Essentialist: Life without social media
Leaving social media was a very gradual process.
I first seriously considered deleting my social media accounts in late 2019, when I read Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism.
The reasons had already been in my mind before, as an aspiring minimalist who aims to value people and experiences more than things and money. Social media, I realised, was a very shallow way of staying “connected” with my friends. It was also a very easy way to waste my evenings after work, endlessly scrolling through Instagram or Facebook.
But it was another perspective which made me consider it more seriously: focus. Social media, along with its ubiquity achieved by the development of smartphones, kills focus and what Cal Newport calls “deep work”. On my way to work, if I ever felt slightly bored, I would immediately interrupt my train (pun intended) of thought with an app on my phone so I received some sort of distraction. I wondered if this was what I wanted, and clearly for me, the answer was “no”.
I was almost there, I knew I wanted to do it, but I just couldn’t. I had already naturally reduced my usage of social media because of other lifestyle and belief changes, yet I felt uneasy about flipping the switch.
Until yet another negative effect of social media caught my attention: online privacy.
We willingly share crazy amounts of personal information online. I know I did with Facebook, especially when I first joined, circa 2010, when I was underage and naive about who I was giving my information to (not only Facebook, but third party developers of the random games I played). I had left a trail of thoughts, beliefs and personal data which I never realised I consented to.
That, and the fact that I had acquired over 1000 “friends” who I clearly did not know in person, and with whom I could not possibly maintain high quality relationships. Who was reading my posts? How many of these people have had their accounts hacked or otherwise compromised, who now are able to access my most personal moments and thoughts?
Low-usage accounts were first to go. Twitter was a breeze. I only used it to contact airlines because it was usually faster and more responsive than calling, but I had committed, and I needed to feel okay with “missing out” on some benefit from social media at the expense of many downsides.
Instagram was next. I deleted it in early March this year. That was a bigger one, emotionally and technically. I had my Instagram for a while, but actually almost never posted on it or used it to communicate with friends. I first took an export of my data, then deleted the account. Being a Facebook company, I thought the deletion process would take longer, but it was instant. That definitely made it easier.
The final one was the biggest one: Facebook. The account I had had the longest (almost 10 years). Recently I had only really used Facebook to remind me of people’s birthdays (ha!) or to communicate with friends via Messenger. I now use a calendar app and Whatsapp or Signal for those purposes. My data export took a while to process, but once I had it, it was all I really needed: an HTML page which allowed me to view all my photos, posts, friends and even (creepily) my very old Messenger conversations.
It’s been about two months without social media, and overall it’s been absolutely amazing. I’ve learned a few things too.
Social media will always be there for me. If I decide this alternative, no social media lifestyle isn’t for me, I can always go back. I exported all of my connections and followers anyways, so I know where to find people.
Time is precious
Boredom breeds creativity. Can’t flick through Instagram on public transport? Think about your friendships and relationships, or how you can be a better person. No feed to read after work? Start a new project, learn a new skill, or read higher quality content.
A couple of things I’ve done with my free time:
- Learning piano
- More reading
- Calling (not texting!) my friends and family more often
- Learning new programming frameworks
- Starting this blog!
There are negatives
Even though calling or physically spending time with friends is much better than social media “bonding”, there’s still a part of me which thinks that some of my friendships would be kept more up to date if I saw their social media posts more often. Luckily, my girlfriend still uses social media, and she let’s me in on all the juicy bits.
It’s also harder to share stuff. I shared a link to this blog on my LinkedIn (which I only use for professional reasons, and I don’t have the app on my phone). It got a few likes. It’s nothing like sharing on Facebook or Twitter. But I’m okay with that. I probably rather have my closest friends reading this than random people on the internet. I’m okay with growing an audience organically; that way I have time to develop and improve my writing too.
Overall, I’m happy with my decision. I’ll see what the coming months bring, and see if I stick with it. So far, I see no way of going back. I feel awesome. But I’ve said that about other things before, so I won’t be naive in thinking my decision is final. But for now, bye bye social media.