They Got Instagram Now, Too

Back when I started dumping my social media accounts – for various reasons – the one I held on to the longest, almost a year longer than the others, was Instagram. I liked that it was primarily photo based and that seemed to invite people to post a different kind of content. There was little to almost no negativity – in my feed anyway – and it seemed to be a much more civil place than the likes of Facebook and Twitter.

I mostly followed outdoor gear and bike companies as well as athletes and my actual IRL friends, so it’s not surprising I didn’t see much else. Apparently it was there though, and continues to grow. I finally nuked my Instagram account a few months ago, primarily for personal reasons, but it seems that it has gone the path of Facebook now as well, so in retrospect, I’m glad I got out when I did.

An article in the Atlantic, Instagram is the Internet’s New Home for Hate, doesn’t paint a very rosy picture.

“Instagram is teeming with these conspiracy theories, viral misinformation, and extremist memes, all daisy-chained together via a network of accounts with incredible algorithmic reach and millions of collective followers—many of whom, like Alex, are very young.

“Following just a handful of these accounts can quickly send users spiraling down a path toward even more extremist views and conspiracies, guided by Instagram’s own recommendation algorithm.”

“Given the velocity of the recommendation algorithm, the power of hashtagging, and the nature of the posts, it’s easy to see how Instagram can serve as an entry point into the internet’s darkest corners. Instagram “memes pages and humor is a really effective way to introduce people to extremist content,” says Becca Lewis, a doctoral student at Stanford and a research affiliate at the Data and Society Research Institute. “It’s easy, on Instagram, to attach certain hashtags to certain memes and get high visibility.”

“In December, Wired reported that Instagram had become the “go-to” social network for the Internet Research Agency, a Russian troll farm notorious for meddling in U.S. elections. A report commissioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee declared that “Instagram was perhaps the most effective platform for the Internet Research Agency” to spread misinformation. “Instagram has the power of Twitter to broadcast out, but the infrastructure of Facebook supporting it,” says Jonathan Albright, a researcher at Columbia University who directs a center on digital forensics. “It has the best of all platforms.”

I’m glad that I left Instagram before I came across any of this stuff. I’d seen traces of it on Facebook, which is what prompted me to get off that finally. I think that quite possibly I could have continued to use both these platforms without encountering too much of this kind of content – I was pretty particular about who and what I followed – but at it’s core, I think my decision to leave was based around the fact that by using those platforms, I was tacitly endorsing both their business models and their standards of conduct – neither of which I felt comfortable doing anymore.

‘Light ‘ Phone Experiment Observations

So back in my post about the Light Phone 2 – I decided to give it a go with setting up my iPhone as much like a Light Phone 2 as possible and give it 2 weeks. Visit my first post to see what I stripped the phone down to. Here’s some observations.

Day Two

Already got weirded out a few times that I couldn’t check email on the phone. Decided I had to let it go. When I finally got to email on a desktop, I found that really, there was nothing there that important. I’m working on sort of settling into ‘not knowing’ what’s in the Inbox at all times. When I can accept that, it’s somewhat liberating. There was a bunch of news today based on a WSJ story about third-party apps sending info to Facebook and/or tracking users making me wonder about keeping Messenger on my phone. The caveat has always been that a few very close connections use it almost exclusively and it’s easy for things like sharing links and photos, but I am starting to wonder if I want to keep using it on principle.

I’ve also realized how regularly I use some browser bookmarks – and with only Safari on my phone and Chrome as my primary desktop browser, they aren’t available. I could of course duplicate them in Safari, but that defeats the point of trying to streamline things. This is one reason I’ve often jumped back and forth from Chrome to Safari in the past. I’ve always wanted one solution. Safari has always been clunky and slower than Chrome and is not the best browser for web development. I’ve also had issues with the Last Pass extension not working consistently in Safari on the desktop. I do like Safari’s ‘Reading List’ feature though – something Google is now using but is not available on desktops – yet – unless you’re using an Android device. Instead I just made a ‘Junk Drawer’ bookmarks folder in Chrome. Will have to consider if all this is a big enough deal to dump Chrome as my default browser on the desktops.

Day Three

So interestingly, other than weather (which I can check out on my watch), I really have no need check my phone at all until I get to work in the mornings now. Indeed with no email on the phone, unless I get a notification of a text or a call – I have no need to ‘check’ my phone at all. I have already on several occasions caught myself picking up the phone, unlocking it and staring at it like “what am I doing here” then remembering, oh yeah, there’s nothing here for you.

Day Four

I nuked Facebook Messenger. Told the few contacts I regularly used it with that I’m available via text, voice or email, take your pick. I’m down to only stock Apple apps. I realize that Apple is very likely tracking my usage and stats, but to some extent I have to think that their stock apps have no reason to share data outside the Apple OS. Most significantly, today I realized I no longer have any reason to take my phone to the bathroom. Ahem.

