Get Exclusive: The Digital Alternative to Social Media

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Remember the annual family newsletter?

From about the time I was seven or eight years old, I was in charge of writing my family’s annual holiday newsletter—a job I would put on my resume today if others took it as seriously as I did. 

In this snail-mailed update, the newsletter usually followed a familiar recipe; 

  • greetings intro blurb
  • family update paragraph
  • dad paragraph
  • mom paragraph
  • older brother paragraph
  • my own paragraph
  • a conclusion 

I aimed to keep it short enough to only use the front of one sheet of paper—a practice that I feel has enhanced my editing skills to this day.  

Just as we enjoyed mailing this letter out to far-flung family and friends, we also thoroughly enjoyed receiving others. From November through December, we’d fish one out of a pile on the center of the dining room table to read over the morning’s bowl of cereal or on a lazy weekend afternoon. 

Sadly, after a while, most families stopped putting out annual newsletters. 

What killed them? It wouldn’t be going out on a limb to blame the emergence of social media.

Gone are the days are, “I wonder what the Hendersons are up to.” 

Family milestones are simply “reacted” to with the click of a heart-shaped button and a reheated, “So cute,” “That’s fantastic,” or “Thoughts and prayers.” 

In-person conversations and email correspondences have been reduced to, 

“Yeah, I saw that you had posted about that,” and “I know, I laughed so hard when I saw that post…”

Is it possible that too much digital socialization can leave us feeling even more detached from physical socialization than physical detachment? 

I believe so. And I think there is a better way.

Enter: the personal newsletter. 

The Personal Email Newsletter

It works like this: 

The Gist

  • Those who desire to keep up with one’s life the same way they do on social media only simply need to subscribe to their email newsletter through a free online email subscription tool (more about that in a second). 
  • The author of the newsletter keeps their curated group of friends (not to be confused with acquaintances) updated with a periodic email newsletter.

No Hard Feelings

  • The author can choose to deny subscription requests from anyone they don’t feel close enough to receive their updates—no hard feelings.
  • On the flip side, if any reader decides they don’t want to receive these email updates anymore, they simply unsubscribe—also, no hard feelings.
  • Vanity metrics, such as any open rates or engagement, should be avoided at all costs. These newsletters are about the quality of the connection, not the quantity of the readership.
  • Authors should feel free to keep access to their newsletters exclusive. The higher the quality of your relationships with your readers, the more honest you can be in your newsletters. Remember “Dunbar’s Number” —the theory that our brains can really only juggle a maximum of around 150 relationships. After that, it’s wishful thinking. Your subscriber count will likely be many times less than that, but each connection will be of a higher quality. 
  • Do not subscribe to acquaintances with whom you don’t intend to make closer friends. A subscription is no place for voyeurism. Ask yourself, “If I saw them in person in a bar and I was alone, would I feel ok about asking them to pull up a seat?” If the answer isn’t “absolutely,” don’t subscribe to their newsletter.

The Less Frequent, the Better

  • Authors are encouraged to be as light or as deep as they want. Newsletters can cover just the basics, remain lighthearted, or go into deep issues close to the author’s heart.
  • Feel free to respond to someone’s newsletter to spark a friendly email correspondence. Better yet, save your questions about the nature of their newsletter for an in-person interaction—perhaps over a coffee or a pint. Though covid-conditions make this problematic for the time being, there will come a time when questions about a thought-provoking newsletter should result in a scheduled time to grab a coffee or a drink for an in-person discussion.  
  • Authors should strive to limit how frequently they send these newsletters to reduce the likelihood of inundating the readers’ inboxes. Instead of posting any thought you have, consider compiling your thoughts on a single note on your phone or computer and curating these thoughts into your monthly, seasonally, and even annual newsletter.  

The Tools

  • Do not email a list through your email service. Not only does this expose email addresses to others, but it removes their ability to unsubscribe from your newsletters. Failing to use a newsletter service may result in getting your address flagged as spam or even damaging your relationships.
  • TinyLetter: Though a free email service that follows all of these guidelines to the above specifications does not yet exist, I’ve found that TinyLetter is the closest email newsletter tool for these purposes. Its stripped-down nature lends itself well to personal email newsletters. Its subscription tools allow friends to easily subscribe and unsubscribe as they so choose.
  • The use of mobile note-taking applications greatly aids newsletter development. Instead of feeling the need to post every idea that com es to mind on a social media platform, collecting thoughts in the moment for later posts will result in a higher quality correspondence experience. I prefer Google Keep. Others may like Evernote, OneNote, or Notion. Sometimes, I’ll even journal on a Google Doc kept in Drive on my phone. Whether you use a note-taking app or a paper notebook, the most crucial part is recalling your notes later for future newsletter updates. 

