I left social media for more than 30 days. I left because I realized that my thoughts were no longer entirely my own. The sanctity of my head had been violated. The worst part was that I allowed it to happen.
I permitted the app makers and advertisers to attempt (and in some cases succeed) in redirecting my thoughts, emotions, and intentions. Let’s call this what it is: mind control.
My attention span had eroded. I could kill an hour scrolling deep into my Instagram feed searching for … what, exactly? I’m still not sure. I think I was looking for something to make me feel better when I should have been working toward feeling better.
I had decided to take a break before I started reading Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism, but the book sealed the deal. In fact, if it weren’t for my chosen line of work, I don’t think I’d be on social media at all, knowing what I know now.
The case for leaving social media
Paraphrasing Newport, we’re sold the notion that social media fosters connection and community-building. This is half true. The other half of the truth is that social media fosters addiction. Social media apps are painstakingly designed attention traps. They play off of our neurochemistry like dopamine-releasing drugs. The reasoning is simple: money. Social media companies make more money the more you interact with their products. Their apps are incentivized to be addicting.
The mental clarity of the past social-media-free month is almost too alluring to pass up, even for professional reasons. The past 30 days have been some of the happiest and most productive I can remember. I’ve spent quality time with my wife, finished several short stories, read hundreds of pages, and managed to complete enough work to take two luxurious weeks of vacation at the beach. My attention span, which traditionally has been one of my greatest assets, is back to pre-smartphone levels.
Why I chose to return
So, why am I back? If you’re like most of the people who read this blog, you’ve probably landed here after clicking on a social media link. Writers need to be where readers are. I started this blog with the intention of helping others by sharing the lessons I’ve learned the hard way. Those lessons are useless if they’re launched into the void.
Today’s lesson is that the way I was using social media was wasting my time, diluting my attention, and making me unhappy. Maybe you feel the same way. Maybe you can handle social media. You need to ask yourself two questions:
What is social media doing to me?
How could I use social media better?
Here’s where I landed in thinking about those two questions. Maybe social media is doing nothing to you. I know now that it wasn’t working for me. Yet, I know that I need to be here (at least for the time being) to accomplish my goals. So, how do I make better use of social media? How do I use social media in a way that’s healthy and morally and/or ethically sound?
My new policy
Social media is now a part of my workday. I’ve blocked out time to respond to messages, check notifications, and post content, like the link that brought you to this blog post. Any other time of day, there’s nobody home.
It would be hypocritical to write about the drawbacks of social media but simultaneously advocate for you to be on here. That’s why I’m giving you -- and I’ll be honest, me too -- the out of signing up for a mailing list. I’ll send you an email when new posts go up, and you’ll never have to be on social media to find this content ever again. Your privacy will be sacrosanct. I’ll never give away or sell your email address.
The end goal is to amass enough newsletter subscribers so I no longer need to be on social media at all, and you no longer need to be on it to find my writing. You can sign up for the mailing list here.
What you should do next
Evaluate how you’re using social media, paying particular attention to how it affects your real-life, in-person interactions with people. The photographer Eric Pickersgill’s recent project, Removed, highlights the absurdity of our current relationship with technology.
When I first saw Pickersgill’s photos, the hollowness of our relationship to our devices landed like a Thai kick to the body. I also thought about how our addiction could be an indicator of increasing narcissism. Photoshop out the phone and replace it with a mirror and the photos work just as well.
I think, however, that the most painful realization that I derived from this photo project was how easily I could have been on the other side of the lens, distracted, diluted, depressed, staring into my technological reflection and wondering why I feel the way I do.
I’m done with that.