It’s holiday time! My gift today is the story of a recent decision. You may want to try it. It’s made life a bit more effortful, but it’s produced real results. It has paid off in both expected and unexpected ways.
Whoa! I quit Facebook.
I quit Facebook. Yeah, it’s made a big difference, but not in the ways you’d think. Here are some not-so-obvious reasons why.
I’d long felt that Facebook wasn’t a particularly ethical company, and have used it with great ambivalence. Even apart from my moral doubts, I’d gone on holiday with no Facebook access. I returned centered, rested, and stable. Turning on Facebook jolted my addiction centers so noticeably that I could watch myself sliding into anxiety, distraction, and confusion.
But even with its bad effects starkly highlighted, I stayed online. Why? The same reason we all do: many social events are now advertised only on Facebook. And it’s one of the only ways I stay in touch with many of my friends.
But then last month, the New York Times investigative journalists exposed wrong-doing, coverups, and lies coming from Facebook’s top management. Morally, I just couldn’t continue to support the platform. Every post and comment is giving Facebook content to use to hook my friends and family.
So took a deep breath and committed to pulling the plug. I’ve been keeping careful track of what’s happened since then. It’s been surprising what’s happened. Social media was controlling my life in ways I’d never imagined until leaving.
Dropping social media makes you a better person
I used to see lots of stuff on social media about how to be smarter. Ironic, since social media itself probably dumbed me down by 20 IQ points.
Now, I’m thinking better. Social media fragments thoughts. It encourages thinking 140-280 characters at a time. But we’re smarter than that! Unless we train ourselves to be dumb 🙁
"Scientists discover real space aliens!" is a shareable headline that might appear on Facebook. But it makes us stupid. The intelligent reality—that we’ve found molecules that are the precursor to life—won’t generate shares.
Without social media, I’m regaining the ability to read long-form articles and think smart.
Interpersonal stuff gets way better!
Conversations are better. Social media makes conversation brief and scattered. Online conversations take a long time and seem extensive. But usually, they aren’t. Try reading one out loud, as if it were a script. You’ll find most "long" social media threads are just a few minutes of speech. They took a long time because typing and reading are slower than talking. And with a dozen people chiming in, actual interaction between you and any one person is minimal. It’s not real conversation.
Two board members of a non-profit I’m part of had a big fight on social media. The whole community jumped in. Accusations! Insults! Calls for resignation! It went on for weeks and almost destroyed the annual 4,000-person event. But it was actually only 20-30 paragraphs of interaction. It could have been resolved more quickly, more peacefully, with a single evening’s in-person meeting.
Without social media, I’m choosing my battles more wisely. I’m considering what I want to say before opening my mouth. Conversation is higher quality. It lasts longer and a lot gets said. It’s pretty awesome!
Less social media, means better social-izing!
My fears about losing my social life? They’re real, sort-of. Now, it takes effort. I need to make a conscious choice: who do I want to spend time with? Then I need to reach out and make sure we connect.
On Facebook, posts come pictures of friends. That’s a reminder to reach out to whoever social media happens to put in our path. There’s no reason to think that the people in our timeline are the people we’d most like in our close circle. They’re simply … the people who end up in our timeline.
Since quitting social media, it takes work to keep a friend. This is a good thing! I need to be deliberate about who I reach out to. I need to work to reach out to them. But perhaps that’s good. Because who your friends are, matters. Good friends take investment of time and energy. You want friends who enrich your life.
If it’s not worth the effort to connect with someone, that’s a message: maybe they’re not valuable enough to take up time in my life. Harsh, but true.
I get to be me, a meeple, not a compliant sheeple
I never realized how much my timeline directs my attention. A dozen great articles appear daily. Genuinely great. High-quality. I read them. But … they don’t add up to anything. They feel useful because they’re interesting, but they’re scattered. They’re all over the place. Rather than reading about a few topics deliberately, and getting deep learning, I’m just stimulating my brain’s reward centers with the feeling that just because an article is good, I’m better for having read it.
Deliberate or not, social media shapes our beliefs and attitudes through what it shows us. And its algorithms are tuned towards getting us emotional enough to click a link. They aren’t tuned towards getting us to be better, clearer people along any dimension whatsoever. Think about that.
Now, I’m deciding what I want to be educated about and seeking out the high-quality articles on those topics.
On Facebook, my social group, my attention, and my learning all happen by reacting to whatever the algorithm throws in my face. Off Facebook, my social group, my attention, and my learning all happen because I make them happen.
Yes, it’s more effort. That’s the cost. But the benefit: control and direction of who I am and who I’m becoming.
Regain control of who you are in the world
How about you? Try a Facebook holiday for a month. Make it long enough so you reinstate your offline systems. You’ll figure out how to keep in touch with people. You’ll find ways to stay informed.
And ultimately, you’ll be building a life where you get to hang out with the people you want, learn the things you want, and become the person you want to be. Do you really want social media deciding who you’ll become?