reflection, technology, wellbeing

On Quitting Social Media

Did you know that there’s a growing number of blog posts attempting to answer the question: “Should I quit social media?”  And that the search volume for “delete Facebook” is enormous? It seems a growing number of people are ready to pull the plug on our online lives.

Obviously we’re all growing wary of privacy issues and our data being sold for huge profits, and tired of the algorithms serving up targeted ads and posts which are manipulated based on our preferences. There have been calls (ironically enough, broadcast on social media) to #deletefacebook or #deletetwitter as a backlash against the latest privacy concern.

And then there are the authors who call us away from the whirlwind of constant digital entertainment and connection. My favorite is Cal Newport, a computer science professor whose main passion is deep work, knowledge and career advice. He urges us to take a deeper look at the potential harm in being constantly connected, especially to social media and even to email. He’s gained a sizeable following of people who are taking his advice and taking breaks from or even deleting their social media accounts, reporting back that they are filling their time with more valuable activities.

So, the other night it was super hot and I couldn’t sleep, so I started reading on my phone. What I had on my mind, not for the first time, was “should I delete social media?” I’ve taken plenty of breaks before, but that whisper entered my mind once again. In my search results I saw a link to a blog post that looked intriguing, so in my 2:56 am sleeplessness, I opened it. The blog post, by lifestyle blogger Mika Perry, was a refreshing read detailing her reasons for letting go of her Instagram account despite gaining a huge following. I won’t rehash all she says here, but I resonated with many of the things she mentioned.

…Saying goodbye to a phone app feels bigger and more important than it really should. That alone raised the question for me : why? And, how? How has social media become this thing? Asking myself questions like this is what ultimately lead me to this decision.

I started pondering this topic while reflecting over the last few days, and a number of questions came up.

Do you realize you’re constantly reaching for your phone, even when you’re not expecting any messages?

While trying to get work done. When I just checked three minutes ago. Even when I momentarily delete apps like Instagram, I stare blankly at the screen and swipe around feeling like I need to be looking at something. It’s like a deep internal craving that keeps pulling me back in – craving for social connection, for attention, for something to engage with. Lately I feel a bit like an addict, constantly acting on my desire to look at my phone in a zombie-like trance. Is this natural? In the words of Mika Perry, “I don’t think we were really made to be connected to our phones like this.” This isn’t social media’s fault, but I’m feeling like it has rewired my brain a bit in recent months by feeding me random doses of validation and entertainment.

Have you noticed that your mind often drifts to what you might write in an Instagram caption and how you could say something witty?

Is this really what my mind needs to be spending time on? One example: I thought through this whole post/story idea about a pigeon that’s made a home in the roof gutter outside the window and is probably laying eggs in its nest. I imagined all the funny possible captions I could write about baby pigeons (because have you ever seen one?). Then I came back to reality after who knows how long. Really, that’s what I have going on in my head? And this happens on a daily basis. When and why did I start making this a mental habit? When did photography become a thing for other people’s entertainment?

Is this type of interaction really satisfying your need for connection?

It’s a lot like being in a fishbowl. You can see people and they can see you, but nothing really gets beyond the glass. Even the likes are basically stickers on the fishbowl glass. Direct messages are a nice way to catch up, but at least for me, they’re few and far between. And  responding to someone’s story with an emoji of fire or laugh-crying might feel satisfying in the moment but is it really building our relationship? During the pandemic, social media became sort of a cheap and easy way of staying tethered to the world outside. Except my soul now feels like it’s been eating McDonald’s for the last 120 days. On the other hand, if I don’t use these tools, will I feel even less connected? I have to re-implement the Office Hours idea I took from Cal Newport – I’m open for calls and video chats between 9:00 and 10:30pm my time.

Have you noticed how it affects your momentary self-esteem when a post doesn’t get the attention you were hoping for?

