Quick Thoughts

How Mastodon is Helping to Cure My Social Media Addiction

I've never been a social media butterfly. I don't have hundreds of friends. Nowadays I'd much rather have a good dinner with one or two close friends and chat about anything and everything for hours and hours than spend time on a social network. But it wasn't always this way.

Back when I was in school, Facebook was the "it" thing. And I'll admit, I got sucked into that world. Now, I don't think I ever got to "posting a picture of your dinner" level but my adolescent brain did grow accustomed to the dopamine hit of posting something and getting a few likes or a comment. But it was never a method of true, real conversation for me.

Then as I got older, I started to prefer Twitter to Facebook. Things were shorter and more importantly for me, news (either from a new organization or just events taking place in the world) seemed to break faster on Twitter than Facebook. It was just more my speed. So eventually, I got to the point where I was almost never on Facebook. But after a few years of that I still found it hard to let Facebook go and delete it from my life.


Honestly, I'm not sure. I hadn't used it in years and only really used it to keep in contact with some distant family who I hadn't spoke with in years. Then I finally got up the courage to delete my Facebook account as part of the #DeleteFacebook movement and their scandal regarding Cambridge Analytica. So I deleted Facebook and Instagram and went to a single social network - Twitter.

Now, I loved Twitter. I used it daily. Tweeting things. Following my favorite accounts. Hell, I even got most of my news from Twitter.

Then things changed.

Now, I'll pause to say I don't really have an opinion one way or the other regarding Elon Musk. But I do have a strong aversion toward things that are anti-fact, anti-science, and frankly straight up lies. When rumors of Elon buying Twitter started popping up my first thought was "cool". Then I started to pay more attention and I realized his plans for the company didn't really align with my views on the world and social media's place in it.

So I began to look for an alternative. Being interested in FOSS I'd already heard about Mastodon. But I didn't really understand the federated nature of it. So I decided to make an account on mastodon.social mainly because this was the first instance I'd heard about.

Now my intention was to try and see if Mastodon would reach "critical mass". That is, the point where you say "I'm joining (insert social network here) because that's where my friends are". I thought of it at first as an open-source Twitter. And at some level that's true. But I never expected it to replace Twitter for me. After all, I was addicted to it to the point where I was spending hours a day just scrolling my timeline.

But I quickly realized that mastodon.social wasn't the place for me. I started with the local timeline to try and get an idea of who to follow and it felt like trying to drink out of a fire hose. There was too much going on and more importantly, there was no real common thing that linked all the posts together. One person is talking about Elon and Twitter. The next is talking about a vacation they're packing for. The next is sharing a video about marble racing from YouTube. It just felt very jumbled, random, and directionless.

"This is not the place for me. I miss Twitter where I've put in years of honing my follows and my lists", I remember saying to myself. But I forced myself to press on. Maybe Mastodon was a directionless mess. Maybe I was jolted by the lack of an algorithm that had been feeding me content for years and years, creating a feedback loop that I'd grown accustomed to. Maybe it was I hadn't found the right community for me. Or maybe it was some combination of the three.

But then I saw a post from someone at fosstodon.org that for whatever reason, stuck with me. I don't remember who posted it but it was a simple explanation of the fediverse - "It's like email had a baby with a social network. I can have Gmail, you can have Yahoo. But we can still talk together."

And then it clicked.

Not only did I suddenly understand the fediverse with immense clarity, I realized that this is exactly the style of explanation I'd give to someone in my career in IT if I needed to boil down a complex system or process to something everyone could understand. So I decided to check out Fosstodon by just browsing the local timeline without an account.

I was blown away. Not only could I see people posting about things I enjoy (tech, space, Linux, etc), I could also see people actually talking. Not just screaming into the void but actually communicating to one another and having meaningful conversations about common interests. It was at that moment I knew I had to switch servers and move to Fosstodon.

Which is exactly what I did. But something else happened. Over the next few days, I started to actually prefer Fosstodon to Twitter. And a few days after that I deleted the Twitter app from my phone. And a few days after that (after seeing a post on Fosstodon about the site) I used TweetDelete to purge all records from my Twitter and set a final tweet over there explaining that if anyone wanted me, they could find me on Fosstodon.

It's been a little over a month since my transition to Mastodon and I've noticed that I feel like I have more freedom over my social media use. I don't have the weird feeling of "I'm bored, I guess I'll just scroll Twitter for a while" that I used to get during moments of downtime. I come and go on Mastodon as I please. I am no longer beholden to some algorithm who's job it is to keep me there scrolling endlessly for hours at a time.

I've not yet been able to take the final plunge of deleting my Twitter account like I did with Facebook all those years ago. I'm not sure why I can't seem to let it go. But for now it's parked and sitting there. I wonder if I'll ever go back to it again or if the next time I sign into it a few years from now, it'll be because I'm fully ready to let it go.