One year ago, amidst privacy concerns about tech giants and a recent breakup with a Snapchat addict, I permanently deleted all my social media.
After living without social media for one year, I can tell you, with complete confidence, that life is better without social media.
At least, my life is, in a variety of ways:
The number one fear people have about quitting social media ? the number one fear I had about quitting social media ? is the fear that quitting will make your relationships worse. People are afraid without social media to help them keep in touch with distant friends and family, those connections will fade.
I?m here, live from no-social-media-land, to tell you not only did quitting social media not make my relationships worse, it made them better.
After I deleted my social media, the amount of time I spent actually hanging out with my friends went way up. Now that I wasn?t able to fall back on social media, circumstances forced me to text people and set up time to hang out. Before I knew it, I?d booked my social calendar full; I was hanging out with someone nearly every night of the week. I used to think a booked social calendar was something meant only for people with lots of friends, but I learned socializing frequently can happen for anyone who does what it takes to make it happen.
This was true even for my long-distance relationships. Sometimes people worry without social media, they?ll lose touch with people, but that?s not what happened to me. In fact, the opposite happened. Social media enabled me to passively consume news about my friends without actually talking to them. Without social media, I?m forced to reach out and ask my long-distance friends how they?re doing.
- If I want to know how my high school friend in the Navy is doing, I have to text him and ask.
- If I want to know what?s going on with my childhood friend who grew up next door to me, I have to contact her and make plans.
- If I want to talk to my friend in France about how the French countryside is, I have to set up a time to call her.
People tell me all the time about how they?d like to delete their Facebook, but they need it to keep up with overseas family and friends. After living without social media for a year, I?m unconvinced. There exist plenty of free, internet-based ways to get in touch with people (Telegram, Google Hangouts, Skype, so on and so forth). And if you really, really need Facebook Messenger, you can deactivate your Facebook without losing access to Messenger. Overseas communication is just not a good excuse for holding on to your Facebook.
Admittedly, I did lose touch with some people. But the people I lost touch with were people I was never close friends with anyway; people like old high school classmates I never really knew in the first place or someone I worked with three jobs ago.
And it?s good I did. Research demonstrates having a high number of friends on social media is not correlated with any increase in happiness. All it does is clutter up your feed. But, according to QZ, ?having a good friend who you see every day is equivalent to an extra $100,000 on your income.?
It?s not that social media itself is bad for your friendships, but the attitude social media fosters ? an attitude of broad and superficial connection. Psychology research shows cultivating many superficial connections is a good way to make your life worse:
In a fascinating piece of research carried out around the world, Tim Kasser looked at people?s values, and their effects on well-being. He studied how what we strive for in relationships affects our health and happiness. He found two distinct relationship-related values: popularity (the drive to have more friends and be liked by a wider circle of people) and affinity (the drive to deepen and build close relationships). Those for whom popularity was more important, were less happy, less healthy, more depressed, and used more drugs. Those who strived for affinity were the complete opposite. We wrongly assume more is better for most things in life. It just isn?t the case with relationships. (emphasis mine).
? QZ, Why we?re better off with fewer friends
The way to defeat loneliness is not by amassing as many friends as you possibly can, but by cultivating a handful of deep relationships. But software engineers don?t design social media to do this. Software engineers design social media to foster superficial connections with as many people as possible.
When you delete your social media, you cut this negative influence out of your life. You stop investing in many superficial connections, and you start investing in the ones that matter.
I Have More Time
One thing you don?t realize about social media until you leave it behind forever is the sheer amount of time it takes up. You don?t notice it because you only check social media in five-minute increments, but those five-minute blocks add up fast ? and they add up to a lot. In 2017, Americans checked their phones 80 times a day. If we generously assume you?re only checking social media half those times (40), and we generously assume you?re only checking social media for five minutes each time, that?s still three hours spent on social media every day. (Find out exactly how much time you?re spending on social media here: Android | Apple)
If you use social media, this sounds like it can?t be true. After all, you typically check social while waiting in a line, or waiting on a friend, or during other interstitial time. It?s not like you?re losing productive time.
Except, you are losing productive time. Every day. I know this because when I deleted my social media, I got those hours back.
