Getting off social media

In January 2022, I deactivated my social media accounts. It wasn't a case of one single cataclysmic event forcing me off the platform, but a cacophony of reasons that slowly boiled until they bubbled over. Here are some of them.

Reasons I left social media

The impact on my mood and attention

I was struggling to focus and get into flow. There was just a constant influx of new content to engage with, posts from people who I felt I was rudely ignoring if I didn't catch them within a socially acceptable timeframe. It was like my todo list would just grow and grow behind my back if I focused on any one thing for too long. This made me grumpy because the creative work I enjoy the most requires a great deal of deep focus.

The content algorithms felt all kinds of wrong

See Facebook whistleblower says company incentivizes "angry, polarizing, divisive content" from CBS News for an example. There may be more examples around the place.

I wasn't sure if I could trust what I was reading

See Facebook owner reportedly paid Republican firm to push message TikTok is ‘the real threat’ from The Guardian for an example. There may be more examples around the place.

I felt constantly rushed and busy

I felt obliged to keep reading—see that "growing todo list" feeling mentioned earlier. When it came to posting, I felt the "pressure to publish" I've often heard academics talk about. Though this specific problem wasn't so prevalent back when I was using social media in a personal context (though this was back when the feed was more time-based than algorithm-driven), it certainly became a problem as I started using it more for work too.

See also Keeping Us Guessing: Social Media algorithms share many similarities with abusive partners from Stay Grounded for one insight around feeling beholden to algorithmic intentions. There may be more such insights around the place.

It felt pointless

At the height of my social media use, I started to find it pointless putting so much effort into posting something that would become irrelevant within hours. Additionally, I started to feel like quantity was of more value over quality, which is very much not my jam.

My content felt like an unnecessary burden to others

I didn't want to create extra work for my very supportive friends who would like and comment on my posts. I was very grateful for their care and attention, but felt a growing responsibility to make it worth their effort, which creates a vicious urgency when it comes to creating content that would effectively become irrelevant within hours.

Other things that were important to me began to fade away

This is a hard one to explain, but if you understand the concept of salience — or if you've felt this too — you'll get what I mean. Stuff that I knew was important to me started to seem "dull" in comparison to what was on the socials. This wasn't a rational or conscious experience. It would sneak up on me when I was making micro-decisions about how to use my time. It was insidious and weird, and I think I sat with the feeling for ages before it clicked (became salient) that yes, this is actually happening. And I decided I didn't want to live that way.

The "Two Minutes' Hate" deeply unsettled me

Two Minutes' Hate. Drama of the week. Flame wars. Trolling. Whatever. In the end, it was all the same regularly scheduled miasma of stuff that made me feel kind of ill in the stomach. Perhaps this impacted my mood and attention just as much as the "growing todo list" thing.

What it's been like without social media

I love it. It was weird and unsettling at first, but when I realised that was just my brain unlearning some years-long habits, I was content to sit with it and see where it took me.

I started being deliberate about how to re-allocate my reclaimed microminutes and adopting some digital minimalism. That's the thing, I think. When you're on social media for a long time, so many things are fed to you, so many interactions become automatic because they're just there. And, in a way, it's like thank goodness they are because you're fed so much information that you couldn't stop and think even if you wanted to.

All of a sudden, I had the space and mental bandwidth to consider what to consume. I was reading and absorbing and reflecting, I remembered what it was like to slow down, learn stuff I'd been putting off, and not feel like some spectre was hovering just behind me. At least not a social media spectre — there are other spectres unrelated to corporate silos.

But, what about the people? Well, the ones in my life are there by choice (mine and theirs), not by algorithmic design. We have emails, texts, deep & meaningfuls, silly memes, co-working banter, and everything we might never have needed social media for in the first place. Other technologies still exist and are thriving, so life continues to roll along just fine.

Books for the social media weary

  • Stolen Focus by Johann Hari
  • Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier
  • Dopamine Nation by Anna Lembke
  • A World Without Email by Cal Newport
  • the off switch is broken by Georgie Cooke