We all have the perfectly normal need to be seen, heard and paid attention to. Recently though, I’m having a lot of weird feelings around this, like I’ve started to doubt or feel down on myself when a post doesn’t get the reactions I was hoping for. (Why was I hoping for them in the first place? Expectation readjustment!)  And you know what else I realized in my reflections? There are specific people I’m looking for that attention from. It shouldn’t depend on anyone else how I feel about myself, but there are some who especially shouldn’t have that power. Some of them are people I barely know, and yet here I am, giving it to them. For me, if the internet and especially social media are becoming a place where I feel worse about myself, then what’s the point? And there may be deeper issues around connection and self-esteem that I need to dive into head-on rather than avoid or exacerbate them by spending more time online.

Aren’t your quasi-political posts, especially about Black Lives Matter essentially “preaching to the choir” as we’d say in the South?

Social media has given a voice to a lot of important issues. However, by me posting or resharing these things, am I actually doing any good? Am I reaching the people that could be impacted? Most of my connections believe the same things I do, more or less. And if they don’t? They’re going to unfollow me either way. Perhaps the best way to move forward is to dialogue – like, real conversations – with people on these issues. And on other political issues, wouldn’t it be best if we all spent a little more time reading more deeply about these issues to educate ourselves? I’m the first one who needs to take that step and get to know both sides of the problems.

If I quit social media, how would I announce it? Do I even need to announce it? And if I don’t post a link to my blog on social media, will anyone even read it?

At this point, my blog has very few regular readers except on the days I post a link on social media, and then the number goes up to maybe 14. Even if I don’t have the aim of attracting a huge following of readers or social media fans, if the people in my life don’t know this exists? If I disappear without saying anything? Then what? Let them wonder. Write for enjoyment, not for an audience.

And the most important and profound question popped up for me on a 7-kilometer walk around Parque Grande yesterday:

What kind of person do I want to be when I don’t have an audience?

When I don’t feel the need to project an image, think about how I’m going to look or consider the parts of my day I’m choosing to share. No witty captions involved. When my life is lived just for me and the people in my small day-to-day world. Will I still choose to care about the same issues? Will I make some kind of impact? Will my actions line up with what I say I value? What activities do I want to do just for me?

Ultimately, I’m starting to believe that social media has the capacity to turn me into a person that I don’t want to be: self-obsessed, shallow, insecure. And, arguing the other side, maybe the tools are just pointing out a deeper reality about myself, which if true, stings a bit. Of course, I may just be dealing with some Covid-19 related mental health issues like burnout and disconnection and despair. But social media ain’t gonna fix those either.

Apparently, I’m not alone in my thinking. John Gorman, writing on Medium says, “This obsession with participating in, and lording over our own micro-empires in, the grand Shareable Content Marketplace(TM) has left us all in poverty of spirit, enslaved to our egos, stagnated in our personal growth, and obsessed with our image. It is a sickness, and a deficit of virtue. It’s causing us to become crazed creatures who are either losing or feigning interest in absolutely everyone and everything.”

I have no interest in being that person.

Photo by Dina Spencer on Unsplash (hey, it’s me!)

Analog summer

Now that it’s July, and I’m nearly 37 (!), now seems like a good time to step away and give my mind a detox. There’s a strong possibility this could lead to the deletion of my social media accounts altogether. My goal is to have an analog summer in which I spend a lot of time in nature, away from work, but also away from being tethered to the internet. No updates on my summer vacation time on Facebook or Instagram. No following other people’s either, sorry. I’d love to talk to you and hear about your summer, of course. As for sharing, I may write about my summer experiences here as it’s a healthier outlet and helps me grow my writing skills.

Focus on doing better work and living a deeper life

Once summer vacation is over and I jump into the swing of things again, I hope to have sharper focus and clarify my goals. I want to do better, deeper work, both professionally and personally. Most importantly, I need to figure out my “why” in a variety of areas.

According to a post by Cal Newport, cultivating a deep life requires a plan which revolves around these three main principles:

  • Do less.
  • Do better.
  • Know why.

I’m ready to take the plunge. Reset and refresh. Ready, go.