Matt* should have joined Twitter years ago. He perfectly matches the profile of the user: very educated, addicted to politics, through the news, loves debates and he is a climatologist.

But unlike many users who publicly attack The new universe of Elon Muskthreatening to leave the ship (but then lingering on deck), or trying to gather the energy to migrate on another platform and, uh, “whistle”, Matt is a social media virgin. Spotless, spotless – the 46-year-old has never joined a single social media platform.

“I’m not very quick to pick up and use new technologies,” says Matt from the Victorian city of Geelong, “but this mismatch meant that I started to see things I didn’t like about their adoption. .” Aside from privacy and data issues, he felt that most algorithms encourage outrage and constant use. Like a true scientist, the brevity (and committing flippant comments in the public record) also put him off: “I didn’t know what could usefully be said in 140 characters.”

Twitter could be a minnow of social media (29.5% of Australian Internet users use it at least once a month, compared to Facebook at 76.8%) but watching people tweet about whether to stay or go in real time is instructive. It’s a snapshot of a growing awareness among longtime social media users (and people who still dimly remember a time before the internet) of their vulnerability to algorithm (and proprietary) changes. ) and what drew them to social media in the first place.

And maybe unicorns like Matt can show us that there is another way to live entirely that we may not need. Google the word “Mastodon”? Maybe we just…stopped?

“It’s hard to be that person because most of your networks are there and you’ve invested all that time and energy and content. There is a cost to leaving,” says Jordan Guiao, a researcher at the Australia Institute Responsible Technology Center and author of the new book Disconnect. “The big platforms rely on that. Everyone knows that’s bad news now, but physically moving is still very difficult.

The trends do not accurately reflect Matt’s monastic position. At the end of 2021, 82.7% of Australians were active on social media, an annual growth of nearly one million users, driven by an isolating pandemic and the growth of TikTok.

As social media becomes integrated into our daily online diet, how does it feel to be left out of the conversation? I question Matt the way I would a time traveler from the 1880s or a very intelligent baby. How do you follow the news? “Radio, print, online.” The zeitgeist? “Most of the time it’s flagged there if it’s outstanding.” What do you do with all your free time? I think about it backwards. Where do people find the time to be on social media? »

Leaving Las Vegas (web)

Felicia Semple, 48, from Melbourne, fell from Instagram in May. She still hasn’t explained her absence to its sizeable follower base – all 24,000 of them.

“It first happened by accident. I decided not to post while on vacation, but I just couldn’t bring myself to go back,” says Semple.

Semple started a blog called craft sessions in 2013 to “provide a space where artisans come together” to share ideas and inspire each other. Increasingly, Semple has written about the connection between sanity and the craft, or “the head stuff” as she calls it.

Join instagram initially grew its community very significantly. But more recently, “every time I opened it, I felt fear rather than joy. It had become a drudgery – a stressful, anxious, and ethically questionable space.

Instagram’s algorithm changes that highlighted videos changed things for many people. Photography: Rafael/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock

As many artists recently who have built entire careers on the platformInstagram’s algorithm changes (mostly mirroring TikTok’s snack-sized video model) changed everything.

“The algorithm requirements had changed the type of content I was creating,” Semple says. “It distorted my own creative impulses and message, messing with my biology, making me feel like I had to follow through.”

“The most popular platforms want us to be there with 24/7 engagement at all costs,” says Guaio. “The way social media is built is crazy Las Vegas, super shiny and completely addictive. In the real world, we don’t live like that.

We need to “start thinking about a healthier way to do it…develop platforms that don’t have this kind of extractive business model that relies on us being there every second of the day, or…getting doses of dopamine for each like”.

Semple knows the decision to quit Instagram was a luxury, as she didn’t count on it to make money. Many people who have built their business on social media feel they have no choice but to adapt.

But these days, she sleeps better. “I have more time and peace of mind. I finished my psychology degree last week. Given all of this, Semple is thinking of ways to engage with his online community again.

“I read three books in one month”

Olivia Sinclair Smith, 45, works in education. She left the platform of her choice, Facebooka month ago.

She had tried to leave before, but this time she went cold turkey. “I was just mindlessly scrolling through people’s posts and bits and wasting more and more time doing it. I started feeling guilty afterwards, like I was addicted and couldn’t stop.

Since quitting, “I don’t feel the guilt and self-loathing I used to feel watching bullshit posted by people I barely know… read three books in the last month, which is unheard of for me.”

Sinclair Smith has strategically retained part of the platform – Facebook Marketplace. “I created a fake profile that has no friends attached to it and am using it to look at items to buy.”

“I’m tempted to join interest groups using my fake profile,” says Sinclair Smith, but she fears it’s a “gateway drug.”

A major rebalancing?

Guiao says people are becoming more demanding. “We are seeing a shift away from giant, public and mainstream platforms towards smaller, more community-focused platforms and private messaging like WhatsApp,” he says. “We’re actually going back to how we naturally communicate in our physical or real-life social networks.”

Guiao says expecting us to completely go offline is unrealistic, especially for digital natives. “We’re going to be online now for the rest of our lives. But there is something to be said to rebalance it,” says Guiao.

It remains to be seen how this rebalancing will work for younger users adopting more streaming platforms like TikTok and YouTube. For users looking to engage with niche topics and communities on these platforms, it can still be like running around a casino looking for the ball pit and ending up at the craps table instead.

“The challenge is that there is no viable alternative…even if we wanted to change, it’s very difficult,” says Guiao.

Guiao indicates The work of Eli Pariserwho talks about the concept ofdigital parks as quiet spaces to gather. How do we build online versions of it? The Internet “Las Vegas” is not inevitable.

Remember, these places existed. “Before social media, there were community platforms like blogs and forums and all those things that [were] designed for connection, community and collaboration, but not designed to get you hooked.

Matt has no desire to join the party. But he still has to reckon with social media, given that his children, currently aged seven and nine, will eventually have to deal with it. “In the social life of young people, there is a very heavy price to pay for not getting involved. All I can do is help them understand that the priorities they have for their own lives don’t even align with those of these companies.

“I also worry about their ability to find refuge in their lives.”

Most of us will never be as pure as Matt, but we could get smarter at making social media work for us. Maybe tooting doesn’t sound so bad after all.

*Name has been changed