The title of this post I’m sure will generate an array of mixed responses – quit social media? Really? For good? Actually yes, for good – and not just ‘for good’ meaning permanently, but ‘for good’ meaning beneficially…
1. This is personal, not prescriptive: Quitting social media and cutting myself off from all that it entails is a personal choice, so the reasons I give here are meant to help you (if you know me and care about why I am doing such a thing) understand my ‘why’ – I’m not trying to convince anyone should do the same, that’s your call.
2. It’s about wholeness, not holiness: As a pastor, I know that some people look to my choices and decisions and can sometimes measure their own decisions based on what they see me doing. The apostle Paul was always careful not to use his freedom if it meant causing someone else to stumble (1 Cor 8:9-10), violating someones conscience is serious and hopefully I don’t trip anyone up in this process. So no, I’m not taking a moral stance, I don’t see this as a faith issue or a ‘maturity’ issue at all – technology is amoral, it’s neither good nor bad – it’s what we do with it that gives it meaning. Quitting social media doesn’t make me better or holier than anyone, my decision is based on my personal pursuit of wholeness and what that looks like for me in my present season will be different for you/other people.
4. People use and are influenced differently by Social Media: As a borderline millennial, I’m a bit of a digital native, I grew up with a Commodore 64, played games on DOS, my first phone was a Motorola brick before finally upgrading to the Nokia 3310. From Golden eye on the N64 to Halo on Xbox, building websites on multiple platforms, managing social media campaigns, adWords, publishing my own ebooks ( and obviously I blog a little), plus dabbling in graphic design… Simply put, I’ve been attached to and worked with internet enabled tech a long time. This is a significant factor for me. I know the tech. How it works. How to leverage it and also how it leverages me. Not everyone is like that. I know some people use social media and internet enabled devices very little and so much of my reasons will have little resonance for those people.
3. This might take a while: The subject matter and the depth of reasons I want to share might mean that this post could get long… that’s a warning, not an apology.
Firstly, what I love
It’s not all bad right? If there was nothing good about Social Media then people wouldn’t use it by the millions. So before I talk about why I am quitting social media I wanted to point out the things I like (and will miss) to show that I’m not just being negative and pessimistic; so no, I’m not just running away from all the ‘rubbish’ on SM – quite the contrary:
- I love seeing my family & friends stories, seeing photos and videos of their kids growing up – especially those ones who live overseas.
- I like being inspired by creative people on Instagram, there’s so much creativity out there!
- I love tuning in to Ps Phil Pringle when he is doing live devotionals on FB and other such people who impart so much value into my life.
- I love the idea that some of what I post might uplift or encourage somebody, somewhere.
- I love that it’s so easy to create an event and invite people, or to be invited somewhere – like friends parties, birthdays, etc
- I love seeing what so many people are doing for God all over the world, it encourages and inspires me
- I like seeing what people are up to that I went to school with or used to work with, even if I don’t see them often any more
- I love a good meme – and puns, puns are great
- I like being current and keeping up to date with tech trends, updates, new platforms and devices – it’s so easy to get left behind if you don’t keep up.
- I love the fun videos, jokes, humour and entertainment that social platforms provide.
- I love being in on the joke – you know, that whole ‘did you see what so and so posted? lol’ – or the funny photo that your friends got tagged in (that you can grill them about later when you see them).
That being said, I felt I needed to approach my use of social media, or perhaps, it’s use of me, more intentionally. Is it really adding value to my life? And is there other ways to ‘get’ these benefits without them coming at such a cost? (Something I might post about at a later date) So with all those GOOD THINGS, why would I leave Social Media behind?
Do the pro’s outweigh the cons?
Social Media is creating a ‘Health Crisis’
It doesn’t take long searching on Google to find study after study linking the use of social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat… to the negative influences it has on mental health, happiness, relationships, self esteem, body image and more. Young people today are reporting higher rates of anxiety in the last 10 years that ever before in history. Social Media really took off about 10 years ago… and I’m just not convinced I am immune to the effects that social media might have on my mental health, and I’m no longer sure I want to risk finding out.