Day Five

Prior to this experiment, I was averaging an hour and a half of phone screen time per day – that was even without social media. Currently down to 20 mins or so. Today I added 2 apps back, Scanner Pro and my banking app – both apps that I use almost daily and I find very useful.

Day Ten

At home, my phone sits on the dresser. I don’t carry it around the house. Granted, my Apple Watch lets me know if there’s a call or a text if I don’t hear the phone itself, but I’m no longer really looking for it in general when I’m out and about. I put it in my backpack when I’m in the car. Bluetooth lets me answer calls – and I’m even thinking of disconnecting that. Do I really need to talk to someone on the phone when I’m driving? There was a time when we as a species didn’t and somehow we managed. As a parent of a kid currently taking driving instruction and who will be driving soon, I’m becoming more cognizant of what message I’m sending – even if it’s only subconsciously.

Day Twelve

I had to cave and put email back on the phone. Too much of life hinges on it. Hockey coaches, teachers, and a slew of other businesses/clubs/institutions all still use it as a primary and immediate source of contact or news dissemination even though there’s been tons of different articles proclaiming its demise as a communications medium. Also, email as an archive of information is invaluable and I didn’t realize how often I go back and ‘look something up’ or check an old email for reference.

I did really enjoy not having it on the phone and having to be more intentional about checking email at a desktop. I had established a habit of deliberately checking mail once a day – more the way you would with snail mail – and responding to and addressing issues at that time. This simple act had 2 pleasurable effects. First, there was the satisfying feeling of getting something done, i.e. “Ok, checked my mail, now on to the next thing.”

Second, the act of sitting down and responding to emails in one shot meant I spent more time with replies, especially with the consideration that I probably wouldn’t be getting back to check mail for another 24 hours or so. I could definitely see myself without immediate access to email – i.e. on the phone – once things involving kids slow down or go away all together. For now it will have to stay.

Disconnected the phone from the car via Bluetooth. Now when I’m driving, I’m just driving.

In Closing

One Screen to Rule Them All…

Overall, it’s been a positive experience/experiment. The only other apps I added back were my password manager app ( I do need access to passwords and such sometimes when at a client’s office or elsewhere and as IT/Support guy for our family I’m always getting asked for passwords) and the Voice Memos app which I do use for voice memos and also sometimes I just make recordings of sounds.

The Organizational Demon in my head is satisfied as well because what I’ve got fits on one phone screen with no empty spaces and no swiping. I’ve kind of made that the ‘box’ I’m confining myself to.

Ultimately, in answer to my original query of whether or not I could switch to the actual Light Phone 2 – I think the answer would be, yes – but only at a point when my family calendar was considerably less packed – and I’m responsible for accessing less information on behalf of others. There’s still the issue of photos – which I do use my phone for a lot, so in an ideal world, my ‘light phone’ would still have a camera. For now I think I’ve ‘lightened’ my current iPhone considerably as well as lightening my usage of it, both of which have been positive.

Apple ‘Light’ Phone Experiment

My buddy Steve posted over on his site about ordering up one of the forthcoming Light Phone 2’s – basically a stripped down phone that does calls, messaging and that’s about it.

The prospect was appealing to me, and fatefully enough checking with my mobility provider tells me that the contract is up on my trusty iPhone SE at the end of this month. Fate? I dunno.

I’m painfully impulsive when it comes to things like this so as hard as it is, I’m going to exercise discipline and not pull the trigger immediately on a Light Phone. Instead, I’ll use Steve’s experience with it as research.

However, it occurred to me that one could practically render the iPhone a ‘Light Phone’ by dumping all the apps, or as much as the OS will allow, so as an experiment, I decided to do that. The surprise was that it was really hard to think about not using some apps, let alone deleting them – a telling indication for sure and perhaps a reason I won’t be able to go for the actual Light Phone in the long run, but we’ll see.

For the record, I’ve neutered my phone down to:

Lean Mean Home Screen
  • Activity App – Syncs with my Apple Watch;
  • App Store – must use, can’t get rid of it;
  • Calendar – even thinking about getting rid of this gave me the shakes. Trying to keep track of 6 family members without access to this would be a nightmare. Probably the reason right here that I’ll never go Light Phone;
  • Camera – can’t get rid of it;
  • Clock – can’t get rid of it;
  • Contacts – basically for phone/messaging purposes;
  • Facebook Messenger – still my main source of comms with many people;
  • Find iPhone – can’t get rid of it;
  • Health – can’t get rid of it, and I actually use it;
  • iMessage – can’t get rid of it, don’t want to;
  • Music – this was a tough one, but I use the phone to listen to music on the bike trainer and other places, so I kept it. I don’t use it in the car or at work though;
  • Notes – I use Notes for everything. All the time. I’ve got so much stuff in there;
  • Phone – can’t get rid of it, don’t want to;
  • Photos – can’t get rid of it;
  • Safari – can’t get rid of it;
  • Settings – can’t get rid of it;
  • Wallet – can’t get rid of it;
  • Watch – can’t get rid of it, well, if you want to use the watch;
  • Weather – I can get rid of this, but I need it in order to display weather on the watch, which I do use often.

