Today — June 6, 2020 — I decided to leave all generic social networks, coincidently run by Facebook corp. This is an account of the thought process that went into this decision for a future self to reflect on.
The purpose of social networks is to help our online and offline worlds converge. Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR) and Daily Active Users (DAU) aside, they should strive to bring people closer. To make our lives richer and allow us to be respectful of each other’s thoughts, ideas and time.
Unfortunately, over the past few years some of the largest networks have done the exact opposite. They have rather optimized for ARR and DAU — esp. those owned by Facebook Corp — namely the Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram. My decision was not abrupt and based on factors beyond incongruence of our values:
Deepwork and state of flow
I was exposed to Cal Newport’s work around Deepwork several years ago but like all books, I consumed it, geeked out and didn’t make a significant change to my life. Once, I joined Segment I met a tribe that really exercised and believed in the concepts of flow and deepwork. I re-read the book. It didn’t click. I went ahead and got hold of it on Audible. It DID click! I started practising it in bits and now that I have fully moved to a model where I intentionally take a break from focus, the results have been insanely positive. I have been able to invent things and make one of the most boring product areas into the most happening with the help of some amazing peers.
When I reflected back, I realized everytime I was able to build something that was a step change, I was in a state of flow for many many months. Be it the time when I was building a serverless pipeline and ML platform for GRC, tools for alternative lenders in Canada or when a bunch of us crazy ones within Streamlabs – backed by the founders – took on giants like Amazon, Wix, Square and Squarespace and built something that eventually hosted
live.berniesanders.com for his 2020 campaign.
There was no backup plan during these phases of flow. I was all-in. There was no second guessing – I later realized.
Most recently, deepwork kept me sane while the world was burning through a pandemic and everyone around me was going through mental health pains. Deepwork has allowed me to quiet my mind and not feel the fear of missing out. I mean it when I say I am joyful on missing out. I have fallen in love with being in control of my time and living asynchronously. It is liberating!
I’ve always believed in Dunbar’s number and have periodically purged my FB friends list to ensure I kept the count to <125 over the years. I did get some heat at times but hey, if we have not spoken in ten years and are completely different humans now, we should either talk and catch up over drinks or just be acquaintances — not friends.
Over the past two years, I started doing check-ins with people I wanted to stay in touch with. I also started observing how excited, warm and honest (or casual) some of these responses . The early signals helped me reduce outreach to people who seemed to have either moved on in life or were in a different headspace.
I further went ahead and started doing regular 1:1 lunches, coffees, dinners, drink sessions. These 45 minute — at times 2 hour long — sessions with focused conversations around topics we cared about in life have been insanely enlightening. I have not only had meaningful conversations but also found a tribe. We push each other. We don’t judge. We grow together while pursuing our own journeys towards: minimizing regret on the death bed and maximizing returns on emotional investment day to day.
This is all life is about: meaningful, nuanced conversations with people who care for you and you care in turn. I want to continue this. I strongly feel I don’t need social networks to help me find these people or have these conversations.
Craftspersonship and excellence
Putting all the T-shape and generalist rules the world kool-aid aside, craftspeople rule!
Those who obsess over details and hone their skills, win. Period. All that fancy-suit MBA and top finance guy spiel doesn’t solve real-world problems or make lives better. Pursuing any craft, where you produce something out of nothing with your hands — physical or digital — leaves you content. You sleep knowing you gave it all your best and moved forward, every night. That content is priceless. You are not afraid to die.
I picked up pottery two years ago. It makes exactly $0. I don’t care. I produce things no else at that moment in time would have done, but more importantly, I build and learn the craft from master artisan around me.
If I really care for photography, I should pursue the craft with my full heart and attention, find my tribe to learn/grow with and post to niche networks instead of Instagram. If I care for tiny homes — like I claim to do — I should go build them for the homeless rather than tap ❤️ and save them in my Instagram collection.
I feel I should be exploring and honing crafts I feel passionate about and be a producer not merely a passive consumer taking dopamine shots everyday through endless feeds.
Media and the false dream
I am not a media personality and I don’t aspire to be one any time soon. Having worked in livestreaming I know the economics. Only the top 150 streamers aka content producers really make the $. The remaining 99% hope for 3 or so months and once unsuccessful, they go their own ways. The cycles goes on … every ~three months a new cohort of faces go online. Hustle to establish their presence across every social network under the sky — Twitch, Youtube, FB, IG, Twitter, Patreon, OnlyFans, Discord, TikTok — to become the next Ninja. They fail and get rooted out as the next cohort comes in. The chances of success are extremely low.