In Conclusion

Moving to a newsletter-based approach to online socialization is meant to use technology as a tool for fostering high-quality friendships, not digital voyeurism or social skimming. While you may not have nearly the number of personal newsletter readers as friends on Facebook, that’s a good thingmost of those people aren’t your friends anyway.

Cheers to cultivating genuine, high-quality friendships.

6 Thoughts Upon Reactivating My Facebook Profile After 16 Months

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New eyes. Similar issues.

About 16 months ago, I deactivated my personal Facebook profile for reasons I covered in a previous article. This week, in preparation for a move, I reactivated it to offload stuff on Facebook Marketplace. In the meantime, I decided to give the platform a second look. The following are my thoughts.

1. It was nice to catch up.

For as much trash as I have been talking on Facebook for over the last year, it was refreshing to revisit the profiles of many people I hadn’t heard from since my departure from the platform. Seeing how much their kids had grown, what they were up to, and interacting with them in the comments section was what my quarantine-tarnished spirit needed.

2. It’s definitely not a replacement for socialization.

There are many that use Facebook as a replacement for natural socialization. During these times of pandemic and lockdowns, there’s some logic to this. Still, I believe that this type of socialization may even be worse than no socialization at all.

Let me explain:

In a natural social encounter, any conversation is typically confined to the number of people who can occupy one restaurant booth — I’ll even include those big corner ones that require a butt-scoot to get into and an awkward request to get out of when you have to pee. The conversation darts from person to person — either just two people or seven — like a game of hot potato. And it’s one of the most enjoyable experiences one can have — one that has even been shown to lengthen our lifespan. This is not what happens on Facebook.

On Facebook, I essentially take control of my own jumbotron and blurt something in the form of a post. Others then “react” (their lingo, not mine) with sub-posts of their own. What results is not a conversation, but a subliminal performance for a large audience. And performances, realized or subconscious…are exhausting. That’s frequently why after a scroll session, I don’t feel invigorated, but downright drained — and worse, anxious, which leads to the next thing I noticed.

3. I can’t truly turn it off.

Because it had been over a year since my last posting, I felt it would at least be nice to catch my “friends” up on the gist of what had transpired since we last exchanged the proverbial ones and zeroes. I typed up a 500-ish-word update on the state of my immediate family and posted it along with a few pictures taken since then. The “reactions” immediately poured in — Likes, Hearts, and occasional comments.

“Hmm, how nice,” I thought and then went to have dinner with my family.

All throughout dinner, wondering how others were interacting with that post ran in my mind — not in the front, but in the back, like a program running on a computer. While interacting with my family over a delicious meal, the post’s “performance” metrics ran in the background.

After helping get our son ready for bed, tidying the living room, and pouring myself a glass of wine, I returned to my laptop to see how the post was “performing.” Because I refuse to look at social media on my phone, there I was — checking the stats on the equivalent of a family newsletter to my 654 “friends” in the dark.

And for what? Metrics that suddenly felt emptier than ever.

4. I’d trade a million “likes” for one meaningful comment.

Back when I was an avid Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter user, “likes” “loves” and “favorites” were my key performance indicators (“KPIs” for those in the biz). I don’t know what has changed in the past 16 months, but the present significance of these one-click interactions don’t correspond to their intended emotional correlation of “I like this” or “I love this” Rather, they feel to me more like, “I’ve observed this and find it palatable” or even just, “I want you to know that I’ve witnessed your post.”

And while I’d trade a million “likes” for a comment, I’ve noticed that many people’s comments aren’t much more supportive than their single-click versions. Comments that once wielded new perspectives or a truly sympathetic timbre now feel boilerplate, microwaved, and lacking genuine connection — like small talk about the weather or the banal “how was your weekend?” “Not too bad. And you?” chitchat.

beautiful social media comments

5. Let’s face it — most of it is a performance.

I’m far from innocent of the practice of portraying my family life as sterling. While I do feel like my immediate family unit is pretty incredible, there are items I choose to conceal.

