Three months ago I deleted social media from my phone so I could re-evaluate my relationship with technology. For the first 30 days, I checked no social media at all. In the next 30 days, I allowed myself a few visits to Facebook and Instagram, but only on a desktop web browser for short periods of time (e.g., three times a week for about 5-10 minutes). I ended up posting nothing to Instagram, and limiting my Facebook activity to small doses of scrolling, clicking, and a few shares.
Ninety days have passed now, and so I am taking a step back to ask: How’s it been going, and what’s next?
To the first question: things were terrible at the beginning. More than once I thought, “Good God, how did I live before social media?” I kept wondering what people were talking about, and I felt alien to the world, as though I had somehow stepped outside of it. Was I missing anything important? Would I fall out of touch with reality? Would I become what my progressive college professors dreaded above all—the miserable uninformed citizen?
I also missed simply sharing stuff I find interesting: articles, book passages, quotes, pieces of art. I use my blog for this purpose now, but blogging takes longer than a quick post or 15-second video, and you don’t typically get the instant thrill of likes, views, and reshares. A travesty, I tell you!
At the same time, it has been wonderful to retreat from the frenetic noise of the social web and re-experience what most of us already know, which is that there are superior ways of satisfying every one of our social and intellectual needs without the help of any social media at all. In that sense, my preliminary concern about losing touch with reality turned out to be the exact opposite of the truth. By moving away from social media, I have been stepping not out of reality but back into it. Within a few weeks my FOMO faded, and I began to reap a range of benefits:
- A less cluttered and distracted mind
- More time for solitude and reflection (more on this in another post soon)
- More time for exercise, hiking, reading, and writing
- A greater capacity to feel present with those around me
- More focus and satisfaction at work
Now, I did initially fill the social media void by diverting more of my attention to custom newsfeeds and articles on my phone. After chatting with a friend about it, I turned off my newsfeed and unsubscribed from a whole series of emails. I also disabled the suggested readings in my web browser, which were uncannily effective at piquing my curiosity.
By far the hardest parts of this change have been (1) resisting the nigh constant impulse to glance at my phone screen and (2) losing touch with dear friends who live far away. The second of these problems is a little easier to address. I can take deliberate steps to contact those friends during my scheduled social media check-ins, or better yet arrange a phone call to catch up with them. The “quick glance” habit, however, is harder to kick. I get fewer messages and notifications than ever before, and yet I have this muscle memory to lift my phone in moments of downtime to see if anything interesting or important has come up (which, 90% of the time, is not the case).
One important step for me in strengthening my resolve was to pick up a copy of Cal Newport’s book Digital Minimalism from the library. Cal is the author / professor whose interview inspired me to go on a social media fast in the first place. His book persuaded me to take even more drastic measures.
Which brings me to my second question: What to do next? Some of my plans include:
- Spend large chunks of time away from my phone each day (for example, I would like to avoid checking it during work hours except for a short break at lunchtime)
- Go on more walks without my phone
- Read and write more (especially creative writing)
- Invest in some old pastimes (like drawing, which I can do with my kids)
You may be thinking, “Well that’s adorable, but I have people to keep up with and a following to appease. Besides, social media is so damn fun.” To which I would reply: well, “keeping up” with others (which usually just means passive viewing and sending likes) and watching hilarious cat videos are nice pastimes in their own way, but what if there were wiser, healthier, more constructive ways of going about it all—ways that didn’t suck away untold amounts of your time and attention with so little to show for it? What’s on the offer here is not just more autonomy and control. It’s the use of that autonomy for more meaningful pursuits, such as higher-quality leisure, deeper social connection, and rejuvenating solitude. I do believe social media has a place in the world, but it has monstrously outgrown itself to become a nearly-uncontrollable time sink and, at worst, a cesspool of toxic political posturing, virtue signaling, narcissism, and anxiety-inducing FOMO. Which is to say that in almost every way it falls achingly short of the rich dimensions of time, space, and community we were built to inhabit.
There is a lot more I would like to say on these subjects (especially on solitude, whose importance to our well-being I believe we vastly underestimate). Life is complicated, and there are qualifications I would add. For now it’s enough to say that deleting the social media apps from my phone has been absolutely worth it, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. A beautiful world awaits outside. Let’s go experience it.