You don’t need to hear more statistics or listen to a lecture about the perils of Internet use to know that social media is not the best thing to invest your time in. Yet, billions of people are attached to internet services in a way that borderlines on addiction. Many people sleep with their phones underneath their pillows or within reach of their bed, and as soon as they’re awake, they’re scrolling, checking messages, checking notifications. Here’s why I quit.
It’s basically a drug.
It’s not necessarily that we enjoy what we’re seeing; it’s more the way our brain is responding. Social medias set up pseudo goals, such as “likes,” which then release dopamine when we accomplish them. They surround us with a virtual community that affirms us and validates us, giving us a serotonin rush as we scroll, message, and share. The news we see, the memes we share, and even nit-picky debates give us endorphins. The goal of this? Addiction. Who can blame them, though? These websites make their money off of people spending time on them, seeing ads. The more people they hook, the more money they make; you’re just one of their many revenue-generating targets.
It’s a waste of time.
Think for a moment about your own social media use. Whether you use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, or all four. What is the combined total, all the time you spend on all of social media, every day? If you have an iPhone, head to Settings>Battery and hit the clock to see all the time that you’ve spent with these apps illuminating your screen. Or, just estimate. For most social media users, that number is almost a full hour–every day. If you’re getting enough sleep (which, most of us aren’t, because, well, social media) then that’s about 1/16 of every waking moment. If you’re okay with that number, try to be conscious about how often you mention how busy you are, how tired you are, or how you just don’t have enough time.
I spent an hour or two every day on my phone, scrolling or posting on social media, texting friends, checking my (very quiet) email inbox, et cetera. Not all of this is inherently bad–connection and community with friends and family is healthy and important. However, as mentioned previously, the ultimate goal of these websites is not to connect you with your community, but to keep your attention.
It’s not about real connection.
All that commenting, sharing, status-updating, story-crafting, and keeping of snap streaks produces only a fraction of the care and involvement that comes with true connection. Sure, it’s something, and if you’re trying to stay updated in the lives of people who perhaps live far away, it may be worth it. This isn’t to say that you can’t connect with someone through your phone. Texting may not be the best way, but chatting on the phone or getting on FaceTime is practically on par with in-person conversation. While that is helpful, the constant life updates we so easily share are not improving anything. “Eating cheesecake! [insert poorly-lit, low-quality photo]”–no one cares! “Im so bored rn, hmu”–no one cares! “Ahhh this made me laugh so hard, sameee”–no one cares! “Just broke up…”–no one cares! “We’re pregnant!”–no one cares! And sure, some of these things really do matter, but please, just please put in the effort to share these things with those that it will be meaningful to. Text your old friend who loved cheesecake a picture of the cheesecake you’re enjoying, and reconnect. Message a friend who you know is going through a hard time, and have a meaningful conversation, instead of scrolling away your boredom. Share that meme with someone whom you know will appreciate it. Call up a supportive friend to talk with about your breakup. Email all the important people to let them know that you are with child, instead of spamming hundreds of innocent social media onlookers with that kind of baggage. (Just kidding…) Seek real connection, not virtual, addictive, pseudo-connection.
If you’re tired of being addicted to the drug of social media, or you just want to find some real connection, here are a few ideas.
Just quit indefinitely.
It may sound difficult, but quitting “cold-turkey” (what does that even mean?) may actually be easier than you’d assume. If you’d like to let people know before you go, make a note of it on your bio, or message a couple people before you delete the apps. But do not, under any circumstances, post on social media about leaving social media. If you do, you immediately jinx yourself into returning within days, tail between legs. (Half-joking?)
If you’re worried about comments being made without your available moderation, you can easily deactivate your Facebook account. After a bit of searching for the option, you’ll find it. After you explain why you’re leaving, and suffer through Facebook showing you the faces of loved ones and saying that “[so-and-so] will miss you” (not joking!), you can then hit the deactivate button. The upside is that this does not delete your account, which I recommend against because of the public journal your account may serve as; you can reactivate simply by re-logging in. The downside is that it will appear to the world as if you have blocked each and every one of them. This is something I am fiendishly entertained by but is often annoying, as in the case of a dear friend who worriedly texted me, asking why I had blocked them–I felt horrible. You can also deactivate your Instagram, which will produce the same effect. Your Twitter is more difficult to disable, and Snapchat will delete your account 30 days after deactivation–but the only permanent part of Snapchat, if you don’t have streaks, is your friends list, which you can recreate when/if you return.
Take a break.
If the thought of quitting scares you, figure out a good length of time to take a break. I would discourage you from taking only a week off, because weeks go by really quickly, and that’s not much time to adjust. For that matter, depending on how old you are, years go by really quickly. Hmm… Go for two or maybe three weeks. If that thought scares you, go for a month or two.
They say everything is good in moderation, right? If you’re less of an abstainer and more of a moderator (see Gretchen Rubin’s assessment), it may be a lot easier and healthier for you to scale back the time you’re spending, instead of attempting to pull away completely. Try these rules for social media moderation:
No social media in the morning. This helps you begin the day sitting with your own thoughts, without that dopamine rush. Turn your alarm off and actually get out of bed, and listen to a podcast or some music while you get ready instead of spending your first ten minutes awake checking meaningless notifications.
Eat without social media. You don’t need to mindlessly eat that sandwich while liking photos you don’t care about. Think about what you’re eating. Enjoy it. This might even help you eat healthier.
Think about what you’re doing before you open social media. To achieve this, set up a trigger, like hiding away your social media apps in the back of an obscure folder on your home screen. When you swipe through to access them, think why am I doing this? Am I filling a small pocket of boredom? If you’re just messaging a friend or looking for a specific piece of information, that’s great. If you’re trying to fill time with mindless and directionless scrolling… maybe give it a rest. Do something that you can truly enjoy, without the guilt of wasted time–read a book, call up a friend, watch something thought-provoking. Or maybe just get some much-needed sleep.
Don’t fall asleep scrolling. You already know it’s bad for your eyes, bad for your sleep, bad for your spirit–just quit. Read a book. Listen to something mildly interesting. Or just lie, thoughts in hand, until you drift off naturally. And yes, if you don’t struggle with some level of insomnia, this paragraph will seem silly to you.
It’s not my goal to come across as Facebook-phobic, or extremist in any way. Social media can certainly be utilized for lots of great purposes–I may return for a day or two to promote this blog post (yes, I realize the irony of that)–and I’ll certainly be back to spread the word about my book release, whenever that finally happens. However, I believe social media is mostly a huge waste of time that affects millions (if not billions) of people daily. The cost of that may never be completely measured.
P.S. As a bonus, if you leave social media, you won’t hear about Trump near as much. It’s pretty great.