Everyone is on social media these days. Even grandma. Meanwhile, I’ve been wanting to get off for a while.
Then one day, everything just fell into place. The time felt right. So I left social media entirely and I haven’t come back. No regrets, just upsides.
Here’s the story…
I’ve probably lost years of my life to social media, looking at expensive products I don’t need or battling total strangers about topics I have next to zero influence over. So I decided to cut my losses.
Why I Left Social Media
When you’re a writer, the thinking is that you simply must have a social media presence. But is that even true? In the six-plus years I’ve been writing for pay as my exclusive revenue stream, I can’t think of a single time social media got me a job.
I’m also not terribly interested in interacting with my readers, or even knowing they exist. Sorry, guys. The one or two of you that are cool to meet don’t outweigh the legions of semi-literate lunatics still emailing me at least once a month over an article I wrote about hating Pearl Jam four years ago. People who comment on articles are, for the most part, hostile, unintelligent and borderline insane. Why would I want to spend even five seconds considering their bizarre opinions? It’s a colossal waste of time and energy and I just don’t want to be that available to total strangers.
Even when I’m enjoying myself on social networks, it’s a gigantic time suck. I’ve spent hours scrolling through photographs of old cars on Instagram or arguing at length about who would win in a fight between Godzilla and Gamera. All told, I’ve probably lost years of my life to social media, looking at expensive products I don’t need, but buy anyway, or battling total strangers about topics I have next to zero influence over. So I decided to cut my losses.
Social media is the 21st Century equivalent of sitting in front of the TV all day, never changing the channel, consuming whatever comes in front of you. I’ve decided to be the pompous jerk who says “I don’t even own a television.” And life is better that way.
What I Did Instead
I knew, in theory, I was going to have a lot more time to get things done by leaving social media. What surprised me is just how productive I was without social networks in my life.
For years, I’ve had ideas for short stories and even a couple novels banging around in my head. Well, I’ve now got 62 pages of a short story collection. One of my favorite living writers read it and said it’s pretty damn good. I spend between one and two hours working on it daily, which is about the amount of time I used to spend telling some guy I met in college once what an idiot he is for supporting Bernie Sanders. The bulk of my free time has gone where I’ve always wanted to put it most: writing for pleasure, rather than for pay.
That’s the big thing, but there are also little things. I keep four different journals dedicated to various aspects of my life and self-improvement. Probably most important in terms of small things, I write a lot of letters.
Letter writing isn’t just a way to fill the time. It’s part of a conscious choice to be more intentional about what I say and who I say it to. Think about it: Of your hundreds of Facebook friends, how many do you interact with regularly? How many do you want to interact with regularly? Part of leaving social media was realizing that, while I knew a ton of people built up over years, I didn’t actually enjoy communicating with most of them. So now I send emails and snail mails to people I want to communicate with, and who can make the effort to communicate with me.
I read a lot more. I’ve never been a super strong reader, but I’m chewing through books at a pretty fast clip, and reading news stories of my choosing, rather than getting up to my ears in the Internet’s Five Minutes Hate of the day.
A lot of it comes down to choice and intentionality. Social media is the 21st Century equivalent of sitting in front of the television all day, never changing the channel, consuming whatever comes in front of you. I’ve decided to be the pompous jerk who says “I don’t even own a television.” And life is better that way.
For the first few days off social media, I felt like I was kicking a crack habit. I was even grouchier than normal.
What I Learned From It
The initial project was 30 days, no social media. On day 31, I signed back into Instagram, the one social media platform I missed. I had nine new follower requests. Seven were people I’d never heard of. One was a strange man who follows me around various platforms insulting me in broken English. One was someone I actually knew. I deleted the app immediately and went back to my social media-free life.
For the first few days off social media, I felt like I was kicking a crack habit. I was even grouchier than normal. I wanted to go back on Facebook and Twitter to see what my cronies were up to. About a week in, I still thought I might return in some controlled fashion. Two weeks in, I had no desire to use social media at all. I signed in to Facebook right before I wrote this and I’m happy to say, with total honesty, that I don’t really get it anymore.
Tell people you’re leaving. Yeah, some are going to accuse you of threatening to run away from home. Whatever. Give people the opportunity to connect other ways. You’ll be surprised who will want to have a real relationship with you.
How to Divorce Social Media
If you’re (still) reading this, I’d wager you have some desire to get off social media. Everyone is different, but here are some pointers from my experience:
- Commit to doing it. I know it sounds basic, but the most important step is just making the decision. Set a time period to stay off. You and I both know you can stay off social media for a month. Try it out. See what it’s like.
- Tell people you’re leaving. Yeah, some are going to accuse you of threatening to run away from home. Whatever. Give people the opportunity to connect other ways. You’ll be surprised who will want to have a real relationship with you.
- Delete your accounts. Most social media accounts allow you to deactivate without deleting the account permanently. They’ll be there if you want them. Get the apps off your phone. Make it hard to slip up. Put as many barriers in your way as you can.
- Make a list of ways to spend your free time. Keeping busy is one of the best ways to make this a lifestyle choice rather than a brief experiment.
- Work out and meditate. Social media is to your mental focus what sugar is to your teeth. Regular exercise (without looking at your phone) and quiet, seated meditation are how you grow your mental muscles back.
- Keep a diary. Write down what you’re doing with your time now that you’re not using social media. That can really help when you wonder why you’re doing this and if you’re getting anything else done.
If you feel like you’re wasting your time on social media, you probably are. Cut out the cancer and find better ways to spend your time.