After deleting my social media, for the first time in a long time, I didn?t feel rushed. I didn?t get to the end of the day and wonder where all my time went. Since I wasn?t distracted by my phone, I was able to get errands and work tasks done in a fraction of the amount of time it would have taken me otherwise.
There are many days now where I get everything done by 7 P.M. and have the entire evening to screw around. I often have large chunks of time where I can sit at home and read, think, paint, work, exercise, or just putter around and enjoy being alive.
Along with having much more free time in my day, I?m much calmer. Since I no longer feel like there isn?t enough time in the day, I can take my time doing things. I can enjoy the blue sky, the music playing in my headphones, the snow falling on the ground. And while I?m getting things done, I feel able to truly enjoy what I?m doing instead of rushing through it (and doing sloppy work in the process).
It sounds like a little change, but for anyone who struggles with any kind of anxiety, it makes a big difference.
You may think your social media use isn?t affecting your mental health, but I doubt it is.
It?s not that social media is so dangerous it will give you a mental breakdown (although it can). It?s just that what you see on social media is painful, just a little ? engagement posts from high school sweethearts you see right after a painful breakup, Instagram pics taken from a friend?s vacation in China you see when you?re too broke to afford food, let alone a vacation overseas.
We know we?re not supposed to judge ourselves by how others are doing, and we all have our own unique journeys, but it?s human nature to compare ourselves to others. No matter how hard we try, we can?t escape that tendency, and anyone who thinks they can is fooling themselves.
In isolation, social media posts like these are just little disappointments. You barely notice them before you?re on to the next thing. But taken in total, they produce a massive cognitive load.
I know this because, after a year without social media, I?m free of that mental load. The weight of what I?m ?supposed to be doing? bothers me so much less than it used to. I no longer feel like a failure because I don?t make much money, live in a cheap apartment, and am not engaged. I no longer feel like a disappointment because I have no intention of changing these things any time soon. I no longer have reminders of what I?m ?supposed? to be piped to my 24/7 ? I?m free to just be me.
I?m More Productive
The more uninterrupted time we can carve out for work, the more meaningful things we are able to get done with our time.
The keyword here is uninterrupted ? it is only through uninterrupted time that we are able to access what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls a flow state.
In his seminal work, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Cskszentmihlyi outlines his theory that people are happiest when they are in a state of flow ? a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation. It is a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter. The idea of flow is identical to the feeling of being in the zone or in the groove. The flow state is an optimal state of intrinsic motivation, where the person is fully immersed in what they are doing. This is a feeling everyone has at times, characterized by a feeling of great absorption, engagement, fulfillment, and skill ? and during which temporal concerns (time, food, ego-self, etc.) are typically ignored. ? Wikipedia, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Primitive human beings evolved to operate in a state of flow, mostly because there was nothing to distract them. Early homo sapiens were always absorbed in doing whatever they were doing, be it hunting or eating or finding shelter or mating. It?s only after the advent of civilization ? and it?s ten million distractions ? that accessing a flow state became a challenge people faced.
We don?t have control over most of the distractions civilization has invented, but we do have control over this one. And for me, getting rid of this one has gone a long way toward helping me access a flow state more and more.
My Career is Looking Up
In business, people will tell you you need social media for many reasons ? to build your personal brand, to network, for content marketing, for lead gen, for negotiating leverage, so on and so forth.
I?m sure these things are working somewhere, for someone, but I?ve never met them. Every time I?ve invested time into social media as a business investment, it?s been a massive waste of my time. Please forgive me while I quote myself:
Many writers feel that a Twitter presence is essential for ?getting the word out.? They tweet about everything they write, reply to other writers (preferably writers more successful than they), and spend a lot of time on the platform.
If you?re one of these people, ask yourself: is Twitter giving you a return on your investment?
Sure, sometimes cool things happen on Twitter. I remember the first and only time someone tweeted about the original edition of my first book. As gratifying as that Tweet was, though, it didn?t actually move the needle for sales. For the [thousands] of hours I?ve spent on Twitter since joining in 2012, it?s made practically zero difference in the outcome of my career.
In the 12 months since I deleted all my social media, I can confidently say my business has suffered no ill effects for my not having social media.
