So, recently, among the ever-growing desperate calls from my therapist, my brain, my loved ones, and my professors to stay off of social media, I finally did something so unlike me that it is quite striking: I listened to the people who claim they know the best for me. For the people who know me in my daily life, such an accomplishment could be considered practically impossible.
Several times throughout the course of my life, my parents have ushered me to not do the things that I, of course, ended up doing, only to weep in their laps afterwards while they tried very hard not to tell me that they told me so.
And so, after 22 years of not taking advice from the people who watch me suffer, often in a self-imposed and voluntary manner, I gave up social media and took a good, hard look at my life. And it has been wonderful. So, if you have been thinking of doing the same, keep reading. In this article, I’ll give you a few tips that may help you stay off of social media, and a few lessons I have learned from my self-imposed exile from the social internet.
Now, just as a disclaimer: my socials probably look a lot different than the average 22-year-old. I typically follow more accounts on Instagram concerning social justice & Left-oriented content rather than individual people. I also followed many local businesses, as I recognized this is a cheap, free, and easy way for my neighbors and community members to get their advertising out.
On Twitter, I similarly follow many political pundits, theorists, and similar accounts which keep me informed and validated my thoughts and feelings. So, I recognize that my social internet looks very different than others, and just wanted to hand out that disclaimer. However, I firmly believe that the inundation of political content via social media has a similar or an even more egregious impact on the psyche because of the reinforcement that one does not have to think for oneself, but simply buy into the gurus who have the most charismatic argument out there. This caused a lot of cognitive dissonance for me, and eventually sunk me into a depression about the world that I could not shake. For that reason, I stepped away.
Here are some tips if you’re considering doing this yourself:
- Be careful about filling the trash, nonsense content you are missing with other content– even if it is slightly less trash and less nonsense content
Something that I am guilty of doing, albeit unknowingly, is to fill the time that I previously spent on Instagram and Twitter with YouTube and Netflix. But just because you are interacting less with content via those other apps doesn’t mean you aren’t still wasting your time. I’m not entirely sure about the brain-science behind this, but as a person with addictive tendencies, I’m sure that plays a role in how much I unconsciously crave content streaming. But that’s a trap! If you’re leaving social media to be more thoughtful and spend more time with yourself– as I promised I would do– then this is just not the answer for it. So delete YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu from your phone too. You can always stream with your laptop, but I found that it takes extra time and effort during which I can rethink that decision.
- Make a list of the activities you have been putting aside in favor of the social internet
I found that once I “quit” social media, I really just wouldn’t know what to do with my time, and I would eventually just re-download my apps and go back to scrolling mindlessly just to fill time. However, this time, I prepared a list of activities that I missed, from which I felt that the social internet was keeping me. Do you want to read more? Do you want to actually watch a whole movie through, without tweeting about it? Do you want to read the news from an actual news source? Or take a walk, or play basketball with your friends, or cook more, etc.? You may have to retrain your attention span to do these things, but there was a time prior to social media, so it is possible to do fun activities without posting about it.
- Set an end goal
Why are you cleansing? Is it because you are spending way too much time on other people’s lives instead of your own? Or is it one solitary toxic person online dragging you into a negative headspace? Any reason is good enough, of course. But it’s important to identify the trigger points and address them head-on. Ask yourself how long you want to stay off– a week? A month? Forever? For example, I’m cleansing because The Discourse of Twitter finally got to me, and I had to get off of it. My end goal is to stay permanently off of the social internet. So, I have set parameters to help me achieve those goals.
I think social media exiles bring up a lot more questions than they answer, to be honest. In an age where your entire life is online– from the professional (LinkedIn) to the way to personal (Twitter), there is a constant urge to publicize. And yet, I am convinced that by the process of knowing that others may see what you are saying, it changes what you say and how you say it as well. Even those of us who promise that we don’t care what anyone thinks of us certainly play a role for the outside world. So, I like to journal. Journaling is the one and only place in the entire world where you can truly be yourself without any concern for judgement. Plus, journals are so cute and fun to buy!
