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Unfollowing Everybody

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Unfollowing Everybody

At this point, there's nothing novel about noticing that social media is often toxic and stressful. But even aside from those concerns, our social networks are not things we generally think of as requiring maintenance or upkeep, even though we routinely do regular updates on all the other aspects of our digital lives.

Keeping in mind that spirit of doing necessary maintenance, I recently did something I'd thought about doing for years: I unfollowed everyone on Twitter. Now, these kinds of decisions are oddly fraught; a lot of people see their following relationships on social media as a form of status, not merely an indication of where information is flowing between people. But I decided to assume that the people I'm connected to know that me unfollowing everyone isn't personal, but really just a response to the overwhelming noise of having more than 5000 accounts sharing info with me on a single network.


How I did it

Okay, this part is gonna get slightly geeky, if you're not a coder, but I thought I'd explain the process in case anyone wants to repeat it.

Years ago, Twitter used to have a command-line interface for performing bulk or automated actions on an account. They abandoned it after a while, so Erik Berlin created a new command-line tool for power users of Twitter, simply called "t". It's written in Ruby (a language I basically can read but not really write) so it's easy enough to get running if you follow the few simple setup steps.

As Erik mentions in that documentation, you'll then need to set up a new Twitter app on your account, and get the credentials that will let the t tool perform actions on your Twitter account. (Note: I got some errors while updating and authenticating; making these edits to one of the ruby libraries that t depends on fixed the issue immediately.)

The Plan

At that point, I wanted to follow a few simple steps. These took a little longer for me because I was following over 5,000 people on Twitter, but if you're following a more reasonable number, none of these steps should take more than a few minutes to complete. This was my plan:

  1. Copy all the people I was following to a Twitter list, so I could still access them in my Twitter apps on all my devices, and I could still see my old timeline at any point if I wanted to.
  2. Archive all of the people I was following into a spreadsheet, so I could sort through them and filter for geography or how many followers they have or whether they were verified or not — basically any criteria that might be interesting when deciding who to follow (or not follow).
  3. Actually unfollow everybody and start over.

As it turns out, each of these steps is pretty easy.

Copying all your followers to a List

If you want to back up all of your followers, you only need to make a list and then populate it. You can make lists in most regular Twitter apps, but to do it at the command line it's simple: type in t list create following-`date "+%Y-%m-%d"` to make a list named after the current date, so you can easily remember this was a list of who you were following as of today. You can pretty easily understand the t syntax here — commands like list create are pretty self-explanatory.

Next, we have a slightly more elaborate command to copy all of your followers to the new list; you'll dump out a list of everyone you follow, and then pipe that into another t command to add them to your new list. It works like so: t followings | xargs t list add following-`date "+%Y-%m-%d"`. (If you're like me, you'll be doing all this stuff around midnight, and the date will change in the middle of it, and you should just type in the current date instead of using date variables.)

That's it! Now you've got a list of all your followers, and if you browse that list in your Twitter client app, you should see the exact same thing as your regular timeline. Do note, though, that Twitter lists don't function well with more than a few thousand followers. It took hours for all 5,000+ of my followers to show up on the list, and in the interim the counts of how many people belonged to the list were often incorrect.

Archiving your followers into a spreadsheet

This one is just a fun thing to do in general, if you like to slice and dice data about your social network. t supports exporting a pretty broad set of data about your followers, not just their names and Twitter handles, by allowing for a "long format" export with complete data. You get stuff like how many favorites (likes) they have on Twitter, when their account was created, and how many people they follow or are followed by. Frustratingly, Twitter no longer makes it easy for this data export to include whether that person follows you or not; that requires an additional query.

You'll use CSV (comma-separated values) as the format for exporting your data into a spreadsheet. And good news! t supports that natively. So your command will look like this: t followings -l --csv > followings.csv which basically says "Export my followings, in long format, to a CSV file named 'followings.csv'." Once you do that, you can open it up in Excel or Google Sheets in a few clicks, and you're all set.

Unfollowing Everybody

After all the people I followed were in a spreadsheet, I was able to sort by how many followers or followings they had, and also their last update, and I found friends who'd passed away whose accounts had been dormant for years, or joke accounts whose relevance had expired, or quiet voices with small networks that had been drowned out amongst the cacophany of the many other voices I was hearing each day. I found this part to be a really worthwhile exercise, and definitely decided to follow fewer people with huge networks and lots of reach.