  • Like the time when my son tripped on a pillow this week and busted his lip open on the coffee table, leaving some of the skin of his upper lip stuck between his tiny teeth —leaving one of my favorite shirts with toddler bloodstains.
  • Like how I’ve had to call the police multiple times at 3 AM due to the mentally-imbalanced, blood-curdling-yet-involuntary shrieks of an extremely close neighbor whom I believe has been abandoned to live by herself by…who knows.
  • Like how my home office desk is about eight feet from my cat’s litter box.
  • Like how I suffered from severe hypochondria-induced anxiety around the beginning of the summer leading up to my routine CT-scan because I’m in remission from testicular cancer.

Fortunately, my son’s lip healed up in about a day, my anxiety dissipated (or I got over it — not precisely sure which happened), and we’re moving soon away from that poor screaming lady to a home with more room for a home office.

To onlookers who viewed my update, I received comments such as “Glad to see you’re doing well!” — a comment that is totally appropriate based on the filters I subconsciously massaged into the post. But I’m far from the only one. These are the performances and curated lives I see up and down my timeline. While most would say there’s nothing wrong with these, it tends to make one ask two questions:

1. “Is their life actually as amazing as they make it appear?”

And more dangerously:

2. Why can’t my life be that perfect?”

social media disclaimer
Photo by Christopher Ott

As a dear friend Brian Hughes said in a recent email exchange with him on this subject:

“We are all the stars of our Facebook page…love me, acknowledge me, encourage me, agree with me, ‘you go girl’, etc… It’s like blowing air into a balloon but not tying it off. It leaks out quickly and needs more ‘air’ constantly.”

An apt analogy, Hughesy.

6. It’s been ok for me to let go of most of these “friends.”

It’s true that we don’t include our true selves in our posts out of fear of not providing a positive Facebook viewing experience for others. I didn’t post the details about my anxiety or my son’s busted lip because it didn’t seem like the place. I also feared being judged by many “friends” — most of whom are acquaintances at best.

The Game Changer: Dunbar’s Number

Engaging in these social performances for acquaintances can be mentally exhausting. It wasn’t until I learned about “Dunbar’s Number” that I learned why.

According to acclaimed anthropologist, Robin Dunbar, there is a cognitive limit to how many relationships we can effectively juggle — roughly 150. As he put it, 150 is “the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar.” Just think about your own Facebook “friends” — how many of them, if spotted in a pub or coffee shop, would you feel ok about inviting to pull up a chair or bar stool to shoot the breeze?

How many Facebook “friends” have you actually hidden from in public? C’mon — you know you’ve done it.

If we’re honest with ourselves, given the option, most of these people would not bother to maintain an email correspondence with us, much less a meaningful in-person friendship. How do I know this? Because I tried it. After days of both displaying Instagram and Facebook posts announcing my leaving of the platforms and my desire to carry on email correspondence, only one person who didn’t before have my email address reached out. Thanks, Roger.

Everyone else was already close enough friends to already have my phone number and my email address or, I’m assuming, didn’t care to continue a digital friendship with me on another platform.

And you know what? That’s fine. Nobody needs 654 “friends.”

In Conclusion

While the sounds of crickets in my inbox after announcing my departure from most social media platforms would have made me feel down in June of 2019 when I originally left Facebook, these days, that’s not the case. The fact that so few have reciprocated my requests to continue friendships offline leads me to two possible conclusions:

1. I’m a jerk.
2. We don’t need to fake being friends.

  • Genuine friends would want to hear about your highs and your lows.
  • True pals will return your calls.
  • Legitimate buddies will actually check up on you.
  • Real amigos will put their phones away when you sit down for a drink.

When they ask you how you’re doing, they’re not just making small talk — they genuinely want to know.

I feel immensely blessed to have wonderful people in my life. I wish the present times allowed for more in-person interaction, but for now, I cherish the one-on-one interaction of a phone call or even an email or text correspondence.

So, I’m deactivating again — not because I’m better than Facebook, but because I’m too easily fooled and distracted. A multi-billion-dollar industry wants my attention. And it wants to convince me that these 654 people are my “friends.” 95% of them aren’t, and I’m ok with that. If anything, that frees me up to focus on the 5% who are. If I can enjoy a pint with the 32.7 of them that remain and ask, “how are you really doing?” through good times and bad, that means more to me than a billion “likes.”