- Don’t announce your self-imposed exile to your social accounts
I have actually found that the times where I told my social media following that I was quitting were actually harder to stay true to my promise. This time, I slipped off of socials and only told the people in my daily life– if it came up. That way, I didn’t feel an expectation from others that would ultimately result in my “failure”. Something that has helped me stay true to my resolution was to give my accounts and passwords over to my partner, who periodically checks to see if I have gotten messages that may require a response. This has helped me feel comfortable that I was getting responses to the folks who needed it, while still staying out of the social internet realm myself. For me, this method is crucial
- Stay informed– in healthy ways
Being off of social media– especially for the political person– doesn’t mean to ignore the world completely. We can’t afford to be nihilistic now. I don’t think you should replace your Twitter content with BBC content. And I really discourage having news apps on your phones (I find that they only increase my existential dread and panic about the state of the world). But I do think that you can and should curate news content to stay informed, and actually take the time to develop an opinion on the happenings of the world– your own opinion. As for being involved in social media activism, there might be avenues to be more physically involved in your community. Seek those out if that’s something you know you’ll miss. Volunteer at local organizations, or participate in marches, lobbying efforts, or political discourse at the community-level. More than likely, they’ll be glad to have you off your phone and in the streets (DISCLAIMER: I am not disparaging social media activism– in recent times, revolutionary activism has relied on and utilized heavily social media activism. It’s important, but it isn’t the only way to get involved).
Here are just a few from which you may derive some sort of knowledge or wisdom if you are considering embarking on this masochistic journey into solitude:
- It’s really hard
So, I’ve done these “social media cleanses” before. I always would delete the apps, and then feel like the entire world revolved around me and that people were missing my content and that I was probably getting messages and that I just had to post about the latest social justice issue, etc., etc. The reality check is that no one cares. Life is going to happen regardless of if you post about it or not, so try the latter. It is quite humbling to know that the people who really want your opinion will reach out to have meaningful conversations, and the rest is just noise. But of course, it is really hard, and like anything else will take perseverance and practice. So don’t be too hard on yourself if you “fail”– it’s more about the journey than about the end goal anyway.
- I’ve gained more time and space in my brain to do the things I always said I would do and never got around to because Instagram is a literal monster of a mechanism which profits from keeping you unproductive
As a person who hails from a critical thought perspective on the world, I remind myself that this quarantine is actually a tiny, personal win over the capitalistic algorithm which prevents meaningful thought and productivity (although, I suppose one can argue that productivity is also a capitalistic myth that we should dismantle). So, the list I mentioned earlier? I’m actually doing it. That isn’t meant to be a humblebrag, but genuine excitement over listening to podcasts about topics I care about, reading real, whole books, and spending time with my friends completely unconcerned with my ex-partner’s new girlfriend’s life on social media. Fighting Capitalists and being happy at the same time is lovely.
- Podcasts are a great replacement for the absolute trash, nonsense content that you feel that you’re missing out on
If you’re anything like me– and one can only hope that you are not– you’ll still crave content streaming after deleting everything from your phone. I have opted for podcasts. Typically, I’ll research good ones prior to listening to them, but now, I have just decided to go for it. I don’t need strangers on the internet to tell me which ones are good. I opt for informative Left podcasts, but there are funny ones, true crime ones, and really any topics that fit what you are craving from content streaming. I won’t offer you any recommendations because that would defeat the purpose of this entire article, but think for yourself. What do you like? There’s probably a podcast for it!
- Your friends can keep you updated on the trash, nonsense content that you feel that you’re missing out on
If your friends are anything like mine, they will be supportive. But they will also be trash human beings who won’t do it with you. (Just kidding, I love my friends and they are individual people who definitely don’t share one single brain cell with me or anything). If your friends are anything like mine, they will support you, but they will also keep you informed on the gossip you’re missing. So chill out. You’ve got spies and coup-throwers in your life more advanced than the CIA. You won’t miss a single drop of drama while you’re on your vacation from the disgusting social media world.
- It’s worth it
If you’re anything like me, your therapist has told you multiple times to quit social media, or at least cut back on it, and you simply have laughed at her and said, “I can quit anytime I want, Doc.” You were wrong. You are wrong. Your therapist is right. It is worth it, even if you do it for a short interval of time. My head has cleared up so much, and I am surer of what I want now, more than ever. And all it took was intense therapy and three weeks without social media. And the latter one of those is free! If you can do something for free that will make you feel better, why wouldn’t you? I promise, it really is worth it.
Of course, I am only three weeks in, and none of my advice is perfect. I’m still trying to figure out how to support community businesses without wandering onto Facebook, and how to communicate with organizers across the world without logging onto Twitter. But if I can do it, so can do it. Don’t be afraid. It’ll take perseverance, but like with anything else, if this is something you feel strongly about– some faith, struggle, and solidarity will get you through it. See you on the other side. Or not, if you don’t post about it!