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.
I am ceasing intellectual discussions on social media until March 1, 2021. I will continue blogging and promoting my own work, but will not engage until then.
— Bryan Caplan (@bryan_caplan) January 24, 2020
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.