How Quitting Social Media Helped Me Find Myself Again

It was about two in the morning, and I was wide awake in that cold space between being absolutely exhausted and being unable to sleep, so of course I was on Facebook.

The endless blue light scrolling had been going on for around five minutes—not a particularly long session by my own standards—when I glanced at the small and somewhat blurry time in the corner of my phone screen. And then I got angry.

I have a love-hate relationship with social media.

I deeply enjoy social connection, conversation and the process of enriching each other through shared ideas and ideals. Good conversation is one of the highest pleasures of my life, and for a time when social media new, I think that is honestly what I gained from it: a sense of community. Of having…well…friends. And I needed that.

For most of my early twenties I was behind a computer screen, deeply entrenched in anxiety and depression and, for that reason, unable to venture outside to venues where I might meet like-minded people and begin to build real-life connections.

That meant social media was a way into the world when I didn’t have one. And I flourished there. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never had a massive audience through social media. While certainly I did want to get my creative pursuits, novels and later illustrations, in front of an audience, I didn’t want mass attention. I wanted conversation. To start dialogue, to be valued and value others.

And for a time the communities I found through Twitter and cemented through Facebook and Instagram fed that need in me. My admittedly somewhat lonely life was not so lonely anymore.

But soon social media started to change.

Not long after starting my own uncoupling process, I discovered the work of computer scientist and tech philosopher Jaron Lanier. Lanier wrote in his book, “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now“, about how the “manipulation engine” of Facebook and other social media platforms did not grow out of an abject will to manipulate us. That was a secondary consideration to these platforms’ larger goal of keeping people using their services and, through that, make money.

For Facebook and Twitter, that meant introducing the infinite scroll, so if your pool of friends is wide enough you can never run out of new content to see. Push notifications to our phones are another method of feeding that ever-gnawing pull back to the social world: “[Friend] just posted a new photo!”

To this day, those and similar phrases feel like little spikes pressing into my eyes.

Then, of course, came the advertising and the gradual insertion of promoted content into what once were spaces free of the hard sell. At the same time, these platforms were slowly introducing algorithms that crunch your data to throw up more of what they think you’d like to see.

This forged a new contract: to outsource your ability to choose to a series of calculations. Liked this outrageous news headline? Here are twenty more all designed to elicit the same emotional response! The goal is to keep you clicking, typing, furious and using, using, using.

Enough was enough.

I realized that social media was no longer good for me. The idea didn’t arrive all at once. Rather, it came like wisps of smoke under a door I dared not open. I knew that a part of me was burning, that being on social media was making me more anxious than I should be, that I was depressed when the content I had worked so hard over elicited merely a murmur. And that, perhaps most awful of all, I couldn’t bear to think about stopping, because that would mean losing everything I had worked for.

How do you survive as a self-employed writer and artist without a social media presence?

They say, though, that even though the human animal has an incredible capacity for psychological pain, there is a limit. We are slow to act, but eventually, when circumstances are intolerable enough, when the weight of all the slight discomforts hits us, we will finally do something.

So that night late last year, scrolling through Facebook, I decided enough was enough. I’d actually already deleted the app off my phone. Then I closed the web browser. I cleared the cache, so that logging in would be more difficult, and I said to myself it was time to take back what was mine.

Over the next few weeks I got rid of anything that had an infinite scroll. Twitter was easy. Instagram a bit more of a challenge. YouTube was harder still. Then my beloved Pinterest, where any creative pursuit is but a click away. Gone. Gone. *Gulp* Gone.

Save for one post to tell friends and family my silence was a choice and not because something bad had happened, I have still not returned to Facebook.

I keep the account, so that I can use the messenger service. Due to Facebook’s ethics I’m not happy about that, really, but it is important for work. I still use Pinterest for my business (as a search engine and content distributor, not as a social platform), and do I like watching the odd few YouTube videos.

Disconnecting helped me learn how to connect again.

The rewards of this were, at first, terrifying. I had so much room to think, and those thoughts were: you’re a bad friend. You’re missing people’s posts. The’ll think you don’t like them. You’ll lose touch with people. They’ll be angry.

But then I said: okay. I said yes to that. To missing out.

I re-framed it this way: how terrific would it be to meet these friends after a few weeks or even months apart and be able to talk about all the stuff I had missed from their lives, to be absolutely present in the moment and engaging with them? And it is.

I’ve had some of the most meaningful conversations of my life in the past few months, because I have watched people light up when I say I didn’t already know what they have to tell me. That by not being omnipresent through social media I could be ultra-present in that moment of face-to-face interaction.

I feel like at some point I lost myself in the chatter of online noise. That the constant deluge of information was too much.

I’m not saying that everyone should quit social media. What I am saying is that, like with any healthy relationship, setting boundaries is key. By drawing this line in the sand I was able to keep out that noise and find my own voice again. I think everyone deserves that.

Photo credit: Getty Images.

36 comments

Olivia M
Olivia M10 days ago

tyfs

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Janet B
Janet B13 days ago

Thanks

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Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson13 days ago

Thank you.

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Mely L
Mely L13 days ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Paula A
Paula A13 days ago

Thank you for sharing

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Mark Turner
Mark T13 days ago

Ty.

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Jan K
Jan K13 days ago

Thank you for posting

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Danuta W
Danuta W13 days ago

Thanks for sharing!

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Ruth R
Ruth R14 days ago

Maybe the real problem is not so much the media as unlimited access. I can only spend 40 hours a month online so I can't waste that time on social media.

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Mary B
Mary B14 days ago

FREYA H, Care2 is NOT social media. We don't come here to chat about our lives with each other. This sight is for liberals and progressives to talk about political ideas that affect our country and in some cases other countries. If you have not done so yet please scroll down to the bottom of the page and read what this site is about..Not only does it say what we're about, it says what we do NOT align with and there is NO excuse for rightwing trouble makers who take up paragraph after paragraph repeatedly spewing their propaganda, spam and insults at us.

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