Two years ago, I wrote an article titled “Instagram is listening to you”. At the time, I couldn’t predict the impact it would have on me. Hundreds of people sent me messages telling me stories about all the disturbing stuff happening on their phones. Radio shows asked my for comments about it and bloggers started to translate it in italian and spanish. It resonated with an audience ready to question our technology and it gave me energy to keep pushing these ideas forward.
One year ago, I decided to break up with Paris and moved to Barcelona. There were a couple of reasons why I needed to get back to Spain. First I’m spanish, and second, I really missed the atmosphere. Spain is a place where it’s easy to have a chat with anyone. People have a welcoming soul and are easy going. It’s very different from Paris. Both have their charms. Here in Barcelona, the only people I see constantly on their phones are tourists. The locals are more open and present in the moment. The day I landed in Barcelona, I decided to be outside of social media to start fresh. This “offline” experience lasted for six months. It was breath taking for me because I feel more aligned with this way of life.
This past year I had to travel back to Paris, London, and Milan for professional reasons, and even if I love these cities, I perceived a change in the vibes. Something heavy was present in the air: the penetration of smartphones into each layer of the population made me realise how invasive social media really are. I was disconnected from this phenomena because I worked hard on myself to avoid using my phone without clear intents and my efforts paid off. I connected with authentic people who used their phones only for logistic reasons but not for dopamine. The common traits of their personalities was the fact they loved themselves enough to not feel the need to be validated by social media.
A few months later, In January 2019, I went to a solo trip in Porto (Portugal) to spend some time in a place I’ve never been. All my thoughts about the impact of the Web started to click.
I locked down a plan for the book who became “The New Dope” and I started to write the first chapters.
My intention was to describe how the Internet works and then discuss the long term impact of this over-connectivity on society. However my end goal was always to educate people and challenge ideas about our usage of smartphones. It’s hard to make a change without tools so I provided practical advises both technical and behavioural to reduce the negative impact of the Web.
On my second day in Porto, I also decided to close HashtagBattle.com. This side project helped me a lot during my career and I learnt invaluable things from it. The product baseline was: “Fight on Twitter using hashtags”. It became a professional service to count hashtags in real-time on Twitter and create leader board for all kinds of events. I was dreaming about selling it to a big company but I wasn’t strong enough to do so. Not because the product was shit, but I wasn’t the guy for that. I couldn’t continue working on a product promoting social media while writing a book against it. I closed the service and everything related to it this very afternoon. Now I was in peace and aligned with myself.
Most of the book was written in public places like cafes, train stations, and airports. I was observing people for hours trying to put words on my feelings. Sometimes I could stair at someone straight in the eyes for fifteen minute without them noticing. We are totally captivated by our screens. I could see the hundreds of thumbs scrolling down through feeds in harmony, one shot of dopamine at a time. Who is responsible for this radical change? Should I blame people for using the most powerful thing we ever got? What the hell happened in the past two years?
It’s not their fault. The algorithms and companies behind the scene are way too smart to be outrun. The way our data is collected and analysed to rape our attention is so perfect that no one can escape it. These observations made me angry and pushed me to provide solutions to as much people as I could. Because I believe that we have alternatives. In the book, I touch various topics with the minimum amount of word I could to go straight to the point and help you in your journey.
My intention is to start a conversation with people who feel concerned by the impact of the Web and smartphones in particular. Enjoy the summer and remember: it’s OK to be off the grid for a few days and re-connect with yourself.