After the last of our good habits tapered off with the Fall, Anna and I took a two-week social media hiatus for Christmas break. I know this isn’t novel anymore, but it remains surprisingly difficult. Why?
It took me four days to edit this post, finally nixing every instance of “we,” “us,” and “you” to focus just on my own experience. Thus, things got more personal. And challenging. This post is for me, but if it’s helpful to anyone else, I always love discussing how technology interacts with life, happiness, and goals.
Here are my thoughts about social media tools and how I plan to use them (or not) this year.
I enjoy social media apps; otherwise, I wouldn’t use them. But their downsides are well documented. If something is at all valuable, I tend to ignore its harmful effects and can’t give it up. And yet, I’m no mere animal! I need to assess the net benefit of my tools instead of worrying I’ll miss out on any good thing.
“Many digital maximalists, who spend their days immersed in a dreary slog of apps and clicks, justify their behavior by listing all of the potential benefits they would miss if they began culling services from their life. I don’t buy this argument. There’s an infinite selection of activities in the world that might bring some value. If you insist on labeling every activity avoided as value lost, then no matter how frantically you fill your time, it’s unavoidable that the final tally of your daily experience will be infinitely negative. It’s more sensical to instead measure the value gained by the activities you do embrace and then attempt to maximize this positive value.”
Here’s my list of pros and cons to determine if social media apps bring me net positive value. This is a summary for brevity, but it’s most effective to break it out for each individual tool.
- Feeling of connection: friends, a larger community, current events
- Entertainment: pictures, videos, sports, music
- Inspiration/motivation: others’ experiences push me to change
- Learning and sharing ideas: without a slowly curated audience, there’s no better medium for this
- Satisfaction of being recognized: dopamine hits from attention, positive feedback, “likes”
- Addiction: Has anyone else liked what I posted? What about now? How about that other app?
- Distraction: a mindless, easy way out when work/life gets hard
- Time-wasting: countless hours scrolling feeds, while complaining I don’t have time for other goals
- FOMO: the lingering (anxiety-breeding) feeling that I need to be “up to date”
- Unhealthy comparison to others: just me?
An honest review reveals my cons list has a serious negative impact and I’m in for drastic changes (more on this later).
An addicting outlet
It’s helpful to say out loud: I’m addicted to social media.
Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram were created during my high school and college years, and they’ve been integrated deeply into culture ever since. My identity has been extended and manipulated around these platforms. The barrier to entry was low, and ever since, I’ve built profiles, crafted bios, tweaked follow lists, and tailored my content strategy. I’m in deep.
Not to mention the technological inventions that reinforce addictive behavior. The “like” button, pull-to-refresh, and “stories” (and more) were devised to keep me hooked.
When I have a free moment, I want to check my feeds. When work gets hard, I want an escape into a digital fantasy world. When I feel discomfort or pain, I want a cheap way out. Social media is there to comfort me at my weakest points.
If this sounds like drug addiction, that’s because it is.
The truth is: none of this relieves stress long-term, yet my behavior reinforces a terribly damaging habit. Addicts need a detox.
Lately, I’ve been overwhelmed by the sheer number of people I’m trying to keep track of. Social networks connect me to far more people than I can properly interact with — it’s one of the main perks, actually. I follow friends, celebrities, influencers, and companies to get updates. Stack up hundreds of these connections across various apps algorithmically filtering content to keep my attention — my relationships are trending increasingly superficial.
Robin Dunbar, of number 150 fame, said:
“The amount of social capital you have is pretty fixed. It involves time investment. If you garner connections with more people, you end up distributing your fixed amount of social capital more thinly so the average capital per person is lower.”
Would I rather “keep up” with 1,000 people or have meaningful, consistent interaction with 50?
I know I thrive best in smaller groups and communities. For now, I’m satisfied to limit my digital footprint, even if I sacrifice potential opportunities.
OK, my plan
So where does this leave me? What am I changing?
Drop the primary suspects, and only add something back if adds net value.
I also want to stop merging social relationships, news, and entertainment all into one tool. It’s mentally taxing and I can’t keep anything straight. I’m searching to clarify “the right tool for the job” depending on each specific purpose.
I use it mainly for groups (including our church), which I hope to replace with more personal, individual direct messaging. A single feature doesn’t justify keeping the behemoth, with all its flaws. Facebook has abused its power a few too many times, so the fewer people that use it, the better.
➡ Take a long break.
This one’s the hardest for me. I love how I can connect with anyone without barriers on Twitter. It’s the place for current communication about web development. Twitter friends have encouraged, educated, and inspired me. I’ve even found jobs there.
Recently it’s been leaving me feeling inadequate, though, as I unnecessarily compare myself to the amazing things others are doing. This is unfair to everyone and not Twitter’s fault, but I need a healthy break to put it in perspective. Hopefully, I’ll return with a smaller list of followers and a clearer mindset.
➡ Keep, with limitations.
Who doesn’t love photos and videos? Instagram will be my main spot for a while. It’s not tied to work, which is relaxing. And no raging comment threads. Just a historical photo record of life and its adventures.
I’m doing my best to limit Instagram for minimal time-wasting:
- Block during work hours (I use Freedom)
- Liberally unfollow accounts, focusing on smaller pools of people and interests
- Mute all stories except people I know personally
I post my physical activities on Strava. I like the accountability and a record of stats, but there is a social aspect too. If we’re friends, I’d love to encourage each other toward good healthy habits. Better yet, come paddleboard with me as the weather warms up!
I post my book reading on Goodreads. I use this primarily to track progress and sometimes discover new books.
Remember, my strategy is particular to me; it’s the culmination of how I’ve used social media, my commitment to it, who I follow, and more. I don’t think everyone should kill it or it’s altogether damaging. I live in the age of digital content, and these are the primary means to consume it. Ironically, I’ll need a similar medium to spread this post.
Twitter and Facebook’s always-on, short-form streams have taken a toll on my ability to focus. I hope time away clears space to foster better friendships, write longer posts, form healthier habits, learn videography, and exercise. Time is a rare, depleting resource; I want to make the most of it.
I’m pulling back to get more human connection, not less. If you want to meet for coffee, lunch, wine tasting, or just about any outdoor activity, I’m up for it. We could even revive a small book club I started last year.
Talk to you soon! 👋