Actually unfollowing!

Then, it was time for the main event: actually unfollowing everybody. I don't think this will be as much of a problem for other folks, but trying to run a single process of unfollowing everybody had me repeatedly running into Twitter's rate limits, where they try to keep any app from performing too many actions on your account in too short a period of time. I ended up writing a simple script to do the unfollowing in batches, then pausing for a few minutes, then starting up again.

But with a more reasonable network, the command to unfollow everyone is extremely simple:

t followings | xargs t unfollow

It'll chug away for a few minutes, and then that's it! You're not following anybody anymore. Except it might still look like you are.

In my case, my follower count was wrong for days, and kept showing wildly inaccurate information like insisting that I was following one of Mike Pence's official accounts. (Needless to say, that was never the case.) All of this is due to a architectural decision called eventual consistency, which helps enable Twitter to scale to its massive size, but doesn't do as good a job of handling unusual circumstances like being able to immediately see the correct list of followers for someone who has just unfollowed thousands of accounts.

Nevertheless, the deed was done. I refollowed a few essential accounts (my family, @Glitch and @Prince, and was ready to start anew.

Lessons learned

It's been about a week and a half, and, well... Twitter is a lot more pleasant. I've chosen a handful of accounts to follow each day (most ones that I followed before, some entirely new to me) and it's made a big difference. On the flip side, about 100 people seem to have unfollowed me after I unfollowed everybody, and I hope they hadn't felt obligated just to reciprocate if I was following them before. (That might also just be how many people unfollow me in a given week, I dunno.)

One of the most immediate benefits is that, when something terrible happens in the news, I don't see an endless, repetitive stream of dozens of people reacting to it in succession. It turns out, I don't mind knowing about current events, but it hurts to see lots of people I care about going through anguish or pain when bad news happens. I want to optimize for being aware, but not emotionally overwhelmed.

To that point, I've also basically not refollowed any news accounts or "official" corporate accounts. Anything I need to know about major headlines gets surfaced through other channels, or even just other parts of Twitter, so I don't need to see social media updates from media companies whose entire economic model is predicated on causing me enough stress to click through to their sites.

Similarly, I've focused a lot more on artists and activists and people who write about the stuff I'm obsessed with in general — Prince or mangoes or urban transit or the like. That brings a lot more joy into my life, and people writing about these other topics offer alot more inspiration for the things I want to be focused on. Oddly, given that my job is being the CEO of a tech company, I follow far fewer people in tech, and almost no tech company accounts except for my own. Despite that, I've missed almost nothing significant in the industry since making this change.

The algorithm is learning

Most interesting to me is how the suggested content and accounts on Twitter have changed since I changed my network. Before, much of the suggested headlines or featured Tweets in my Twitter apps would be from categories like "Technology VC"; now they're much more likely to be about "Climate Change" or "Comedians" than about inside-baseball tech talk.

On the less positive side, Twitter still suggests that I follow accounts that are almost entirely men, and overwhelmingly white American men with verified Twitter accounts. This is bizarre to me as I'm now following nearly 100 accounts, and they're basically the same mix of races and genders and geographies that I've always been interested in hearing from. I would have expected Twitter's follow-suggestion algorithm to be at least as adaptive as its content-suggestion one, and hope that it'll get updated to feature accounts that don't fit the usual privileged patterns. (I do still follow a lot of verified accounts, but some of that is due to an oddity I've just realized, which is that a lot of my friends have verified accounts. Look, ma — I'm a big-city elite!)

What Follows

I don't have some grand takeaway about what all this means; obviously, I've been thinking about the design and impacts and best use of social networks on the web for basically as long as they've existed. I strongly believe we should be intentional in how we use our networks, and even spent years building tools to encourage that, though the corporate interest of the major social networks precludes building a business around encouraging healthier use of their platforms.

But I'm happy for making a conscious decision about managing my network, and I lament that it takes a pretty extreme level of technical knowledge to be able to do so. I first wrote about Twitter when it was only a few months old, talking about its promise and predicting that Twitter would adopt @messaging and adapt to other ways its community was inventing new behaviors. Some of that happened, but of course most of what power users (and vulnerable users) wanted was never created.

