Life After Social Media
It’s been about a year since I deleted my Twitter and Facebook accounts. They had become a far more significant part of my life than I ever intended, and I needed to be free of them. Expressing my thoughts and opinions in the public marketplace had come at a high cost, and not simply because I missed out on career opportunities as a direct result of tweeting. I found that my brain was being shaped by social media, and that I was becoming increasingly incapable of performing basic intellectual functions. In short, I couldn’t think, really think, like I used to, and that scared me. If social media was stealing my brain, why was I on it?
The latest brain science is clear: social media is changing us. But I didn’t need in-depth studies to know that; I was living it. My attention span deteriorated to the point where I couldn’t even finish reading a tweet – and this was back when they were just 140 characters! When I scrolled through Facebook, I literally scrolled through my news feed. I wouldn’t stop to read anybody’s updates or look at any pictures. Not only was I not thinking about what I was looking at, but I wasn’t even looking at what I was looking at. I wouldn’t slow down enough to let my eyes focus on those words or images. My social media experience was rewiring my brain to spend less than one second processing any given input. I was literally training myself to live an unfocused, unthoughtful life. In other words, social media was making me dumber.
I was training myself to live an unfocused, unthoughtful life.
In early January, 2018, I asked myself, “Is it worth it? Is social media worth losing your mind over?” That made me evaluate just what, exactly, I was getting from social media. From 2012-2014, my wife and I got a lot out of social media. Those were the years that we were going through the hell of losing Zekey, and we connected with many wonderful people through Twitter, Instagram, and especially Facebook. The encouragement, support, and prayer that we got from folks all over the world was incredible, and that experience brought a ton of redemption into a horrible period of our lives.
But social media has changed a lot since 2014. It’s become a business, and you have to pay to play. It’s become a weapon of divisiveness in our culture, not the place of comfort and solidarity we experienced. It’s been highjacked by Russian hackers spreading fake news and nefarious clickbait. It’s a platform for bullying, not encouragement; for self-aggrandizement, not self-betterment. Social media is the place where we tear others apart, send nudes and pwn noobs, and even our President shouts in all caps. It’s as though everyone who gets sucked into it loses their mind. And for what? Hearts? Stars? Thumbs Ups? Is it worth it? Is it worth losing your mind over?
I decided that it wasn’t worth it. I need my mind. I need my soul. I need them both to be healthy. More importantly, my wife and kids need them to be healthy. So I deleted it all and I haven’t looked back. I thought I would be tempted to go back – that the urge to “reconnect” on social media would be strong. But it hasn’t been. I haven’t missed it at all. In fact, I’ve discovered that there are many benefits of living without social media.
The Benefits of Leaving Social Media
First and foremost, my ability to think is slowly coming back to me. Social media has a way of deteriorating your critical thinking skills, not to mention your attention span. Without Twitter or Facebook, I have been able to retrain my brain to focus, evaluate, and process. I can read for longer periods of time. I can hold a thought in my mind and work with it, kneading it like dough as I process and develop it. Introspection is a unique and vital element of human consciousness, but it is a slow process that is foreign to the world defined by Snapchat and Instagram. If we lose our ability to look inward and sit with our thoughts, then we lose a crucial part of what makes us human. Social media, by its nature, trains our brains to reject introspection, and therefore makes us less human.
Social media trains our brains to reject introspection, and therefore makes us less human.
Second, my stress levels have decreased significantly. I feel zero pressure to formulate a quick, yet thoughtful, response to every major event in our society. I don’t have to virtue signal or concern myself with what others think about me. I don’t have to deal with conservatives and liberals all the time. I don’t have to spend time thinking about how to respond to someone who wrote something under one of my updates or tweets. No more drama. No more pettiness. No more fake news, advertising, Donald Trump, or LGBT crusaders. There is absolutely no reason that I should expose myself to any of this nonsense, and so I don’t.
Third, I am free to grow by learning. Outrage drives the social media ecosystem, and in an outrage environment the only reason to learn is to gather ammunition to attack the other side. They call this confirmation bias, and the nature of platforms like Twitter and Facebook kick this up to eleven. Facts (or at least our interpretation of facts) become “truth bombs” that we lob at our enemies, and we congratulate ourselves for winning the argument, even though nobody ever changes their minds online anymore. But this isn’t learning. True learning is done with humility, and it is meant to make us grow and become wise. We don’t learn so that we can pwn noobs; we learn so that we can live wisely and well in a world that always seems to find new ways to lose its mind and commit darker and deeper acts of evil.
The Drawbacks of Leaving Social Media
Believe it or not, there are some drawbacks to leaving social media, and the most significant one is becoming disconnected from friends and family. If you want everyone to find out about a major event or milestone in your life, you share it on social media. Well, I miss all of those announcements. I’ve missed pregnancies, births, engagements, weddings, birthdays – all the big stuff. There really isn’t any way around this. If you delete your accounts, you lose a significant amount of access to other people’s lives. There are still plenty of other ways to connect with people, of course, like face-to-face conversations, phone calls, letters, emails, but nothing is as quick or convenient as Facebook. Leaving the big, blue F means you’re going to have to work harder to maintain those relationships.
The second thing I’ve noticed is that I’m pretty uninformed when it comes to current events. I really don’t know what’s going on in the world, or how people are reacting to it. (And I honestly don’t miss being told how I’m supposed to react to it!) This may not be a bad thing, however. In his book Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman writes about the information-action ratio, and how technology increases the amount of information we receive without increasing our ability to take any action on that information. Social media takes this ratio to infinity, for all intents and purposes. We can hear about every awful thing in the world, and be able to do absolutely nothing about any of it. I don’t think this is good for the soul.
Finally, and this is a bit cheeky, but leaving Twitter and Facebook has resulted in significantly fewer blog readers. Yes, I know, my wildly inconsistent blogging over the past several years has far more to do with that than leaving social media behind. However, Facebook was always the biggest driver to my website, and I was always grateful for that. While I hardly get any traffic here anymore, I’ve come to peace with the thought that it’s my job to write, not to attract readers. Metrics matter for monetization, and I’m not trying to make money here. I write so that I can discover what I believe, and hopefully help a few people along the way. And to do that, I need my mind and my soul to be healthy, full, and strong.
I think everyone should quit social media. We don’t need it. We can get along just fine without it. And let’s be honest, it’s making us all worse. It’s changing our brains. It’s changing our species. Social media makes us less than human. If you’ve been thinking about leaving it all behind, do it. You won’t regret it.