I realize this post is going to make some people mad. Many won't agree with me and some might even think I'm overly dramatic. Radical, even.
But I like making radical decisions, always have. I take pride in my integrity and have no problem going against the grain. I've never been a very conventional person. Still, there is one area of my life that I have been uncharacteristically conventional about, and that is social media.
From anti-social to hyper-social
I have been actively engaged in social media ever since... well the dawn of social media. I was quick to jump onboard the Facebook train. I embraced Twitter early on, was very active and built up a sizable following. I plunged into Instagram and Pinterest with equal delight.
As an introvert struggling with irl socializing, I discovered that I could be a lot more social online, from the comfort of my home and on my own terms. Social media made up for my lack of mingle skills or partying spirit. And I’ve always communicated better in writing that in speech.
So for many years, social media has been a huge part of my life. I’ve built my entire business around it. I’ve managed, not only my own multiple online presences, but several consulting clients’ as well. I’ve happily cherished social media for the many advantages it gives me.
- Allows me to be more social.
- Allows me to connect with people I wouldn’t have otherwise connected with
- Keeps me up-to-speed with news and events
- Keeps me in touch with friends and acquaintances
- Provides me with information and inspiration
- Provides me with casual entertainment
- Let’s me spread messages and content that I care about and want others to care about
- Introduces me to people and opportunities that has helped my career.
All of these things are still valuable to me.
But I have never really stopped to think about how social media makes me feel. I’ve been so blinded by the potential value of it in my life that I haven't considered the price of that perceived value. The more I’ve reflected, the more clear it’s become: the price is great. Perhaps greater that I am willing to pay.
Over the past year or so, and especially over the past few months, the negative impacts of social media and never-ending connectedness have grown more and more apparent to me.
I’ve used it to distract myself from important work.
I’ve used it the way an addict uses gambling: to get temporary hits of novelty and excitement.
I’ve used it to overwhelm my brain with so much external inspiration that it short-circuits my own.
I’ve used it as a way of comparing myself with others: their bodies, their homes, their careers, their art. Often leaving me feeling hopelessly inferior.
I’ve used it as a shallow substitute for real human interaction.
I’ve used it at the slightest hint of boredom, making me unable to think deep thoughts or be creative.
And yet, I’ve continued using social media. Out of fear of missing out, fear of being judged, and fear of limiting my options.
Then a book changed my life. As usual.
A few months ago, I read “Deep Work”, by Cal Newport. This book changed my life, (they often do), more than any book has in a while. It inspired me to write this post a while ago, about my budding insights on information overload and my seemingly chronic state of distraction.
I strongly recommend reading this book, or at least watching his TED talk on the topic of social media:
Learning about the science behind focus and deep concentration, and the importance of the deep work ability the new economy, gave me the motivation to make changes in the way I approach my work and life. I started disconnecting from the internet more often and for longer periods of time. I started limiting, or at least being more mindful of, my use of social media. I stopped checking email and feeds immediately upon waking up.
This has had profound results, just as Cal Newport promised in his book.
I’ve probably doubled the quantity, but more importantly, the quality of the work I do. And I feel infinitely more relaxed, inspired and joyful while doing it.
I’m ready for the next step: not just decreasing my time spent on social media, but minimizing it. Cutting it completely where I can.
The thought of quitting social media cold turkey still terrifies me a bit. I don’t know all the possible repercussions and I might still need to hold on to some aspects of my social media presence. So I’ll probably not completely close any of my accounts any time soon. But my goal is to use them less and less, with the goal of someday being able to quit them altogether.
I’m approaching this goal in smaller steps. Here’s what I’ve done so far...
My social media detox process
1. I deleted all social media apps from my phone.
(My only exception is Facebook Messenger, since I use it for a lot of important and often urgent communication.)
This was by far the hardest step. I did it while out on a walk, listening to a podcast where they talked about this very topic, so I finally managed to gather the courage to do it. The first few days afterwards felt really weird and uncomfortable. I frequently reached for the phone on autopilot, to do my usual cycling though the feeds. But my brain weaned itself off this behavior surprisingly fast. Now, I don’t even think about it. I rarely get the urge to check my feeds and notifications. Rather, I feel blissfully free.