If you enjoyed this piece, consider subscribing. Thanks. – Ken

Waking Up: We’re Focusing On the Wrong Metric

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Even after we’ve grown up, we still believe in superheroes. 

The “work hard, play hard” mentality has convinced a generation of “wantrepreneurs” that hard work, long hours, and a swiss-army-knife-array of lifehacks are the key to success. Those who can endure such grueling schedules are not only seen as more than successful—they’re superhuman

An obsession with the lifestyles of high-achieving entrepreneurs and personalities has led many to fixate on a popular hustle metric: what time you get up in the morning. 

And guess what? According to recent scientific research, they’d have to be superhuman for such lifestyles to be sustainable. 

The Downside of Irresponsible Early Rising

The appeal of getting up early is the goal of adding hours to one’s days. Though you stayed up late, getting up early gives you a headstart on life—providing time to exercise, tend to your wellbeing, or squeeze in an edge on the snoozing competition. However, science says that the wakefulness we steal from our mornings to pay for this edge are debts that will very likely come due. 

According to sleep scientist, Matthew Walker  and author of the acclaimed book, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, forgoing the medical community’s recommended quantity of sleep is associated with a shorter, more disease-ridden life. 

“Every disease that is killing us in developed nations has causal and significant links to a lack of sleep,” Walker reports. “So, that classic maxim that you may [have] heard that you can sleep when you’re dead—it’s actually mortally unwise advice from a very serious standpoint.”

Sleep & Dementia

Most of us are familiar with the zombie-like walk to the bathroom after a night of bad sleep and the brain fog that looms over our day. This sensation may be a precursor to a more permanent condition. New studies have found a startling association between insufficient sleep and the likelihood of greater cognitive decline

Our waking brain has been found to maintain a build-up of metabolic waste. This beta-amyloid waste has been associated with the impairment of communication between neurons present in Alzheimer’s patients.  Though this sounds scary, there’s a bright side: like running the dishwasher overnight on pots and pans, sufficient sleep releases a flood of cerebrospinal fluid to wash this waste away. 

Failing to achieve sufficient sleep can be compared to leaving your dried peanut-butter-coated china in the dishwasher overnight and hoping a light rinse will leave them adequately ready for important company the next day. 

In Why We Sleep, Walker contributed two examples of famous high-achievers who frequently boasted their lack of a need for sufficient sleep—the U.S. President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Both of these officials were known for their almost superhuman ability to function on very little sleep. What else did they have in common? They both later suffered from severe dementia that robbed them of their mental acuity and likely shortened their lives. Though these are just two examples, the before mentioned has established associations between a lack of sleep and advanced cognitive decline.

Sufficient Sleep Recommendations

So, what is considered insufficient sleep? 3 hours a night? 4 hours a night? Think again: anything below 6 hours a night.  

In addition to cognitive decline, Walker’s research has also linked insufficient sleep to a significant increase in the likelihood of developing:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Cancer
  • Obesity
  • Disrupted sex hormones and infertility
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • An overall depleted immune system 

In other words, any condition that can kill you is aided by insufficient sleep. To add insult to injury, Walker pointed out in a noted TED Talk that men who only sleep five hours a night have, on average, been found to have smaller testicles. So, in case you needed any other reason to get more sleep, fellas—there you go.  

The Time You Should Be Obsessed With

What is the most important alarm for those who want to get an early start? It’s definitely not their morning alarm, but an evening alarm. Because the evening hours are notorious for slipping by us, setting evening “get ready for bed” and “lights out” alarms are your best bet to getting to bed at a time required to receive sufficient sleep—anywhere from between 7-9 hours of sleep, according to Walker. 

Powering Down in Phases

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with getting up early. If anything, some of the highest performing athletes also beat the dawn. However, unlike many of their peers in achievement, professional athletes carefully structure their hours of sleep. How do they do this? By regimenting and guarding their evening activities. In addition to a designated “light’s out” time, many sleep guardians are known to practice power-down phases to prepare their bodies and minds for sleep.

