I probably spend 80% of my free time on the internet. Of this probably 95% is spent on sites/apps which heavily personalize their content for me. These sites and services try to learn anything and everything about me and use it to distract me, suck up as much of my attention as they can. Facebook/ Youtube/ Instagram/ Twitter/ Reddit are the major players here. I commonly refer to these services as Industrial Attention complex(IAC).
Some of the smartest minds of our generations are working for the IAC. Writing immensely complicated learning algorithms to show you just the right witty comment by your friend and the most delicious cooking video to keep you looking at the screen for few more seconds. And naturally, I wanted to see if I can outsmart them? If I can live an Algo-free lifestyle.
The easy way to know if a given service is part of IAC or not is to ask why are you being shown a particular content. If you come up with a simple enough answer, it is not IAC. If the answer involves “the algorithm thinks I like X”, it is IAC. Example:
- News: The editor is deciding what is shown, Not IAC.
- Messenger/Whatsapp: Most recent chat is shown first, not IAC.
- Youtube: “The algorithm thinks I like flat earth conspiracy theories” Definitely IAC.
So, what does it exactly take to live an Algo-free lifestyle?
1: Uninstall the Apps.
I have developed this really bad habit. I unconsciously open Twitter/Reddit app on my phone at even a sliver of free time. I am writing an email, I press Send, take a long breath and Bam. Next thing I know I am mindlessly scrolling r/specialisedtools.
There is even weirder habit I have where I would get bored of browsing facebook on my desktop, so I would grab my phone and start scrolling facebook on the smaller sized internet experience. So Yes, getting rid of the mobile apps of the industrial tracking complex was necessary. You should also remove the IAC tiles from the new tab page of your browser.
After uninstalling all the apps, anytime I unknowingly grabbed my phone to browse the “Smaller internet” A mental flag would go up in my head and I would have to forcefully return to work. This one change alone probably increased my productivity by 50%
2: Tricks to manage Facebook pages without using Facebook.
Managing Facebook was Tricky for me as managing Facebook ads are part of my job. Few things I did to avoid the facebook feed while managing an marketing campaign are:
- Use Facebook Pages app to manage the page. The app lets you manage all aspects of a Facebook page but does not show any other content.
- For desktop, I adopted a trick where I would use “log in via Facebook” in some other service and then directly go to the ads manager URL.
3: Fill up the time.
It is impossible to live an Algo-free lifestyle without finding something to fill up the time. I am fairly busy at work nowadays and I am preparing for a competitive exam, so I don’t have a lot of free time, but I was surprised to find out how many times I just had nothing to do, and would crave for IAC.
My solution: Install Kindle wherever I can. I have kindle on my phone, on my computer and well, on my kindle. Having Kindle more easily available than IAC was probably the most important reason I could complete the algo-free week.
4: Gamify it.
Gamification is an old tool in the IAC toolkit, but you can try to use it against them. Think of the algo-free lifestyle as a streak. Keep some of your closest friends posted on your streak. Try to make them jealous of your cool new lifestyle if that works for you.
I did keep some of my friends posted on my streak and the fear of breaking the streak helped me recover from some of the moment of weakness.
5: Resist the Tweetbursts.
By the second or third day, you will start having these tweetbursts. You will think of this incredible tweet that you just have to tweet. (even though no one really follows you) or you would take the perfect photo for your Instagram. You have to resist these temptations at any cost. Hopefully, you have already uninstalled all the apps and can eventually regain self-control.
1 week of algo-free does change your daily life quite a bit. Here are some of the things I observed.
1: No enlightening revelation
Let’s first talk about what definitely did not happen. I was not enlightened in some zen thing and found out the meaning of life or any other spiritual stuff. (I was kinda hoping something in this direction would happen though)
2: Noticeable increase in productivity:
It turns out if you are not looking at your phone every 5 minutes, you can get a lot of work done. The first two days were especially productive as i haven’t figured out other ways to waste time. But As I started visiting a few more news sites set up kindle everywhere, the productivity dropped a bit. The average productivity level was still much higher compared to non algo-free days.
3: Greater appreciation for long-form content.
Many people(including me) have developed this really bad habit in the last few years, I call it “the secondary screen syndrome”. Secondary Screen syndrome happens when you are watching a long-form content (Movies/Documentaries/ Even Comedy Specials) on your Computer/TV and almost unconsciously you open up your phone and start scrolling IAC. Your attention is divided between the primary screen and the secondary screen and you lose the ability to fully appreciate the long form content.
As part of the algo-free lifestyle, I did not have any appeal of the secondary screen and primary screen had my full attention. And I was observing some subtle jokes or foreshadowing in the movie that I would have normally missed.
4: You don’t really miss out on much.
Entering the algo -free lifestyle, you essentially create an information bubble around yourself. Most of the information you would normally consume is filtered out at this bubble, but if something is important enough, it will get through. I personally do not think I missed out on anything important by slightly disconnecting myself from the internet.
Will I do it again?
I probably will. I don’t think You can live algo-free for a really long-term. IAC does provide some value to us as a community. You should not completely shut yourself off them forever. But getting away from the attention distractions once in a while is a helpful change.
So, what do you think of the Algo-free Lifestyle?