Why I Quit Social Media for a Year and What I Learned

From July of 2015 to July of 2016 I quit using social media… mainly: 

  • Facebook, 
  • Instagram, 
  • and Twitter 

but I was still doing things like watching the occasional YouTube video and using e-mail. This is a topic that often gets people quite worked up. You have people that demonize social media and applaud anyone who quits. Then you have other people who say that social media is amazing, and quitting is stupid, or that you should just use it less. This video is not about trying to convince you that social media is the devil, or that everyone should quit. This video is just a reflection on my own life, about why I quit, what I learned, and how I use social media now. 

01 | Why I Quit

The main reason I quit was that I was compulsively checking social media. I was wasting lots of time on it. When I got up in the morning, the first thing I would do is roll over and check all my social media accounts. Any time I was bored or in an awkward situation, I would pull out my phone and start scrolling through social media. It began to feel like a crutch. Instead of doing activities that I deeply enjoyed and created value for me, I took the easier but less fruitful action of scrolling through social media. I felt like I wasn’t accomplishing very much in my life. Now I know what some of you are thinking:

02 | Why Don't You Just Control Yourself

Whenever someone quits social media, there is always this outcry from people who just say: “why don’t you just control how you use it”. I can see where you’re coming from, but I think we also have to understand that social media was designed to be addictive. The creators of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter want you to stay on their apps as long as possible. They pour millions of dollars into researching what humans find addictive and how they can better craft their apps to get you to stay on them and use them as long as possible. 

I recently read a book by Nicholas Carr titled “The shallows”. The book is essentially about how the internet is affecting our ability to focus, think, and learn deeply. It’s takes a very scientific approach and is well researched. In that book, Carr explains how our brains are quite “plastic”. Previously, it was thought that brains were not very plastic, and that once we hit a certain age, our brains were fully developed and we were who we were. We couldn’t change our brains. I think this is best summarized by the quote:

You can’t teach an old dog, newtricks.

But studies in neuroplasticity show that this isn’t true. The brain is more malleable than we thought. Our circuits can be rewired and we can be changed. Every time we receive a like, or a follow, our phone notifies us and we get little hits of dopamine. Every time we unlock our phone, and open up Instagram we’re stimulating many of our senses. 

We hear and see the notifications. We can feel the phone in our hand. Every time we touch a tab, we’re rewarded with new information about what our peers are doing. Every time you refresh the page, there’s newer information which rewards our brains with even more dopamine. Our brain loves to learn and learns to love the attention we receive, when we use social media and because of that we want to keep using it. As we continue to repeat the cycle, we strength this connection and this addiction in our brains.

On top of that, Carr makes a really critical point in his book. Not just social media, the internet as a whole rewards us for shallow thinking. Here is a quote from his book:

…when we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning.
— Nicholas Carr

Blog posts are littered with url’s to other blog posts. YouTube is constantly showing you a 100 other videos you could be watching in the sidebar, in annotations, and at the end of the video. You can read the comments while you’re watching the video, incase you didn’t feel stimulated enough. A simple scroll in Instagram will show you a new photo that you haven’t seen before. The internet encourages us to rush from place to place and from link to link.

In the end, all I’m saying is that while there are ways to control our social media usage, we should also remember that it was designed to be addictive and as Nicolas Carr put it, it was designed to reward shallow and hurried thinking

03 | What I Learned

The first thing is that I could learn more deeply and create more. During this time I began to read a lot of books, produce music, and write articles. I wanted to learn more deeply and to create more and quitting social media provided me with a more distraction free environment to do these things. I became more productive because I didn’t have notifications popping up and distracting me all the time. As I created more in my own room I began to find out more about myself. I felt less influenced by what everyone else might think of me.

The second thing is that I won’t miss out. Everyone has this fear of missing out when they leave social media. They think that they will be out of the loop. The truth is, the only thing you’ll be out of the loop on is memes, gossip, and pop culture news. Things that are completely useless for your life. Some of you may be thinking, but what about those times when a disaster happened half way across the world, and because of social media we were all able to find out about it. That’s the amazing thing about social media. We can get information like that out to the world in a matter of seconds. However, Are people actually taking action once they hear about these disasters? Or are they just hearing about them and talking about them. Also, what if we created an app where everyone could link there credit cards too, and any time a disaster happened people could read about it and then decide whether they want to donate money to help. Is social media really necessary for communicating these disasters? Because, unfortunately, for every good post that we see on social media their are 100 dumb or meaningless ones. Anyways, this is all just food for thought.

Thirdly, I learned that social media gives rise to lots of fake relationships. I felt that I shed lots of superficial relationships. It’s weird because through social media we feel like we are still connected to people that we used to know. We like each others photos, or see each others photos and think that we still know each other. The truth is, so many years have passed in that time. We’re different people. We don’t see all the experiences that happened behind the scenes. We don’t actually really know each other anymore. 

Lastly, I found that I was also happier. I was no longer surrounded by these perfectly curated Instagram photos. I wasn’t seeing the highlights of everyones life and comparing it to my behind the scenes. I was just concerned with what was going on in the moment and with my own life. 

04 | How I Manage My Social Media Now

Now, my goal is to use social media deliberately and on my own terms. I try not to be sucked into the highlight reels and all the negative aspects. I do this by:

  • turning off all notifications, so i’m not being constantly distracted. I check social media when I feel like it. I only browse and post deliberately.
  • I deleted social media off all mobile devices, so I don’t check it while i’m out with people. 
  • I pretty much only use Instagram and YouTube. On Instagram, I don’t follow anyone who posts things that might make me feel a type of way. I just try to follow people who add value to my life , or offer me some happiness when I tune into the app.
  • On YouTube, I try to only log in twice a day, to respond to comments. I try not to look at the views, likes, and dislikes so that I don’t get to attached to those metrics. I create content that I want and that I believe will help people. I post it, and the rest of it is out of my hands, so I move on and live my life.

05 | Conclusion

This video was just meant to offer you one perspective on what quitting social media is like and hopefully to cause you to reflect on your own use of social media.

What are your thoughts on social media? Would you ever quit?