Lichess URL
Post-play Summary
Reviewed
2/2
White. L. Was down significant material early on but came back at the end. Similar to last game, very interested if I had a chance to win and botched it with the end game. Ultimately tried to bring my Queen to the back line and pile drive with the rook but that didn’t work out.
[]
2/1
White. L. Was down early but made a nice comeback attempt. Got into a near-checkmate and was able to check him then ran his King all the way around. Very curious about the close quarters end game on the right side of the board and if there was an opp at any point to pull it out or if I was destined for L at that point.
[x]
1/31
White. L. I made mistake early on when I let him get bishop buried deep on my side on same line as Queen and then I brought my King forward instead of taking with B2 pawn.
[x]
1/31/21
White. W. He blundered early and lost Queen then I lost mine. I was up a few pieces all game and blew a couple checkmate opps. Eventually promoted a pawn and trapped him with Queen/Rook
[x]
1/30/21
White. W. lost the Queen early in a dumb move then tried to trap his Queen while he disemboweled me. Kept it fairly close all things considered until end where I made a dumb move and guaranteed checkmate by trapping my king close to his side.
[x]

And yes, my interest in chess far pre-dated Queen’s Gambit. But that Netflix series is, I believe, doing for chess what Karate Kid did for martial arts and what Hunger Games did for archery in terms of getting youth excited about it. Anything that steals back young minds from Tiktok is a win iMO. cheers

Dec 20


This is a recording of the story I told on 12/18/20 for the Lisbon Digital Nomads Christmas Storytellers event of climbing and falling off the world’s largest active volcano:

That was both the closest I’ve come to death as well as the most physically demanding challenge I’ve ever undertaken. Shoutout to Frank wherever you are.

^^ If you know, you know ;-)

Dec 19

Image courtesy Dries Buytaert. License.

The TL;DR

  1. I am ditching social media because I believe the benefits no longer outweigh the costs.
  2. It comes down to two main issues: data privacy and psychological well being.
  3. Great Hack and Social Dilemma are two great documentaries on Netflix that explore these two issues respectively.

The deeper dive

This is a move I’ve contemplated for awhile now and I wanted to lay out my rationale for anyone else interested in tracing my thought process through the decision to pull away from social media.

Like anything there are pro’s and con’s with social media. On the positive side I’ve met and kept in touch with hundreds of incredible people over the course of my travels that took me across 4 continents and 40 countries the past few years. When you arrive at a point though where it feels like social media no longer serves you and instead you feel slave to it, it’s time to make changes.

I had seen this interview a few years back with Chamath Palihapitiya, one of the early people at Facebook, talking about the destructiveness of Facebook on our mental health and basically admitting to having helped create a monster:

Around the same time the former president of Facebook, Sean Parker came out with this interview in which he admitted the service was engineered deliberately to hack our attention and drive us to addiction.

The messages from both interviews concerned me but Facebook and Instagram were essential tools for the traveling location-independent worker. It was how we maintained ties with everyone we met, how we organized and found social events, logged into apps, coordinated masterminds, researched travel destinations and got first-hand info from fellow nomads about visas and other concerns for travel. It seemed inconceivable that one could simply cease using it and continue life as normal, which was exactly the entrenched position these companies wanted.

Fast forward to October this year when at a friend’s suggestion I watched two movies that would revive this urge to leave social media. “The Great Hack” and “The Social Dilemma” in that order hammered home two points: 1) when you don’t pay for a product you are the product and your data can and will be abused 2) aside from data privacy implications, a more troubling one was emerging related to mental health with our attention constantly under attack in an unwinable battle against servers, neuroscientists, algorithms and AI’s to hack our attention. I recalled this tweet from Naval:

I had seen a Guardian interview with Jeroen Lanier on his book 10 arguments for deleting your social media right now and he subsequently appeared in the Social Dilemma movie.

The confluence of all those inputs led me to re-evaluate the pro’s con’s of social media and I realized in doing that math that the scales had finally tipped and it was no longer advantageous to remain active on these platforms. This scene from the end of the classic movie Wargames came to mind:

I deleted FB and IG from my phone. I decided to keep Twitter & LinkedIn because for whatever reason I feel they’re less nefarious/addictive and yield valuable discoveries and professional networking. I would not at this point be ready to outright delete my accounts as I still get messages on each. I compromised knowing that problem #1, the data privacy issue, is still a concern but at least I would attack problem #2 removing the detrimental mental effects.

There were a handful of struggles for me to reconcile. I’ll explain them below:

The hurdles

  • App authentication: FB and Google have become incredibly embedded as I have tended to use them as the method by which I create logins in apps. I’ve stopped doing that using email exclusively on apps that permit it and gutting FB will require a slow audit of all accounts I still use that are hanging on FB authentication.
  • Organizing and finding events, buying stuff via marketplace, finding roommates: FB is how I’ve found the current roommates for my apartment, purchased the electric guitar I recently bought, and it’s the common fabric used to organize dinners and social events with multiple people.
  • Loose ties with people from travels: There are over 100 people I’m connected to in various parts of the world now where the only link we have is a friend link on FB. Tracking down each of those people and getting alternate contact info represents a non-trivial undertaking.
  • Feeling of connection to old friends: Similarly FB news updates provide this tenuous connection to my old friends back home in the States who I haven’t seen in ages. It gives you this loose feeling like they’re still in your life as you monitor major life events for them and exchange short pleasantries in comments. Would they fade in importance to me if I wasn’t periodically seeing them post stuff? Would I to them?
  • Necessary for running ads for business: I’m involved in a couple projects which require having a FB account to manage the digital ads on their platforms. There’s no denying that FB ads can be highly effective for generating leads and making sales and given my work with Grid7, it simply is not an option to operate without access to the FB and IG platforms for advertising.

