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My Social Media Experiment: A Self-Assessment

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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. Here's why:https://t.co/bPAdhuxFpg — 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

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Early last year, I foresaw the epistemic horrors of the impending 2020 election, so I made this pledge.

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.

Bryan Caplan
Bryan Caplan is Professor of Economics at George Mason University and Senior Scholar at the Mercatus Center. He has published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the American Economic Review, the Economic Journal, the Journal of Law and Economics, and Intelligence, and has appeared on 20/20, FoxNews, and C-SPAN. Bryan Caplan blogs on EconLog.

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