Studies like this one are showing that people, especially millennials, who quit social media are happier.
Social Media runs on ‘Vegas Tactics’
Have you noticed the latest Facebook update? When you check a notification and see a bunch of people liked you photo, you click on it to see which photo it was and then all the likes pop up like bubbles with a ‘pop-pop-pop-pop…’ sound effect. This is a gratification tactic that Vegas uses with it’s pokie machines (slot machines), so when you win the machine goes ‘ding-ding-ding-ding’ (not to be confused with Monty Pythons machine that goes ping) with flashing lights, even if you only win a dollar. You get a hit of dopamine from all the excitement and feed more money into the machine. Social media platforms and all their various notifications are designed to give users the same hit of dopamine to get you addicted to the momentary (yet ever so fleeting) feeling of pseudo happiness. The fact that they employ these kinds of tactics bothers me. I’m a sucker for likes, and I shouldn’t be. Social media has the tendency to feed my ego, and thats something I would prefer to starve.
Social Media is ‘an Addiction’
This follows on from the last issue – the reason Social Media companies use these tactics is because the more we use their platform the more data they can gather about us, and then sell that data to their advertising partners. Ever wonder how these sites know what you’re looking for or wanting to buy? It’s called targeted marketing. So they design the apps to be addictive on purpose to get more data and make more money. The reality of the dangerous effects of a social media addiction have been well researched and documented, here’s one example that shows that,
- Addictive use of social media was related to higher narcissism.
- Addictive use of social media was related to lower self-esteem.
I’m not saying that I’ve become a narcissist or that I have low self esteem, but would agree that social media became some kind of addiction. I discovered this uninstalling social media apps from my phone for a week or two to see how I felt. It was very telling. I also am aware that my kids see me using technology a lot. I don’t want to have any harmful addictions (coffee = not harmful) and I certainly don’t want to model any to my kids or those I’m responsible for.
Why do I reach for my phone in the morning (other than turning off an alarm)? Why do I check Facebook before I go to bed at night? If I’m bored – why do I reach for my phone almost immediately? When I’m scrolling, what am I hoping to find? And do I ever really find it? Reflecting on these questions was a crucial part of self-locating where I was in my relationship with social media.
Social Media is ‘Attention Fracturing’
More and more we see individual’s capacity for intense concentration becoming less and less. The ability to focus and achieve goals becoming rarer and rarer (See Dr Cal’s TED talk below). Social media – and the need to check it regularly for notifications, post updates, likes, follows, snaps, etc… fragments our attention and actually reduces our cognitive capacity. Even if we’re out for dinner or a coffee, we’re not 100% engaged because we’re weighing up whether or not to post a photo of this moment. Consider this, can you go out for dinner and leave your phone at home? Can you turn off your notifications and not check them for an entire day? A week? I couldn’t. Sad I know. So I wondered, how much of my attention and capacity for laser like focus in the things that truly matter to me is being fragmented and diminished by my frequent social media usage? For me it was too much. I also wondered, how much more focused and intentional could I be in all spheres of my life if my capacity wasn’t being fractured like it was?
Research shows we’re losing our capacity for laser focus in work and we’re losing the art of being fully present in relationships…
Social Media is ‘Presence Disabling’
If you were speaking face to face with a person and someone pushed in and popped up in the middle of the two of you and tried to start speaking you would think it was incredibly rude. Yet, we have no problem checking notifications or even texting (or answering a call) during mid conversation – so much so we don’t even excuse ourselves. Wearable tech like the Apple Watch has made this even worse – you don’t need to take your phone out of your pocket any more to simply ignore the person in front of you and check your wrist. What does checking your notification cost you? And is it worth what you gain? One reason why I never purchased a smart watch to begin with…
We’re losing our capacity to be fully present in each moment.