I've also written a good bit about the peculiarities of having a large network in social media, like Twitter's early practice of suggesting which accounts to follow (including mine!) and what it's like to have the social network of a famous person without actually being famous. I think a lot about why I "favorite" (or like) so many things on various networks. And I also hope people can think more broadly about the ways the design of social networks intersects with how we see ourselves, and how we see social status, as best exemplified by the huge social anxieties around what it's like being verified on Twitter.

And ultimately, I come back to what I wrote a few years ago when I first decided to stop retweeting men (a practice I've followed for about half a decade now):

If you’re inclined, try being mindful of whose voices you share, amplify, validate and promote to others.

It's still a really important point, and to this list I would only add: Also be mindful about who you follow. And don't be afraid sometimes to reset and start over.

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jmontano
116 days ago
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Interesting idea. Unfollow everyone on Twitter
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Gig economy versus economía de la explotación

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IMAGE: Ian Carroll on Flickr (CC BY)Era una noche lluviosa de viernes de un mes de mayo inusualmente lluvioso en Madrid. Salí de una clase a última hora, pasadas las diez de la noche. Pasé por el garaje, me subí en el coche, y salí conduciendo a María de Molina con intención de doblar la esquina de la calle Serrano como hago todos los días. También como todos los días, pasé por delante de los restaurantes que hay en esa acera, Goiko Grill y Tierra

… y entonces, los vi. Eran unos siete u ocho repartidores de Glovo, Deliveroo y Uber Eats, con sus motos o bicicletas, todos esperando fuera de los restaurantes, bajo la lluvia. Cuando llegan para recoger el pedido, no les dejan entrar porque no tienen ninguna zona dentro del restaurante diseñada para que puedan esperar, así es que no les dejan entrar. Esos dos locales tampoco tienen ningún tipo de soportal o cornisa que les proteja de la lluvia, y la imagen me pareció penosa, como auténticos perros mojados esperando fuera bajo la lluvia. Una visión que cambió muchas de las percepciones que tenía sobre el tema. Por bien pertrechado que vayas, esperar así fuera de un restaurante y conducir una moto o una bicicleta bajo la lluvia tiene que ser cualquier cosa menos agradable, y me pareció prácticamente una afrenta a la dignidad. Si además lo haces sin ningún tipo de contrato, sin asegurar, sin derecho a vacaciones, a descansos regulados, a bajas por enfermedad o a beneficios sociales, la situación deja llamarse sharing economy, deja de tener la bonita imagen emprendedora y la pátina de los negocios disruptivos, y pasa a ser otra cosa: pura y dura explotación.

Se ha escrito mucho sobre las duras condiciones de trabajo de los repartidores de este tipo de compañías, pero no hay como verlo en una ocasión así, siete repartidores empapados esperando bajo la lluvia, para entenderlo. Puedes utilizar estos servicios para pedir comida o para otras cosas, pero si hablas con el repartidor cuando llega a tu casa y le preguntas cuántas horas lleva trabajando y cuánto va a ganar, te das cuenta de que estás ante la distopía de un trabajo que supone, en realidad, un retroceso inaceptable en lo que deberían ser las condiciones de trabajo de un ser humano, una auténtica afrenta a la dignidad.

A finales del año pasado, Glovo levantó una segunda ronda de financiación de $30 millones tras la primera de $5 millones. Deliveroo, por su parte, captó $385 millones para una valoración total que supera ya los $2,000 millones y, en un derroche de generosidad, repartió $13,5 millones en acciones entre todos sus empleados… excepto sus repartidores, porque no son empleados como tales. Para los repartidores, los que de verdad ejecutan el trabajo que constituye el valor añadido de la compañía… nada, cero, niente, zilch, rien de rien. El el caso de Uber Eats, el servicio de reparto de comida que más crece en los Estados Unidos por delante de competidores como Grubhub, Postmates, DoorDash o Caviar, las condiciones son prácticamente las mismas, aunque con una diferencia: al menos, la compañía ofrece a sus repartidores en Europa un seguro gratuito que los protege en caso de enfermedad o accidentes.