For all the above reasons I couldn’t just outright cut the cord immediately and commit Facebook Sepukku nuking my accounts on these platforms. So here’s what I did instead:

What I’ve done:

  • Removed apps from phone: FB and IG- both gone. Buh-bye.
  • installed Newsfeed eradicator extension on desktop: this glorious chrome extension will hide your newsfeed on FB/Twitter/IG and allow you to use all like tools at your service without being a classically-conditioned subject fiending on the dopamine hits of the algorithmic manipulation from the newsfeed.
  • Started switching accounts over to email for auth: this will be a slow house cleaning project to go back, find any accounts I still have that were initiated using FB for authentication and convert them over to use email as the login mechanism.
  • Moving photo sharing to iCloud friends & family: I’ve used Instagram as a way to syndicate photos from travel to friends and family but I’ll be moving photos over to a private Apple iCloud feed shared amongst a few people.

Google will be a tougher platform to extricate from. I’ve already switched to the Brave Browser and DuckDuckGo and installed this Chrome/Brave extension which hides YouTube recommended videos. Google’s services are so dang compelling: free, really-well-designed and with network effects such that ditching their platform is super hard. With YouTube recommendations hidden, Google IMO suffers only from issue #1 so there’s less urgency but it’s still a massive personal data hoard I intend to distance from. For whatever reason I still trust Apple at this point with data more than FB & Google. But even Apple is running amok privacy-wise with their latest OS updates. I believe any public company will face inexorable pressure for delivering shareholder returns that surpass market expectations all which culminates in them being compelled to over-collect and abuse data. It is an inevitable end result of being a public company facing market pressures.

Conclusion

The purpose of this post is to share my thought process here and finally put a bow on this departure which actually happened back in October. Some people are already thinking about this stuff and for some it may be completely off their radar. I hope by laying out my rationale you can parse through my thoughts and apply any of the thinking that’s helpful for your own situation. As with anything we all must weigh the pro’s and con’s for our personal circumstances and come to a decision that best serves us. My goal in sharing this is to at least raise awareness for anyone who has not gone through the thought exercise and seen some of the above resources I mentioned.

If you’re reading this and we’re friends, I would love to catch up sometime via FaceTime or Zoom. I still receive FB messenger messages but I only check Instagram once per month now so don’t message me there. I intend to slowly work through a list of all the people I’ve lost contact with and hopefully have catch up calls with as many who would entertain a chat. If you’re up for a catch up session sometime, get in touch.

Happy Holidays and cheers to coming through the pandemic and Trump situations to be stronger than before in 2021.

Resources

Nov 19


I’m very excited to announce I’ve been named Entrepreneur in Residence for Startup Lisboa, the largest startup incubator in Portugal. I’ve been a mentor for their companies for the past two years and I spent October working with nine of their companies conducting a pilot program playing the EIR role. We had good feedback from the companies so this announcement is a formalization of the role I’ve been playing since October. Here is their official announcement if you’d like to read more.

I gave my Metrics for Startups talk a few days ago to the companies currently in their “Start to Table” bootcamp program. This talk covers how early stage startups can figure out their primary & secondary metrics, adapt those over time to reflect the current focus and how to create a dashboard to monitor them weekly to ensure proper course corrections to arrive at the desired outcome.

You can find slides and an in-depth write-up of that talk at the link above on my Grid7 business blog.

If you’re considering doing a startup of your own, why not start in Lisbon and apply to Startup Lisboa so we can have the opportunity to work together?

Aug 06



That’s a wrap on the Bali chapter for me. What was originally intended to be a 2mo stay turned into an inadvertent 6mo stint due to Covid. Here’s the condensed summary of my last few weeks there:

I spent the 2nd half of June living in this ridiculous villa with @helensimkins , @christabellatravels and @nikkibartol. Views were stunning. And we had laughing ducks.

We had a proper July 4th BBQ at @canggucamp308 that rivaled anything I had done in the States, complete with grilled corn and a decapitated giant floating flamingo.

I moved into my buddy Trevor’s place and would spend my last month there. His villa backs up against a small jungle and has epic sunsets.

He introduced me to my favorite running trail. I would spend every other day in July running a narrow road between the rice fields listening to podcasts.

Meet Bowie, perhaps the world’s cutest puppy (next to @almathebalidog ).

This little guy I never knew his name but he was intent on stealing my Oura ring.

We had a magical Vietnamese dinner overlooking the rice fields. Shoutout to @_rachelcrocker_ for launching her sales course.

Winner of the most under-appreciated tech of the trip: the AirPods. These things proved to be indispensable for navigation. It’s funny, in December I was terrified to ride as a passenger on a scooter let alone drive one yet I now feel fully-proficient and ended up using one daily the entire time in Bali. Cheers to conquering fears.

Bali was an incredible, unexpectedly-prolonged chapter and there is a 1000% chance I will be back. For now I’m back in Lisbon and looking forward to trying beach life in some of the coastal towns in Portugal via the @selina “Passport” product.
Selamat malam (at Canggu, Bali)

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