I wonder how many moments I’ve missed with my kids or my wife because I was “busy” replying to a comment, or checking a message, or worse, just scrolling aimlessly.
I wonder how many moments I didn’t fully engage in because I was so busy trying to ‘capture’ the right angle and “share” it when I could of been more intentional in actually sharing in the moment with the people in front of me.
Worse still. My kids don’t know any different. What they see in me they will perceive as normal and acceptable behaviour. I’m not sure I’m ok with the standard I’ve been setting when it comes to using my phone Vs practicing being present.
There’s so much more
There are so many subtle and subversive reasons too, like
- Relying on tech to reach out to people instead of actually reaching out to them in a personal, relational way
- I haven’t even began to mention all the negative stuff on social media, that would need an entire post all to itself – the ranting, the hate, the trolling, the racism, sexism, pornography, objectification of men and women, the fake news, the fear, the celebrity rubbish… and on and on it goes.
- The danger of assuming that because I saw someones post means that I’ve ‘kept up with them’ and they with me
- Placing too much confidence in the system of the world to build my personal brand/ministry/life/relationships, etc…
- Believing the lie that you need followers, likes, comments, etc… to somehow be valuable or worthy in some way
- The troubling psychology of sharing things with people not present with you so that they can like your moment but not actually share the experience with you. Really, what’s the motivation for this? How am I trying to make other people feel when I share my highlights?
- Having ‘friends’ online that you wouldn’t ever invite out for coffee… nor would they invite you.
- Comparison is the death of contentment and Social Media has the tendency to be one big comparison game. It’s your highlight reel vs my behind the scenes, or my highlight reel vs your behind the scenes. Either way, comparison is not helpful or healthy.
If you really want to get a bit deeper into some of the thinking behind my decision, and maybe yours, here’s a few video’s that were influential
Simon Sinek dissects things brilliantly
Dr Cal Newport’s TED talk is compelling
This guy is a computer genius – yet he’s never had a social media account. His 14 minute TED talk is worth a watch.
And this spoken word piece gets you thinking
As does this one
So what would it cost me to quit social media?
A lot of good things. All those enjoyable, life giving, connections, moments and stories I have and share with people all over various platforms. But do the pro’s outweigh the cons? For me personally, for how deep social media is in my veins and how much I see it intermingled in my hours and days – I’m not convinced it’s worth staying logged in… or even registered for that matter.
Alternatively, what would it cost me in the long run if I don’t quit? More than I think I’m willing to find out.
So what now?
I’ll download a copy of my Facebook data, that way I get to keep all the photo’s, videos, chats, etc, here’s how to do that
Next I’ll download every one of my Instagram photos and videos using InstaG Downloader
I haven’t talked about it above, but I’m also unsubscribing from almost every email/newsletter that I get. I mostly delete them without reading them anyway, but that takes up precious time, clogs up my email and doesn’t add value to my day – I’ll do that in less than a minute using unroll.me
I’ll share this blog on all my social sites to let my friends know what I’m doing and why (the irony couldn’t be better could it?). I’ll leave it sit there for a bit then I’ll start systematically deactivating Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, Tumblr, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Snapchat, etc… AND obviously I’ll be disabling all the code on this blog that links to my Social pages, resetting all my logins that are connected to FB, etc… Note: I am going to keep Twitter because I only use it for one thing, contacting companies when their regular customer service avenues aren’t working (it’s super useful for that, otherwise I never use it anyway).
I will continue to use use things like WhatsApp & Google Hangouts, to chat to people directly.
And I might still post a blog from time to time – but you’ll need to subscribe below to get notified cos obviously I won’t be sharing new posts on social sites anymore (and yes I know, social drives web traffic… blah blah blah… still not a big enough pro to outweigh the cons for me).
So what do you think?
What’s your journey with tech and social media been? Where do you sit? Is this a conversation you want to have with your family, your kids, your spouse? I’d love to hear your thoughts below – just don’t try and reach me on Facebook 😉