My Social Media Experiment: A Self-Assessment

Early last year, I foresaw the epistemic horrors of the impending 2020 election, so I made this pledge.

Near the end, I asked Jonathan Haidt a question on twitter, and I impulsively responded to his answer.  I’d call that a clear violation of my pledge, but to the best of my knowledge, it was the only such violation.

So what did I learn as a result of this self-experiment?

1. Overall, I was glad that I made this pledge.  Not only did I avoid arguing about the election on social media.  As a free bonus, I also avoided arguing with anyone about COVID on social media.  Two exercises in futility averted.

2. As a result of the pledge, I ran many more Twitter polls.  Devising good questions felt more constructive, and I definitely learned more about other people’s views than I ever would have learned from arguing with them.  A nice illustration of my rule that asking questions is underrated.

3. What did I do with all the time I saved?  Honestly, I probably spent most of the savings homeschooling my younger kids, who joined my homeschool back in March.  But I also pursued a bunch of new side projects; most notably, my Amore Infernale is now being illustrated.

4. Did I miss arguing on social media?  Nope.  While free-wheeling exploration of ideas is my life, only a small share of my pre-pledge engagements qualified.  And searching for the pearls was an ordeal in itself.

5. During my experiment, I kept reading other people’s arguments on social media.  My modal reaction was, “Even now, this person has yet to find wisdom.”

6. The “wisdom” I had in mind was mostly the Epicurean realization that you have to set your expectations for human behavior down to rock bottom to avoid daily disappointment.  I never felt angry about the absurd vaccine delays because I expected all this and worse.  I never felt angry about the election because I expect every presidential election to be a disgrace.  The incidents that outrage almost everyone else are just a rounding error to me.

7. Other than Nazis and Communists, I used to respond to virtually everyone on social media.  My new plan is to only engage with people with exemplary manners.  Perhaps I’ll lower that high bar for a while when my next book comes out.  We’ll see.

8. Many people describe social media as an “addiction.”  I never would have so self-described, but outsiders might have called me an “addict” based on my pre-pledge behavior.  But at least for me, stopping required only mild concentration at first, then became second nature.

9. If stopping was so easy, why go “cold turkey” as I did?  Because the bandwidth gains are non-linear.  If I spend an hour a day arguing on social media, I’ll probably spend another hour thinking about the disputes.  But if I cut down to to 5 daily minutes of argument, I’d still probably spend at least 50 minutes rehashing everything in my mind.

10. Doesn’t argumentation hone my thinking?  If so, doesn’t non-argumentation atrophy my thinking?  You, dear readers, are in a better position to judge this than me.  Please share in the comments.

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