What I have learned from quitting social media
I don’t use any social media. Anymore. After spending around ten years on various different social media platforms, I made the decision a few months ago to let them all go. It has been a beautiful decision that I only wish I had made it sooner. Since quitting social media my days have been lighter, richer in time and much more tranquil.
Before I share what I have gained from quitting social media, let me put a big disclaimer in place. I know there are many people who found community through Instagram, business success through Pinterest and a voice through Twitter. If the positives of social media outweigh the negative for you, then I cheer you on for using them. Honestly. But if you feel that life could be a little sweeter without these apps, then I am here to confirm your feeling.
What exactly have I quit
I am not a recluse that has forsaken all digital connections. I still use e-mail, Skype and Facebook Messenger to stay in touch with friends and family. I technically have a LinkedIn account that I have not logged into for months. I still read blog posts through Bloglovin, listen to podcasts through Spotify and subscribe to email newsletters that uplift and inspire me. I am intentional about the latter though, and only open Bloglovin and Spotify a few times a week. I have a separate email account for newsletters that I log into only on Saturday mornings. By intentionally engaging with these ‘social platforms’ I am able to extract little nuggets of wisdom to cultivate a more meaningful life. For full disclosure, I also watch some shows on Netflix every once in a while, but this is both sporadic and not very distracting for me.
All the other ways of connecting and sharing I have left behind me. That includes Facebook (not Messenger), Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube. I have noticed that the latter platforms don’t serve me in any meaningful way and only rob me of time in a way leaves me worse off than before opening the platform. But there is a deeper, more serious reason I have decided to quit these social platforms.
Why I have quit social media
The blogger and science fiction writer Cory Doctorow has described using computers as entering an ‘ecosystem of interruption technologies’. What effects this has on the brain is explored in-depth in Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows. Below is a short summary of what Carr outlines in his book:
The internet promotes impatience, superficial learning and cursory reading. It delivers constant distraction, which scatters our attention. This quit literally changes our brains. For example, the superficial, scattered way of using our attention develops the area of our brain that allows us to make quick decisions. In itself this is of course a good trait to have, but the trade-off is that it diminishes our interpretation skills. And we need interpretation to think deeply.
Deep learning requires us to transfer information from our short-term memory to our long-term memory. It is only in our long-term memory that the information can marinate with our other information so that we can come to new insights and creative reflections. But this process requires our undivided attention and our problem solving mode to be switched off. Two things the internet doesn’t easily allow for. Carr insists that deep learning is not impossible while browsing the internet, but that it simply does not encourage it.
If you are interested in reading more about this subject, I highly recommend reading Carr’s full book.
Benefits of quitting social media
After reading Carr’s book and pondering some more about my own internet user behaviour, I realised that social media platforms were the aspects of the internet that kept me most distracted. I realised I had become a ‘sucker for irrelevancy’, as Clifford Nass has bleakly put it. But besides training my brain to keep focused – even while using the internet - I have also experienced the following benefits.
More deep learning: I have noticed that I have been able to ponder more, the way I pondered when I was a teenager. I will get back to you once this has resulted in any ground-breaking thoughts, but it is nice to spend hours at the weekend musing about a topic without aiming to find a quick solution.
Less comparison anxiety: I cannot begin to tell you how wonderful it is to live without being notified of the #bestlives my friends, family and complete strangers are supposedly living. Even nicer is the fact that I am no longer confronted with my own best self, with whom I have often competed in the past.
More time: I am embarrassed to say this, but there have been times I could spend hours a day on various social media platforms. By the time I decided abandon the platforms completely, this was already considerably less. Nowadays, it is not unusual to spend my evenings reading a book or going for a walk. I even picked up the hobby of stargazing, much to the surprise of those around me.
No more hiding: One of the reasons so many of us waste hours on scrolling our feeds because the alternative can be deeply uncomfortable. And our subconscious must know this. When I first quit all social media, I was constantly confronted with feelings of boredom, discomfort and anxiety. Without any other coping mechanism in place and no desire to look for a replacement, I had no choice but to face these feelings.
Better internet: Quitting social media has transformed my relationship with the internet. I now engage with it much more intentionally, cutting through much of the irrelevant chatter to the places I actually find connection, inspiration or understanding.
How to quit social media
I cannot give you a simple three-step program to quitting social media, because finally making that decision precedes a lengthy and complicated psychological process. (At least it did for me.) If you feel uneasy whenever you use social media, I hope this article planted another little seed of courage in you that will on day bloom into the decision to leave social media behind.
If you are ready to take the plunge, collect the contacts of those you would like to keep in touch with and go for it. You won’t miss anything important, I promise. And if you need just another little snippet of encouragement, I suggest watching this TED Talk by Cal Newport.