In fact, it?s been quite the opposite. In the year since I?ve deleted my social media, I?ve gained several thousand Medium followers and over a thousand newsletter subscribers. I?ve made massive amounts of money on Medium.
This is, in part, due to not having social media ? Not having to worry about social media at all has freed up my working hours for activities which are far more important to the budding writer, such as working on my newsletter and? y?know? writing. If I’d allowed the false promises of social media marketing to distract me, I would not have been able to achieve these things.
My Finances Are More Stable
One of the biggest downsides of our human monkey-minds is our propensity to monkey see, monkey do. When we see pictures of people on Instagram wearing Tims, we feel the need to buy Tims. When we see pictures of people on Instagram driving BMWs, we feel the need to buy BMWs.
Back when I was a heavy user of social media, I was also (not coincidentally) a heavy purchaser of fast fashion. Back in the day, I would spend hours browsing Tumblr, honing my fine sense of fashion and style, and then spend hours wandering through malls with a friend looking for clothing that would suit my tastes. It was bad for my emotional health, expensive, and a massive waste of my time.
After I quit social media, that no longer seemed appealing. Now that social media wasn?t piping cannon fodder for self-comparison directly into my brain, I didn?t feel the need to replace perfectly good clothing.
In fact, all my consumer expenses went down. Without social media posts to update me the second some kind of new-and-improved product has come out, I don?t develop dissatisfaction with what I currently own, so I don?t purchase more. My electronics, home goods, and other expenses went dramatically down.
Another type of expense that went down was expenses on restaurants and vacations. You know, the ?Instagram? places ? places where the lighting is perfect, the background is perfect, and photos you take there just look so good? Without social media, there?s no point in going to those places anymore. I?d rather go to my favorite hole-in-the-wall taco place and eat something that?s actually good.
Last but not least, I see far fewer ads. I?m not tempted to get the new iPhone, see the latest Marvel movie, or buy some stupid fancy backpack, because I?m not seeing the ads for these things over and over and over again. This is beneficial both for my wallet, because I?m not spending money, and my peace of mind, because I?m not seeing the same goddamn ad over and over again anymore.
So, in general, my wallet (and I) are a lot happier without social media.
If you?re anything like most people I talk to, you?re probably thinking that?s all well and great for me, because I was clearly an out-of-control social media addict, but for you, social media is not that big of a problem, and deleting it would not make much of a difference.
See, the thing is ? and I mean this as politely as possible ? is you?re wrong.
First of all, I was not some kind of out-of-control social media addict. Of all the people I knew, when my social media use was at it?s worst, I was still only around the middle of the pack. I know people who spend upwards of three hours a day on Snapchat alone.
Second of all, I see more clearly than ever how social media affects other people because while I may not have social media, my friends do. And, since my friends are all either Millennials or Gen Z?ers, they check their phone much more than the national average of 80 times a day.
That inevitably means when I hang out with friends, I spend some (large) portion of my time watching them check social media. Here is a non-exhaustive list of things I have done while watching my friends check social media:
- Opened my own phone to play Duolingo, Elevate, or read on the Kindle app (none of which I do anymore)
- Looked around their bedroom/apartment to see what I can learn about them based on their decor
- People-watched anyone in our immediate vicinity
- Cleaned up any trash we might have produced in the last hour or two
- Watched their social media feed as they scrolled and judged them based on what kind of social media content they?ve curated for themselves (shoutout to the men whose Instagram feeds are mostly just women in bikinis ? quality choice, guys ?)
My friends are not particularly heavy social media users ? since social media addicts tend not to get along with Luddites who hate social media, most of my friends do not use social media often. Even so, it eats up a giant chunk of their time. I dread to think how much more time is being lost by people who truly have a social media problem.
Most of the time, when self-help writers write about how doing thus-and-such a thing ?changed their life,? I suspect they?re playing it up for dramatic effect ? especially since half the time, the writers have only done the thing they?re talking about for a few weeks.
That?s not what?s going on here. After having no social media for a year, I can tell you that deleting those accounts was one of the most positive things I?ve done for myself. Over the last year, I?ve experienced a lot of personal and professional success, and I doubt those things would have happened if I was worried about how my Instagram photos looked.
I can?t wait for year two.
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