¿Qué tipo de economía estamos generando? ¿Tiene sentido crear compañías que aprovechan un agujero legal, la consideración del trabajo freelance, para construir imperios económicos basados en una distorsión, en personas que llevan a cabo un trabajo en muchas ocasiones a tiempo completo, pero sin ninguno de los beneficios que un trabajo a tiempo completo debería conllevar? Contratos laborales encubiertos, personas que dedican jornadas completas a trabajar para la misma compañía, pero en unas condiciones en las que cualquier accidente, cualquier enfermedad o cualquier problema los deja completamente desprotegidos, sin ingresos, sin beneficio alguno. Obviamente, lo que comenzaron siendo trabajos entendidos para que alguien los desempeñase en sus ratos libres, como fuente adicional de ingresos o con condiciones en las que la flexibilidad suponía un beneficio interesante, han rizado el rizo y se han sublimado para convertirse en una explotación que tiene lugar al margen de lo que la sociedad entendía ya superado en cuanto a protección de los trabajadores.

En el Reino Unido, Pimplico Plumbers, la compañía de fontanería independiente más grande del Reino Unido con ingresos de más de veinte millones de libras, fue llevada a juicio por Gary Smith, un fontanero que trabajó para ella supuestamente como contratado independiente entre agosto de 2005 y abril de 2011. El resultado del juicio, como corresponde al hecho de ser un fallo del estamento judicial más alto del Reino Unido, podría tener importantes consecuencias: tras varias rondas de apelaciones, el Tribunal Supremo ha dictaminado que la compañía debería haber tratado a Smith como trabajador con derecho a vacaciones, y ha estimado su decisión de demandar a la compañía bajo las leyes de protección a la discriminación, en una decisión que podría tener numerosas ramificaciones para otras compañías. Según el fallo del máximo tribunal británico, Smith no trabajaba por cuenta propia ni como contratado independiente de la compañía, sino que era un fontanero con un trabajo de fontanero como tal, con todos sus ingresos procedentes de la misma compañía, y con una jornada de trabajo estándar.

En algún momento, deberíamos detenernos y analizar la evolución de las cosas. Si alguien trabaja para una compañía, lleva a cabo algo que se parece a una jornada de trabajo normal y recibe unos ingresos razonablemente constantes procedentes regularmente de esa misma compañía, esa persona, por mucho que a la compañía no le venga bien interpretarlo así, es un trabajador, y debe recibir el tratamiento que corresponde a su condición de trabajador. Otra cosa podría ser cuando una persona trabaja un número de horas más bajo, no de manera regular, o simplemente utiliza ese tipo de trabajos para obtener algunos ingresos extras, pero incluso en esos casos, deberíamos asegurarnos que, al menos, goza de unas protecciones razonables para el desempeño de ese trabajo, al menos en cuanto a lo que corresponde a una cobertura razonable en caso de accidente o daños, que trabaja un número de horas razonable como para estar en condiciones de seguir haciéndolo. Soluciones basadas en blockchain, por ejemplo, son susceptibles de aportar a la gig economy el nivel de control adicional que obviamente necesita.

La flexibilidad es un valor muy interesante y, en muchos casos, una buena propuesta de valor en la economía. Pero construir esa flexibilidad en torno a la desprotección, a la explotación o a la consolidación de situaciones irregulares es algo que no debería permitirse en economías modernas. Algo que, además, se soluciona simplemente aplicando leyes que ya existen desde hace mucho tiempo y sancionando especialmente a aquellos que traten de retorcer esas leyes en su beneficio. El progreso debe ser progreso para todos los implicados, encaje o no encaje esto en la cuenta de resultados. Entre la llamada gig economy y la pura y dura explotación hay una linea, y no es tan fina como algunos quieren hacer ver.

 

 

 

This post is also available in English in my Medium page, “Gig economy versus exploitation economy” 

 

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jmontano
152 days ago
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These cats have a helluva time figuring out how to pass each other on narrow ledge

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Two cats facing each other on a narrow ledge want to pass each other, but it isn't easy.

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jmontano
213 days ago
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Watch this lovely tribute to Isao Takahata's groundbreaking animation career

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Animation visionary Isao Takahata of Studio Ghibli fame died on April 5, and Smithsonian magazine published a great written overview that complements the video essay above. (more…)

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jmontano
216 days ago
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Short film made entirely of Instagram posts of the Mona Lisa

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Mona Lisa Selfie compiles just a fraction of the images taken by the six million annual visitors to the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. (more…)

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jmontano
374 days ago
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Wasted! Looks at the major issue of food waste

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Chef Anthony Bourdain hosts this interesting documentary on the massive amount of wasted food in our current supply chain, and how it could be diverted from landfills to feed humans, animals, and plants. (more…)

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jmontano
374 days ago
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