carbon copy 1: the joy of social


Hannah Hopkins studies the Internet. Every month, she’ll be answering your burning questions about what’s happening online and how we’re dealing with it. If you have questions about our lives online, find her on Twitter.

This past January, a one-woman tidiness empire was single-handedly responsible for millions of extra pounds of donations to Goodwill and a sizeable increase to curbs across the nation. Marie Kondo’s Netflix series, Tidying Up, brought the magic of her 2014 book to life for Americans drowning in the detritus of accumulating stuff, often without thinking about it.

Marie Kondo’s principles hinge upon joy: the idea that our possessions should only remain under our care as long as they spark joy for us. She encourages would-be tidiers to examine each item in their home, asking earnestly if it sparks joy for them in that moment. Yes? Perfect — folded and back on the shelf it goes. No? Let’s pass it along to someone else.

After watching all the episodes of Tidying Up in what I can only describe as beatific rapture, I took to decluttering my own life. Closets were bare and canvas totes neatly folded when I realized: the most cluttered parts of my own life were actually digital. A brief inventory: I’ve had the same email address since 2010, and I rarely deleted emails. There were about 4,000 in the inbox alone. I’ve also had the same social handles for about five years, largely without a real handle on who I was following. If Marie Kondo had helped to get my closet situation in order, surely she could help with my digital life, too — right?

Of course, we had to pose the question to the Fluf Family: How do you spring clean your social media? Here are some key takeaways:

We don’t post things that aren’t important to us.
Several respondents wrote in about cleaning up their own feeds, carefully considering what content they’re putting out into the world. In our current moment, we’ve got to stay attuned to what we’re putting out into the universe, good or bad. I’m a particular fan of the Anne Hathaway strategy:

Hathaway, on the other hand, does not in fact post anything herself. She creates the content, as it were, for her 12.8 million Instagram followers, but she sends her pictures and captions—which are sometimes lengthy—to someone else. That person holds on to them, giving Hathaway at least an hour to deliberate, and then sends posts back for final approval. “That way I look at it with fresh eyes,” the actress says. “Because once it’s out there, it’s out there.”

We’re leaving high school behind.
Overwhelmingly, we are done with high school. Most folks wrote back that they’re liberally making use of that “unfollow” button for old classmates, former co-workers, or acquaintances that we just can’t place anymore. We’re all sure that they’re fine people; we just want to be sure we only see what matters to our day-to-day. I’ve used the Tokimeki Unfollow Twitter Plugin and loved how it helped me do this.

We’re through with hate and dubious of brands.
When people described getting edgy about social media, they often referenced hate-following and following brands. For some of us, hate-follows are ways we can keep up with folks we flat-out dislike. For others, hate-follows capture a particular kind of twisted “inspiration”: we follow people who we perceive to be better than ourselves for motivation, but end up disliking ourselves in the process. For several Fluf family members, following brands started as a way to keep up with interesting marketing and products we love but has morphed into an endless reel of products we don’t need and can’t afford. Social media is just one of several avenues to connect with real people — if we keep it that way, we’ll learn who our friends are and, perhaps more importantly, who they’re not.

If you’re interested in figuring out if your own social sparks joy for you, here are some quick reminders:

  • Leverage the tool to help you: search operators and smart mailboxes in Gmail can do much of the heavy lifting for a big inbox cleanout.

  • You don’t have to follow anyone: between Twitter lists and Instagram’s “save” feature, you can keep tabs on accounts without cluttering your main feed.  

  • Turn it off: airplane mode and/or Do Not Disturb are wonderful practices to work into your everyday rhythm. I’m reading How to Do Nothing right now, and I’d buy you a copy today if I could.

All this in mind, I took a weekend last month and finally cleared out my Gmail inbox — everything is tucked away into folders, and I’m not missing nearly as many meeting requests buried under dozens of junky notifications. I unsubscribed from over 100 Listservs, newsletters, and marketing emails. I unfollowed dozens of strangers and people I hadn’t seen in a decade. Oddly enough, it was only after shedding what didn’t quite spark joy for me in the moment that I was able to see the source of so much of my frustration with social media in the first place. While platforms can be useful for connecting us to faraway friends and family, social media can obscure the very real opportunities we have to be present in the moment.

If you’re feeling joyless and zapped by the level of attention your social accounts are demanding these days, you’re not alone. If I’ve learned anything from Marie Kondo this spring, it’s that maybe it’s just fine to hold something in our hands, thank it for what it’s done for us, and then let it all go.

Have a burning question about digital life for Carbon Copy? Get in touch with Hannah here.

photos by Sarah Crawford