Living on the Other Side of Quitting Social Media
Six months after quitting, what have I learned?
I quit social media on September 4, 2020.
I meant for it to be a break over the long Labor Day weekend in the United States. I just kept extending said break at first since it was so freeing to be away from the busyness and anxiety of the various platforms and I could tell I liked me more off of them. And then, somewhere in October I think, I realized this was likely a divorce. Like with the divorce of my marriage, it took me a long time to read the signs that my relationship with social media wasn’t what I wanted in my life; that it was keeping me trapped in a cycle that led to my choosing the smallest version of me, not the most expansive; and that life on the other side wasn’t nearly as scary, lonely, or isolating as I thought it would be.
I still haven’t deleted the accounts. Maybe there are parallels here to when you don’t want to delete an ex’s contact information because you don’t want to fully give up hope on that relationship and you also want to have a heads up should they be the ones to send the drunken texts or call you out of the blue because apparently that’s a thing people do at the beginning of global pandemics. I’m not sure. In my most generous telling of why I haven’t deleted these accounts, I remind myself that I don’t want to lose sight of who I was - good, bad, reductionist, ugly - during the period in which I was a member of the Very Online.
Like with all growth we make in life, my path using and then leaving socials was my own. I am enormously thankful, however, to a friend of mine (who writes his own brilliant newsletter on whiteness here if you’re interested) who, for months, helped me look at who I was becoming and the ways in which the stories of connection, belonging, access to new views and perspectives, and the others that kept me on the platforms were both true and were keeping me stuck. I also owe a lot, ironically, to a meditation session on the topic of leaving social media led by Yumi Sakugawa whom I met on...social media. And then I listened to this podcast where Zak Stein blew my mind by helping me see how, as we run out of resources to extract on earth, capitalism has found us a new resource to extract: our personal data and the capacity to be in any sort of society together.
So I embarked on my weekend away from the socials. And now, I’ve been social media sober for a little more than six months (as a child whose family members are nearly all addicts, I don’t use “sober” lightly. It is, however, increasingly apparent these companies use the science of addiction to make us all addicts and that quitting the platforms can be as difficult as realizing drug and alcohol sobriety).
So what have I (re)learned?
Subtlety. Stillness. How to locate my own voice and stop crowdsourcing my morality and opinions. Quiet. Depth. Integrity. Connection.
All of those come up when I think about what I’ve gained and it honestly feels like I’ve reconnected to the depths of myself. I have time to read books on topics I was previously limiting myself to brilliant twitter threads about. I have time to deepen my meditation practice. I have the stillness of mind to make connections between what I’m seeing, feeling, sensing, and otherwise knowing about myself, the world, and my place in it alongside others. I’ve had the space in my heart, body, and mind to strengthen my relationship with the earth from a place of love and interconnection and without simultaneously planning my insta story sequence about it. I’ve learned to trust in the abundance of life and in my own instincts. I have a stronger sense of when I should go slow on something (most times) and when I should go fast, and I’ve learned how to do just that. I have greater clarity about the world I’m trying to build and I’m fueled by that, instead of simply the righteous anger at what I want to tear down.
It’s also been confronting. I’ve had to look at the dissonance between who I want to be in the world as a changemaker and the quality of my actions toward bringing forth that world (instead of making a social media post about a particular timely issue and calling it activism). I’ve had to confront some of my deeper emotional demons that suddenly found oxygen to surface when I stopped numbing myself by doomscrolling or otherwise “connecting”. I’ve had to rely on friends I’m close enough to text or call, as well as myself, for finding recommendations (for new books, recipes, the other things I would just haphazardly and lazily put out for crowdsourced knowledge about in the spirit of engagement).
I’ve been enriched - enormously - by the confronting of these challenges. In nearly all aspects, my life feels bigger, not smaller, because I’ve taken this leap and done the associated work and healing. I certainly feel more capable of being in relationship with others - myself included. On the other side of quitting social media, I more fervently believe Zak Stein’s perspective that social media is extracting our very ability to be in relationship with one another (to say nothing of the mindless ways I was enriching companies and capitalists who prefer the status quo of surplus suffering for so many around the globe).
The one part of my life that doesn’t feel as big as it used to and, with time and reflection, I’ve been inspired to do something about (that isn’t simply rejoining certain platforms!) is the sense of connection to and learning from the folks outside my immediate close circle that was made easier on social media. Certainly COVID has exacerbated this disconnection with our more casual or circumstantial friends and acquaintances, too, for all of us, whether we’ve quit social media or not. But this desire to find a new way to reconnect, to share, to start conversations, and to be enriched by others’ thinking in a way that is more aligned to the gorgeous life I’ve started to live away from those extractive platforms has been persistent. In addition to what I share here about why I started this newsletter, this desire has propelled me to give this long-form way of connecting and sharing a try. Let’s see what we get in the sharing of these posts (editions?) and in your beautiful comments to come.
In the meantime, might it be time in your life to give yourself a weekend free of social media and see where it leads you?