Reducing online burden by deleting social media accounts for a 'digital clean slate'

John Halamka, MD, recently started a process that some may consider regressive. He began deleting his social media accounts to improve the signal-to-noise ratio in his life.
By John Halamka, MD
11:05 AM
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Last weekend, I started a process that some may consider regressive. I began deleting my social media accounts to improve the signal to noise ratio in my life.

10 years ago I wrote about the importance of social media and building networks of colleagues, collaborators and relationships.

During that decade our social norms have changed to the point that we walk off cliffs, text while driving, and document every microsecond of our lives on devices that have become the centerpiece of our waking hours.

The problem has gotten so profound that Google has introduced artificial intelligence technology to respond to messaging for you – "LOL," "cute dog," "a movie at 7 pm is great."

Here’s a twisted idea - maybe my wife and I should sign up for the new Google service and just let her account speak with my account while we go for a quiet walk in the forest. Problem solved. :-)

What have I done to begin cleaning up my digital life?

  • I have deleted my LinkedIn account and its thousands of incoming messages. There are 4 John Halamka profiles left - two of which are fraudulent and two of which belong to my father who passed away 3 years ago.
  • I have deleted my Plaxo account. Plaxo seems to have faded in popularity and usefulness, so maybe no one will notice.
  • I have deleted my Google+ account. Although it was an interesting idea, I found Google+ most useful to communicate with Google employees.
  • I have deleted my Microsoft Healthvault account. I no longer find it useful middleware for communication with my providers.
  • I have blocked all newsletters from Constant Contact and other "business spammers" from my inboxes.

What have I kept – my email accounts (one personal, one business), my ability to receive texts, my blog, my Twitter account (which is automatically linked to my blog via an agent) and my Facebook account. Nothing more.

I had planned on deleting my Facebook account but my wife noted that our farm communications depend upon reaching my network of contacts, so she will continue to update my Facebook network.

The end result is that I have a digital clean slate - no pending inboxes, notifications, or queues. I can go through the day not staring at my phone or receiving a cacophony of chirps/beeps/dings/bells/chimes. I can have conversations without guilt. I can mentor people without losing my train of thought. I can return to my usual work pattern of deep focus rather than superficial bursts of concentration.

Some may accuse me of losing touch or suffering a loss of agility in my 54 year old mind.

Some may say that continuous partial attention is adaptive to the interconnected global economy and that we all should adopt a communication style similar to "Spock’s Brain" – constantly responding to every input like an automaton.

I have told my staff in the past that when I’m an impediment to innovation, it’s time for me to go. I do not think this streamlining of my digital life is a sign that my losing my passion for improvement. Instead, I think I’ve changed my definition of improvement. When I first started using a Blackberry 850 in 1999, it empowered me to leave my desk and respond to incidents while traveling. A two way pager improved my productivity and mobility. Today we keep our digital devices on our nightstands and reflexively check for communications every 30 seconds (or more). They have become an addiction that makes us work more hours but not necessarily more efficiently.

I completely understand that the way we work will change over time, increasingly moving to bursts of virtual communication. At the same time, I know that innovation requires a deep dive to solve complex problems. By shedding my digital burden, while keeping a minimal number of communication modalities, I can balance my service to the community of stakeholders and the hours needed to deliver tangible products/services.

This blog post first appeared on Life as a Healthcare CIO.