About a month ago, a background hum of annoyance with social media became loud enough that I decided to take a break. The Cambridge Analytica scandal was the nail in Facebook’s coffin for me, and that coffin was already pretty well nailed shut. The time that became free when I stopped using Facebook didn’t immediately get used for more nourishing things, it just got divided between Instagram and Twitter. The same amount of scrolling, just in different places.
The more time I spent on Instagram, the more keenly aware I became of the lives I wasn’t living, places I wasn’t visiting, and the adventures I wasn’t having. It annoyed me that people increasingly share their vanity with the world — it’s narcissism and solipsism run amok. Twitter, on the other hand, has always been more of a news feed for me. It’s never felt like social media in the way that Facebook did, it was more of a utility: news with the world’s most opinionated and unnecessarily mean comment section. Social media remains the only way that people you would otherwise ignore get access to your time and thoughts.
Social media hiatuses and digital detoxes are par for the course these days and if there’s a bandwagon I’d recommend jumping on, it would probably be this one. This groundswell alone should indicate that something isn’t right with the way we spend our time.
So what happens when you willingly reclaim that time? The truth is, I didn’t have a major epiphany in the last 30 days. I haven’t gone to live in the mountains (unfortunately) and, on the whole, life without social media has been much like it was before social media. If you lived for any number of years before 2010, you can probably remember a time before social media. I can tell you that in much the same way life without social media was fine before 2010, it’s still fine in 2018. I read a lot more, I went hiking, my mind got quieter, and I took up running. When you don’t have a feed to scroll through, you’ll fill the time with something else. It’s just that without the distraction of social media, that something else might add value to your life.
I don’t miss the vitriol, the reactivity, the people-as-brands mentality, and the way that social media makes everything so impersonally personal, but I did miss the kindness, support, serendipity and community. Gloucester Rugby had a great start to the season and it was the first time I’ve been aware of just how nice it is to follow along with something, even if the people you’re following along with aren’t in the same room or city or country.
What I’ve mostly realised is that social media itself is neither good or bad; it’s a tool. The way you approach it is what defines its value. I’d like to change the way I use social media rather than abandon it altogether. I don’t want social media to be a place where communication is only in one direction, where it’s a pacifier for moments of silence, or where I feel I have to be ‘on brand.’ I’d like it if the communication it facilitates is meaningful. Twitter can be like a noisy bar at times — everyone’s talking loudly and there’s a group in the corner who have had far too much to drink, while an annoying bloke who’s definitely had one too many keeps butting in on your conversation without invitation. But sometimes amongst all that noise, there’s a fascinating conversation going on in the corner where people are whispering to each other and still listening. That’s the conversation I want to be a part of.
Ultimately, social media is a place for communicating our thoughts, ideas, and creations. I don’t want it to be the place I create content, but the place I have a conversation around the content I’ve created. And furthermore, that content should be shared without anticipation of reward. I’m not a brand and the ‘likes’ and followers don’t matter (really, they don’t). Derek Sivers once said that putting ads in your work is like putting a Coke machine in a monastery, and I think the same devaluation of you as a person occurs when you treat your life as if it were a brand or image to be curated and maintained.
With that said, I plan to come back to social media and use it more wisely than I have before. Except Facebook. Facebook is dead to me.