I saw Ninja’s rise to fame very closely as our largest customer and at the peak of livestreaming when he was dropping the ball at Time’s Square on New Year’s eve. There was a lot more at play than sheer hustle, my friends. You don’t get it. This doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in the creator economy. I am a huge believer of the passion economy, however, my thesis is closer to the school of thought that believes everyone will be a creator with tens of fans – not millions.
My audience, my craft, my content is nuanced. It is not for 200 million subscribers on Youtube or IG. It is for the top 1% of the top 1% by mental faculty, not money. I am producing focused content for specific niche – separately from my individual brand.
(check out this space during Summer of 2020 for updated link to new content sites)
I have some gray hair now and I have grown old. I see how nuanced everything is. It is always gray. Never black or white.
You start seeing these distinct things only once you have honed your craft to a certain extent. When you start feeling like a student, everyday. You start seeing beyond the jargon, credentials, authority and are able to distill it into plain English for your mom — Urdu in my case. And that is when the magic starts. When master practitioners become students and have deep conversations.
Social networks and group messaging application don’t enable such nuanced conversations. The conversations across large forums become games of clout and social capital. Of the 1000s in these group discussion, only <10 really get the fine details. Rest are either virtue signalling, looking for what can benefit them or are simply clueless – not interested in the craft – just drawn to the noise around it.
Just like all those young kids who were misled by McKinsey and Harvard Business School articles creating hype around Data Science careers. There was never a demand for so many data professionals simply due to the way the technology works. AutoML does beautiful things and will continue to get powerful over time – those articles didn’t understand the full picture. They glorified and glamourised data science and now you have an industry with millions while you can only have a deep conversation with <100. Thankfully, I know some of them and we don’t need Facebook to stay connected.
Same goes for product, tech, education and other topics of interest to me. Social networks don’t let me have those nuanced, deep conversations. They are mere smokes and mirrors for gaining social capital.
Creating friction for high quality signal
I have muted all notifications on my phone since a year now. I realized that nothing was urgent. If someone was dying they have a higher chance of success with 911 than me. And that was it. That is all that matters — saving human life.
Not being available across >2 social platforms reduces the number of ‘Inboxes’ I have to check and worry about. If someone truly wants to reach me, they will make the effort and respect the channels I want to be reached at – like I will do for them.
I try to check all my emails and messages once a day. Sometimes I don’t. The world doesn’t end and life goes on. It is my time and my Inbox, I respect your email but I will get back to you on my time not yours. If it is urgent, please pick a phone and call me.
Social network driven inboxes such as Whatsapp reduced the friction for people to forward content. I know most of us are part of a “Family” Whatsapp group we all dread but cannot exit and simply ignore or mute. The one where Naila aunty keeps sending dua’s and forward messages. They are a constant source of noise. Removing the platform reduced this noise. I will still give a hug to Naila aunty when we meet next time — but I don’t need to consume content I either oppose or am not interested in.
Facebook, Zuck’s inaction and lack of moral compass
I never used FB to consume the news. If you have to goto FB to consume news, I feel sorry for you. There was way better paid subscriptions where real journalists and investigators do real work and produce real content. I feel this is such a privileged statement because:  I am able to afford to pay for news,  billions of people naively consume their news on FB
The impact Facebook’s curation (or lack thereof) is having on the world is understated and not fully understood by those who work outside tech. It is killing society as we know it.
I believed in the narrative that FB was in a hard spot. This was the first time we were dealing with issues such as cyberbullying or fake news but it has been quite some years now. Twitter recently rolled out their fact check on tweets and fact checked that orange tanned man.
Some of my friends at Facebook are protesting and staking their jobs to force Zuck into action. But this situation is not isolated. It is about the big picture. I am very deep into where the internet is headed, how we think about privacy and customer data. I see Apple and Google making concerted efforts into consumer privacy and battling spread of misinformation. Their ML teams are actively working on tech to combat these endemic and pioneering techniques such as differential privacy.
Facebook doesn’t seem to have those longer term initiatives in place and refuses to take action where it can. This is alarming for me and the least I can do is, not use their generic social networks.
I am not cutting myself from the world and going off the grid into isolation. I am choosing: deep conversations over likes on posts, craft over IG followers, meaningful relationships over 1000s of friends who never speak to each other and doing my bit for standing by values I hold — if we (the privileged) don’t, who will!
PS - I work in product and you must be wondering how I plan to stay abreast of all developments across this ecosystem of apps. Have you heard of a finsta? Well, I forked the idea and have created a great social network of five fake friends leveraging pictures from www.thispersondoesnotexist.com. These happy (fake) five people are real friends who follow and message each other to stay updated about all new features across these platforms, installed across dormant iOS devices I had sitting idle at home.