Noted triathlete Chris Leiferman has reported an evening schedule that he and his wife are committed to observing: 

“I follow the same bedtime routine and start getting ready for bed around 9 p.m. My wife and I turn off the TV and don’t look at our phones other than setting the alarm to have 30-45 minutes of no ‘blue’ light before we go to sleep. I then read a book to get my eyes tired, then I kiss my wife goodnight, and I’m out cold in a couple of minutes.”

Following a similar routine can ensure you receive sufficient sleep.

Bring the Lights Down

As the sun sets, you should also start to bring down the lighting in your home. Turn off unnecessary lights and soften any that you can. Increased lighting in the home has been found to suppress melatonin—a key sleep hormone.

Reduce Blue Light Sources

While turning off bright overhead lights can help you prepare for bed, your favorite devices can also be suppressing your melatonin and throwing off your circadian rhythms by emitting generous amounts of blue light. Televisions, computer monitors, and phone screens are the worst offenders. About an hour before bed, try to limit your use of such disruptive devices. Instead, opt for that book you’ve been meaning to get to, journal about what’s on your mind, or play a board game with another member of your household.

What to Avoid Before Bed

To ensure quality sleep, there are several behaviors and consumables you will want to avoid. Some of these seem fairly straightforward. Others seem counterintuitive. 

  • Alcohol: Though it can feel like the occasional glass or two of wine can help you nod off easier, its key ingredient can lead to later tossing and turning. Though the alcohol can help you drift off, the body won’t begin to fully metabolize it until later—a process that can leave your body feeling restless. The consumption of alcohol before bed has also been found to inhibit deep R.E.M. sleep.  
  • Caffeine after 5 PM: Though caffeine only spikes your energy levels for about a half-hour to an hour after consumption, its effects can linger for as much as five hours. Yes, that trip to Starbucks after work may be the reason you’re still tossing and turning at night.
  • Exercise: I’ll admit, I used to enjoy using up the last of my energy for the day with a jump rope in my driveway at 9 PM. However, the effort of intense exercise can spike levels of cortisol—your body’s main stress hormone. For this reason, keep your exercise to no more than three hours before lights out.
  • Distractions in the bed: As we’ve mentioned above, the blue light from TV, computer, and mobile devices can inhibit the production of melatonin—disrupting your brain’s circadian rhythms. While all screens should be avoided in bed, your bed should also be treated as a place reserved for two things—1. Sleep 2. Sex. Watching TV, working on a laptop, or even reading books can muddy your brain’s understanding of the purpose of your bed and result in restlessness. 
  • Sleep aids: For many, getting to bed means popping a popular sedative. There’s only one problem with that—sedation and sleep are not synonymous mental states. Natural sleep is an incredibly elaborate restorative process of the mind and body. Sedatives, on the other hand, simply induce unconsciousness without many of the other attributes of sleep. As Matthew Walker put it, “We don’t have any good pharmacological approach right now to replicate such a nuanced and complex set of biological changes.”  

In Bed ≠ Time Asleep

When running the numbers on how to achieve sufficient sleep, remember to leave a window of time to actually fall asleep. For most healthy individuals, falling asleep takes about 10 to 20 minutes on average.  For this reason, it’s important to differentiate “lights out” from “sleeping” time. 

What to Do When You Can’t Sleep

There will always be occasions when, despite your best efforts, you simply can’t sleep. What to do now? Get out of bed. 

Why get out of bed? According to Walker, your brain is an extremely environmentally sensitive machine. If you spend enough time awake, staring at your ceiling in rumination, your brain will associate that activity with your bed. Instead, get out of bed, possibly even going into another room. Use that time to read a book (not on a screen), listen to soothing music, write in a journal, play solitaire with a deck of cards, or meditate until you grow tired enough for sleep. These types of relaxing activities will not only help you to grow sleepier but will also likely distract you from the anxieties that may be keeping you awake. 

In Conclusion

For its importance to absolutely every aspect of our health, the only reason we’re not asked about it more by our physicians is the timeliness of understanding its importance—thanks to the very recent strides in imaging technology. Despite these earth-shattering discoveries, neurologist Matthew Walker believes that we are, as a society, experiencing a “catastrophic sleep-loss epidemic.” 

So, what is the best way to attempt to maximize your own potential to live the lives of your idolized superheroes? Go to bed on time. 

Because, as Walker put it in his TED Talk,

“Sleep is your superpower.” 


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