Sam Holstein

Another Day Passes, I Still Don’t Have Social Media, and I Still Feel Great

Another Day Passes, I Still Don’t Have Social Media, and I Still Feel Great

In the latest issue of Medium’s The Edition, VP of Content Jermaine Hall shared with us members a number of wonderful articles, and two of them were about social media: “How Social Media Has Made Us All Rivals” by Luke Burgis and “Instagram Has Become SkyMall” by Clive Thompson. They are, as most articles about social media usually are, criticisms of the current social media model and suggestions for ways social media companies could perhaps scrub the tendency to encourage suffering out of their business models. It may be funny that Instagram is the new SkyMall, but being funny doesn’t make it good.

We’ve been seeing articles like these since 2015, when Facebook started to produce scandal after scandal with reckless abandon. Criticizing social media in this way has practically become a genre of it’s own, everyone with their own take on how “it ought to be fixed.”

And consistient with the theme, after the first wave of articles criticizing social media was the second wave of articles defending the general principle. No one openly denied that social media in its current incarnation was a problem, but many suggested that deleting your social media altogether was an extreme reaction and that we just needed to be mindful about our consumption. (Mindfulness was big at the time, too).

This argument struck me as a sort of “bargain-with-the-devil” arrangement. Like, okay, we know Zuckerberg’s lost the plot, and we know these services work based on a draconian application of modern psychology, but, like, maybe we can still have the good parts without the bad parts? It reminds me of the reasoning people use to justify doing drugs before they are ready to admit the drugs are a problem.

My opinion on this has only gotten stronger since quitting.

I quit social media well before coronavirus was a concern, in February of 2019, following a toxic breakup with a man who was a Snapchat addict. What started as a desperate attempt to go no-contact with an ex and his friends turned into a decision that ended up improving my life so much that I stuck with it for good. I wrote a one-year reflection without social media that became very popular, and then a two-year reflection. We are at about the two-and-a-half-year mark, and I couldn’t be more glad I quit.

 People talk a big game about the “downsides” of quitting social media (mostly concerns about staying in touch with old friends), but I’ve experienced nearly none of this supposed downside. I’m not convinced it actually exists; I think it’s just a boogeyman people invent in their minds to keep them comfortable with their own social media use. 

Obviously quitting social media changed my life. But that’s kind of the point.

I’m now free from the routine humiliations of social media. I spend much less time comparing myself to others because there is no algorithm feeding my insecurities, I spend much less money on stupid products I learn about via social media, I spend much more time doing things I want to be doing, whether that’s work, exercise, hobbies, or seeing loved ones, and I don’t have anything beeping at me all the damn time. 

All in all, quitting social media was at least an instantaneous 20% increase in my quality of life.

Even the pandemic, with all its horror, did not change this much. I still have email, text, phone call, and various video chat platforms with which I may reach out to others. Not having social media actually insulated me from the worst of the pandemic, from the scaremongering to the fake news to the outrageous political nonsense. People all over Medium talk about social distancing like it was one of the most overwhelming, traumatizing experiences of their life, but for me, it was mostly a non-event.¹ That wasn’t a result of chance, that was a result of consciously opting out of communication platforms that breed outrage and nonsense

Because honestly, none of it was that big of a deal. Everything that was a problem was certainly a problem — people who refused to wear masks, police brutality, the economy, all of it — but none of it was so severe that laying in bed in a state of near-hyperventilation was an appropriate response. Social media tricked us into thinking that.

In fact, if social media hadn’t been stoking people’s worst instincts, I don’t think half that shit would have happened. More people would have worn masks because it wouldn’t have become so politicized, Trump would have had less foundation to be bombastic, the economy might not have gotten so destabilized, and maybe the capital wouldn’t have been stormed in the first place.

When you have a shitty boyfriend that could be a better boyfriend if he would just change, do you bargain with him to change? Do you tell yourself I just need to interact with him more mindfully so he isn’t shitty? No, you dump that shitty boyfriend. 

So whenever I see another article discussing the pros and cons of social media, the cultural place of social media, or some other pointless discourse about social media, I sigh. We all really need to dump our shitty boyfriend.

It’s too late for you to quit social media three years ago, but the second-best time to plant a tree is today. So please, do yourself a favor. Stop living in an invented reality based on what some machine-learning program thinks you ought to see and start living in the real world, the one with trees and plants and bodies and baked bread. Get your news from trustworthy sources and get your social opinions from thoughtful discussions with real people around you.

I promise you won’t regret it.

1: Obviously the pandemic was traumatizing for front-line workers, the sick, the jobless, and anyone directly affected. But when I see people saying they are “traumatized from the pandemic” and they are referring merely to the social unrest and political outrage they accessed through their internet connection, I just think to myself you’re the one who chose to put yourself through that.