Escaping the Algorithms

It’s been said, in various ways, that if you’re not the customer, you’re the product. Although that’s an oversimplification, and sometimes arguably just wrong, I know I’m not the only one who has sometimes felt like Facebook or Twitter is trying to mess with my mind in order to get me to keep scrolling and notice ads.

Several days ago, I recalled with nostalgia a time 15 or so years ago, before Facebook1 and Twitter–the earliest days of social media. Blogs were still relatively new, LiveJournal2 hadn’t been sold to Russians yet, and our social “echo chambers” hadn’t yet met the amplifying effect of social media feed algorithms. I monitored the blogs and news sites I wanted to follow using a RSS reader like FeedDemon or NetNewsWire.

Then, a few minutes after that moment of nostalgic reflection, the obvious struck me: Those things are all still out there. I still read blog articles. In fact, if I count on Facebook to promote them to me, I probably miss a bunch of articles I’d like to read.

So, I downloaded NetNewsWire, loaded in an old OPML file, culled out the feeds that hadn’t been updated in years, added a few, and soon had a working set of feeds I liked.

One of the default feeds that came with NetNewsWire belonged to Manton Reece, who started is a microblogging system that’s not ad-supported, and its discovery timeline is chronological only–there’s no algorithm trying to figure out what will keep you scrolling and clicking. Of course, that means it’s not free, but I’m giving it a try.

In just a few days, my Facebook time has decreased, and my optimism has increased. And now I’m writing a blog post for the first time in years.

  1. Or at least, before people like me who had already graduated from college could have Facebook accounts. 
  2. Yeah, I had one. It was a good way to stay in touch with college friends pre-Facebook. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s