Ever wonder how we’ve become such digital pack rats over the past few years? We accumulate all kinds of digital possessions that we seldom or never use, and we do nothing about it. These are a few examples from my life:
- Personal productivity apps
- Subscriptions to online newsletters
- LinkedIn connections
- Facebook “friends”
- Twitter followings
Most of us have carried over physical world habits into digital world habits. I love technology, so I have a tendency to download apps that look interesting. My online subscriptions cover a wide range of topics, from wine to healthcare policy. And yes, I accept all kinds of invitations on Facebook and LinkedIn.
While my life is immeasurably enriched by this “connectedness,” I also find it sometimes overwhelming, frustrating, and distracting. Here are some things that drain me of the very same productivity that I hoped to gain using digital assets:
- Spam: this is a reality of digital life. Like cockroaches on a cruise ship, you constantly exterminate them, yet new ones pop up all the time. It’s an ongoing battle.
- Never-ending stream of alerts: This is basically due to my personal lack of discipline and sheer laziness. All of my online subscriptions are opt-ins, so I have no reason to complain about the daily or instant alerts I get based on the settings I set when I originally subscribed. However, they do cause a distraction because they end of up in my daily email flow and demand my attention, sometimes at the expense of other, more important messages. This is a huge productivity killer.
- Software updates: If I’m trying to catch up with the news for a few quick minutes before my flight takes off, I don’t want to be interrupted by a pop-up that asks me if I want to upgrade to a new version of my app. Isn’t there a way the app can update itself quietly in the background ? Maybe just a pop-up to notify me that an update has been initiated and then disappear from the screen while I continue to read the news?
- LinkedIn: Prompted helpfully by the data mining algorithms, your long-lost acquaintance from three jobs ago sends you a LinkedIn invite to connect. You accept, out of sheer politeness, and are promptly in his news feed where he regularly reposts articles from the Wall Street Journal that you and 5 million others have already read that morning. Hey, we know Obama won, you don’t have to update us.
- Facebook: If I had a dollar for every Facebook friend invite I accepted, I would be rich. I did go to a big university, and anyone who went to the same university is obviously a “friend,” or so the geeks at Facebook want us to believe. I call it “social network creep” – you end up accumulating more connections than you want, and you learn things about them that you couldn’t possibly ever be interested in.
- Twitter: All I can say is I’m glad they have restricted tweets to 140 characters.
Starting this year, I have made a New Year resolution that I will be implementing before January 1st. I am calling it my annual “digital winter cleaning.”
This is my plan:
- Review all of my online subscriptions: I will be reviewing not just the publications I am subscribed to, but all of the settings as well. Even if I want to keep my subscription, I may not really need breaking news; I may be quite content with a weekly consolidated update.
- Delete apps: There are so many apps on my smartphone, I am beginning to think I need an organizer just to manage these apps because I can never find one fast enough when I need it without swiping the screen 3-4 times. I am a big believer in “less is more,” so some of them just have to go. Including my favorite crossword app, which has kept me company during long waits at the airports.
- Remove LinkedIn connections: Yes, that’s right. Building professional connections was never really about just having someone’s business card, so why should it be any different for a LinkedIn connection? I am an avid follower of Sir Richard Branson’s updates, even though I am not connected to him. At the same time, there’s one individual I am connected to who has been advertising the same open position at his company for over 6 months, which keeps popping up every week in my daily newsfeed. There is another reason to remove connections – you may not want all of your professional connections exposed to everyone in your network. So I will be methodically purging my connections. By doing this, I also want to send a message to my true professional connections to let them know that I value the relationship I have with them.
- Review my Facebook friendships (gasp!): This one is a matter of personal preference. I rarely unfriend anyone; I merely unsubscribe from their updates so I don’t have to see every post of theirs. However, these people tend to have many “friends” in common with you, so you will occasionally see their banal comments from time to time on other people’s posts. And then there are those who don’t know the difference between Facebook and LinkedIn. You can’t win them all.
- Twitter Followings: I greatly enjoy following some people who are thoughtful in sharing links or updates that I have benefited from. And there are others – you know who they are and what they tweet about. I will be looking at all of the people I follow, and determine who I should continue to follow.
With all the information excess we have to deal with in our digital age, we don’t have to suffer self-inflicted digital excess wounds on top of everything else. Many go on various types of “diets” (even if for a short time) as a way of ridding the body and mind of unnecessary things that gather over time. It’s no different with our digital lives. Go on a digital diet – clean out the excess this month. Start the year off right.