I buried all the apps in a folder on the task bar at the bottom because they can mostly be accessed by a swipe right and/or search. For the most part, swiping right, Siri is pretty good about knowing what app I’m looking for and offers it up via witchcraft.

Notable exclusions/things that gave me pause about deleting:

  • Email – yup. No more email on the phone. This could prove problematic as lots of family business and updates are sent via email, but we’ll see;
  • ScannerPro – an app that I used to scan paper documents to GoogleDrive. Very good at what it does and useful for getting rid of paper clutter. I don’t use it often, but when I do, it’s great. I’m already thinking I will re-install this the next time I want it without hesitation;
  • Banking App – not sure how often I actually used this – guess we’re gonna find out;
  • Password Manager – all my passwords are still accessible on my desktops, but sometimes I had to look one up;
  • Chrome – I loathe the Safari mobile app. Also use Chrome on my desktops so I won’t get bookmark/history sync anymore;
  • Feedly – I can access this on desktop too, but on the phone it was my go-to time-killer. Got a few minutes? Find some articles on Feedly. Guess I’ll have to stare at a wall, or – gasp – talk to strangers now.

So that’s it, one screen. I’ll see what this gets me. Going to go two weeks from today and then review how things went and post up here.

Gerry McGovern on ‘FANG’

Around 10 years ago I was able to attend a seminar locally given by Gerry McGovern about effective web content and site architecture that was very informative and to this day still impacts how I look to structure websites for clients when I sit down to design them. Since then I’ve subscribed to Gerry’s email newsletter which focuses primarily on marketing, strategy and best practices with a particular emphasis on the Web.

I always find it informative and entertaining. I specifically enjoy his ‘rantiness’ in some cases and his complete lack of hesitation to call out anyone he thinks is guilty of either foul play or could be doing something better. I consistently find something useful to take away. His missives are succinct, well-written and easy to read – and aren’t bogged down with a bunch of technical terms, making them interesting to even those not immediately in the marketing industry.

Today’s edition hit my inbox and I find it right on point. Stuff to think about for Regular Joes/Janes here as well as marketing and web industry-types.

“FANG stands for Facebook, Amazon, Netflix,…FANG is sucking up all the data into which it can sink its teeth. It’s sifting, organizing, and then presenting that data in often easy-to-digest bites. Often, it’s easier to get an answer from Google than going to the government site that created the data from which the answer is built.”

“The interface is the product. The interface is the service. FANG wants to own the interface for everything. All the boring, necessary, costly stuff that make societies work will still be left to governments. But the public won’t see that effort. They’ll just see the cool FANG interface and wonder why governments can’t be like that.”

Read the full post, ‘FANG is Coming for You’, over on Gerry’s website.

The Rise of ‘Sharenting’

Interesting article from The Atlantic, “When Kids Realize Their Whole Life Is Already Online”, about parents who share their kids’ lives and images online – now referred to as ‘sharenting’. Back when I still had social media accounts, I didn’t share much about my kids – or photos of them – more out of fear of the pervs/stalkers out there or their peers potentially trying to mess with them. I’m embarrassed to say it never occurred to me to think how my kids themselves might feel about it. I do have a ton of photos of them on my Flickr account, but they are for the most part limited so only family members can see them and they are not available via search.

“For several months, Cara has been working up the courage to approach her mom about what she saw on Instagram. Not long ago, the 11-year-old—who, like all the other kids in this story, is referred to by a pseudonym—discovered that her mom had been posting photos of her, without prior approval, for much of her life. “I’ve wanted to bring it up. It’s weird seeing myself up there, and sometimes there’s pics I don’t like of myself,” she said.”

“Once kids have that first moment of realization that their lives are public, there’s no going back. Several teens and tweens told me this was the impetus for wanting to get their own social-media profiles, in an effort to take control of their image. But plenty of other kids become overwhelmed and retreat. Ellen said that anytime someone has a phone out around her now, she’s nervous that her photo could be taken and posted somewhere. “Everyone’s always watching, and nothing is ever forgotten. It’s never gone,” she said.”

“…92 percent of toddlers under the age of 2 already have their own unique digital identity. “Parents now shape their children’s digital identity long before these young people open their first email. The disclosures parents make online are sure to follow their children into adulthood,” declares a report by the University of Florida Levin College of Law. “These parents act as both gatekeepers of their children’s personal information and as narrators of their children’s personal stories.”

I feel fortunate now that, rather inadvertently, I’ve managed to leave it up to my kids what eventually makes it online about them, especially considering my own back and forth with social media and the Internet. It took me several years and the wisdom and experience of an adult to finally sort out what sort of ‘presence’ I wanted online – I can only imagine that process being intimidating or incomprehensible to my kids – a feeling that would only be exacerbated if I’d already shared copious information about them.