2. I only access Facebook once a day.
This is just to quickly check if there’s anything in my groups that needs my attention. I installed a Chrome extension called “Facebook Newsfeed Eradicator”, so I won’t have to see all the annoying, autoplaying videos and won’t accidentally be lured in by some clickbait article. Facebook really feels like a necessary evil to me. I would prefer to be rid of it altogether. But I have a lot of family, close friends, colleagues and other important people on there that I need to stay in touch with. Luckily, I can do this via the Messenger app and avoid everything else about Facebook.
When I log on now, it’s a hit-and-run operation. I just want in and out as quickly as possible. 😄
3. I’ve stopped updating my Instagram.
I don’t feel a need or a purpose. I really started to resent myself for always pulling up my phone to snap a picture whenever I saw something beautiful, just to to fill my feed. It made me less present in my life. It stressed me out. Everything I was trying to do with Instagram, I can do better with my blog. I care less about spitting out short snippets of inspiration, and more about providing in-depth, long-form content, so that’s what I’ll focus on. All the hours I spent on trying to maintain my Instagram presence, I’ll instead spend on making my blog more beautiful and inspiring.
4. I’ve limited how often I check Instagram and Pinterest.
Since I do get some pleasure from Instagram and Pinterest, I still check them occasionally. I do it very carefully though. I'm so easily sucked in and before I know it, an hour has gone by and I'm feeling overwhelmed and anxious.
Therefor, I'm limiting myself to once a day, and only in the evening after work. I've unfollowed a lot of accounts, keeping only the ones that I really enjoy, as well as a few bird related accounts. (Wouldn’t want to deny myself pretty birds…)
But the interesting thing is, the less I check these “inspiration feeds”, the less enticing they feel. They're losing their grip on me, and I find that I’d rather go sit by my piano for a few minutes than scroll Instagram.
5. I’ve abandoned Twitter.
My account is still there but I don’t check it anymore. Frankly, I haven't been able to tolerate Twitter for a long time. Just getting a glimpse of the avalanche of updates makes me nauseous. And who’s forcing me to be on Twitter anyways? Nobody! Nobody is forcing me to be on social media, and yet it almost feels mandatory. Like it's expected of me.
But wait a minute…
Can a blogger ditch social media?
Speaking of mandatory and expectations. How can a blogger and online entrepreneur opt out of social media? Doesn’t constant connectedness and social media marketing come with the territory, so to speak?
This was my biggest fear. After all, social media is how I get my work out into the world. It’s how many of my visitors find my site. A social media strategy is almost synonymous with running a blog or online business, every prominent figure in the industry is doing it, and teaching others how to do it. Without maintaining my presence there, my blog will surely stagnate, right?
Maybe not. Here's why:
a) I don’t have to be on social media in order for my content to be. If people like my stuff, they can still share it, and I hope they will. And I will still be automatically seeding my posts on Facebook and Pinterest, since I can do that via my blog platform.
b) The way to get discovered is to create ridiculously useful, inspiring and entertaining stuff. If I can’t do that, no amount of social media marketing will make any difference.
I’m switching my philosophy from “if I’m not constantly making noise, no one will see me” to “I’ll be so good, they can’t ignore me”, like the famous Steve Martin quote. I’ll focus my time and energy on being even more useful, inspiring and entertaining. I believe this will bring me far better results, and better enjoyment, than constantly stressing out about follower counts and link hustling.
Who knows, maybe traffic will slow down and maybe I’ll need to re-evaluate this strategy in a few months. But I’m willing to take the plunge and experiment. I’m willing to take things slower.
So far, my weeks of deliberate social media avoidance have been the most relaxed, productive and creative in a long, long time.
I’m playing the piano, painting and writing fiction again. I’m spending my mornings reading books, my evenings knitting by the fireplace, and the time in-between happily immersed in writing or doing other creative work without interruptions. My inspiration is abundant, all on its own. I experience no lack and no sense of being left out or behind. I still talk to my family and friends and enjoy hanging out with people irl.
If this is life without social media, it’s not even half as bad as I thought it would be. It’s feels like waking up from the Matrix.