About six months ago, I radically changed my social media usage. Deleted my accounts on Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest and more. Unfriended and unfollowed almost everyone on Facebook. Tried to delete Instagram. (More on that later.)
And then I paid attention to what happened.
Before I explain what happened and what decisions those observations led to, it’s probably worth dwelling on that sentence: I paid attention to what happened.
Every day, we make choices. Sometimes routine, sometimes unusual, those choices create our experience of our lives. Most of them have small effects. Some are game changers. Some (but blessed few) are irreversible. Far too many go unobserved.
We would all be well served by periodic consideration of how our decisions are working, how our habits are serving us, if this path is still the one we want to be on.
Those reviews can be scary though. They have the potential to radically change our lives, pointing out relationships, jobs, or ways of being that are completely wrong for us.
Sometimes cleaning out a closet can lead to moving across the country. Sometimes changing a friendship can change the course of your life. And that is both heady and terrifying.
Nothing quite that radical came to me after six months (mostly) off social. But some important observations did.
- Some people use Facebook as a personal scrapbook and that is A-OK. It’s not for me, but I can see the value of having a record of family vacations, milestones, and status reports.
- Some people use social to say the things no one in their real life wants to hear. I don’t know if that’s necessarily good or bad, but it probably is worth wondering why you tell the internet things you don’t say in real life. Or why you are meaner/funnier/more creative/more engaged on line than in person.
- Some people use social to dream. That can veer quickly from healthy to toxic. Creative inspiration can morph into competitive despair. Ideas can become expectations. Aspiration can become entitlement.
- Some people can leverage the shallow ties of social into deeper connection with friends, collaborators, or ideas. But too many of us are simply splashing around in the shallow end of the pool and calling it swimming.
I have been guilty of all of these things, and taking away social has brought those questions into sharper focus in my own life. It was a worthy exercise.
So what did I learn?
Sometimes I think of something funny and wish I could post it on Twitter. That is literally the only time I miss it.
Pinterest didn’t encourage my creativity. It was too demoralizing to scroll through endless images of perfect meals, homes and outfits. I will never have enough, be enough or do anything pretty enough according to Pinterest.
Facebook gives me a false sense of how people are doing. I have to read between the lines to figure out what’s going on with them. If they are truly my friend, they don’t need a “like.” They deserve a phone call or a cup of coffee. And if I’m unlikely to reach out that way, then why am I keeping up with their daily life anyway?
None of these observations are universal or unique to any of these software platforms. They simply reflect how I used them in the past, and how I want to engage with these ideas going forward.
Which brings me to Instagram.
I’ve missed Instagram. Ironically, it is the hardest app to delete because it is DARNED near impossible to get them to delete your account. But I found myself wondering about a few artists and people I follow on Instagram. I wondered what they were making, how they were doing. And I realized that my feed on Instagram was my own artist’s notebook, filled with snapshots of things I found beautiful and inspiring.
In Instagram, I had created a world of people who are doing interesting things and I missed that conversation.
Those conversations can happen on anywhere online. It simply requires some careful cultivation and culling of who you choose to listen to. It’s your (virtual) dinner party and you get to choose who you’re going to invite to sit at your table.
So, sixth moths later, here’s what I’ve decided:
- After blowing up my Twitter account entirely, I started a new account under the same name. I don’t follow anyone or post anything there but I wanted to “own” my name. It felt important.
- I will continue to minimize Fecabook until I can figure out how to unravel my work obligations to it. Then I will delete it completely. I’m not comfortable with how Facebook handles my information and am unwilling to feed that machine any more.
- I have started to venture slowly back into Instagram, liking and commenting here and there. And I might post a picture or two when I feel like it – not for likes or follows but because I want to remember the moment when I saw that thing. And because I post no personal details or images on Instagram, I have fewer privacy concerns, despite the company being owned by Facebook.
So that’s the state of things today. I posted it not to tell you what you should do, but to encourage you to do your own review now and then. It might end up that you take some of these apps off your phone or it might end up that you redefine what it means to be a friend.
All I know is that social is a deceptively powerful tool. The companies who make them are actively working to change our behaviors and to get us to buy things. They are not neutral.
And they always be a shallow substitute for real connection.
Photo taken by me with a Nikon DSLR.