The article is divided into four parts —
- Why I quit Social Media?
- The truth about quitting Social Media.
- Serious Benefits
- Moral of my story.
Oh, and forgive the occasional rants. Enjoy.
1. Why I quit Social Media?
Before you claim I am a Demi-god for quitting the most ubiquitous phenomenon of the 21st century, let me first clarify by stating that I was never an ardent fan of Social Media. When I say Social Media, I mean the 4 big giants — Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. I deleted my Snapchat and Instagram accounts in 2017 within one week of signing up and deleted my dormant Twitter account (created in 2010) in early 2018. On Feb 10th 2018, I deactivated my Facebook account.
Sometimes I wonder why exactly I dislike Social Media, especially when my fellow millennials and post-millennials are such hardliners. Everybody I come across wants to click, share, like and chat incessantly. More often than not, I get annoyed by all this and wish that people quit Social Media and live an analog lifestyle.
“This guy is a Luddite” I hear you say.
But I’m not. I have always loved technologies such as Smartphones, TV’s, Laptops, PlayStation, Home-Theater systems. So my dislike for Social Media is clearly unusual.
Perhaps it is because of my contrarian nature. In my teens, I enjoyed criticizing mainstream culture. Friends around me like hip hop? Great, let me blast that death metal music. People like Rihanna? Let me openly mock her music. Of course, in hindsight these behaviors were immature, but they also manifest in an adult in subtle ways. In my case, it manifested as a disdain for Facebook and other social networks (Now I hover around indifference) simply because everybody else is on it.
However, just because it’s a pet-peeve of mine doesn’t make them less egregious. People spend upwards of 2 hours on different social media platforms. Teens spend more time socializing online than in person. No wonder the depression rates are so high worldwide.
However, the main purpose of this article is not to explicate the dangers of Social Media but to paint a clear picture of what to expect during this detox period. I would quickly point that if you’re planning to quit or detox, just press the deactivate button and tell nobody. This plays a crucial role which I will explain later.
2. The truth about quitting Social Media.
2.1 The false promise.
“Who the hell are these people???” I asked myself incredulously while going through my Facebook friends list last February. I had forgotten so many of my “friends” on my list because I had unfollowed them ages ago. “Why am I sharing my life with hundreds of half forgotten ‘friends’ if I don’t even remember them?” I got unusually annoyed at that moment.
This was a strong impetus for me to deactivate Facebook and I followed this impulse immediately without hesitation. I went to my account settings and hit the deactivate button. I did not delete my account, however, because at the time I thought I would need it later. For the time being, I wanted to get out.
I felt an existential unease right after deactivating Facebook. “I will be forgotten” I feared. “Forgotten and Friendless”.
Within a few days, I laughed out loud at the naivete of that thought. I felt relieved to know that nobody really cared if I’m online or nonline. My good friends are still in touch with me on WhatsApp and we occasionally video chat. I am perfectly fine to let go of the lightweight “friends” I had on Facebook.
On a side note, Facebook attempted to guilt me into staying in its platform by showing three people from my friends list. It showed that these three “friends” will “miss me greatly” and they beckoned to “Please don’t leave us Rohit”. 2 of them were acquaintances from college, who I never spoke with. The third was the wedding photographer in my sister’s marriage. I still laugh at the ludicrousness of Facebook’s attempt to stop me.
I thought after quitting Social Media, I will achieve Zen-like state in my life. Boy, was I wrong.
You see, even if you abandon the Big Four, there is YouTube, Reddit and Netflix (and many other websites). But when I quit social media, I suddenly had so much time on my hands. What could I fill it with? So I filled the first few months with prodigious amounts of YouTube videos, incessant browsing on Reddit (unsurprisingly, reading about the dangers of social media) and binge watching on Netflix. If you frequent these websites, your brain reacts in the same way as it did on Facebook or Instagram. You have just exchanged one category of entertainment for another. This was a quandary for me because I loved YouTube, Reddit and Netflix, and soon got addicted to their prescribed dopamine hits.
All of these activities soon jaded me. I had been spending an inordinate amount of time on the Web.
“Why am I unable to spend my time away from these digital platforms?” I despaired. “Why am I acting like an addict, damn it?”
2.2 Beware the Void.
After digging into the popular research online, I understood that I had, what I call, “Novel Information Addiction”.
Novel Information Addiction in the digital world is defined as the obsessive craving to seek novel information whenever bored or uncomfortable. Few examples are checking new Instagram posts every 5 minutes, browsing Wikipedia for trivial information, reading innumerable blog posts about self-improvement (without actually doing any work), refreshing your news app and the list goes on.
I realized that all that time I had spent on Facebook, despite my dislike for it, was because of Novel Information Addiction. You will never get bored if you get on Facebook, YT, Reddit, Insta or Snap. The bottomless scrolling only exacerbates this problem. I desperately sought to find a solution to this digital madness. I discovered plug-ins, such as Freedom, Forest & Stay focused, for limiting the time I’d spent online. I thought these could finally cure my digital zombie-ness.
Despite all of that, I still had trouble curbing the cravings for novel stimuli. I found myself uninstalling these extensions and re-installing them after a few days of digital binging. This cycle of uninstalling and re-installing continued for few months.
“Why is this so hard??” I contemplated one night at 2am, after a few hours of mindless binging. I felt empty. Soul-less.
“Why am I consuming so much information? How the hell is Wikipedia so addictive? Why am I even reading about the atmosphere of Uranus in the middle of the night? It’s information I’d soon forget, anyway.
“I often found myself with 10 tabs of Wikipedia; Articles could be about History, Animals, Astronomy, Philosophy, Spirituality and Chemistry. No information was too trivial, no trivia too inconsequential to hide from me.” — Rohit Kumar Neralla, the Scavenger of Wikipedia.
I decided to find the answer to this dilemma by, once again, researching about it online. Luckily the right answer came in a few days through an article called “Create More and Consume Less”.
2.2 Epiphany knocks on my door.
I realized that all my mindless consumption had created a void in me. I did not–and could not — really use these tools to create something meaningful that I could be proud of. Instead, I increasingly used them for filling this ever-growing void, which was created because of the lack of creative pursuits in my life. I was simply consuming information. Merely existing, not contributing. After this epiphany, I restarted my reading habit and started writing.
I began with journaling daily (motivated by the Stoic Philosophy). It amazed me to see how much I could write and know about myself. Journaling does not change you overnight but it is the most efficient way to do so in the long run. Since I was no longer influenced by people in the friends list, celebrities or influencers on Social Media; I gradually began to think for myself. I contemplated about what really matters to me.
Finally, freedom seemed to be around the corner. I knew what I had to do. I was amazed at the benefits.
3. Serious Benefits
I will briefly touch upon a few of the transformational changes one can expect (provided they are determined) when you drown out the external noise of Social Media. One can reasonably expect these benefits and insights after 4–6 months into the detox period.
A. You discover or rediscover your true interests.
As a child I remember reading lots of story books and watching a lot of cartoons. I would daydream for hours battling demons or samurais- vividly enacting serious sword moves with my 30 cm ruler, killing multiple enemies with great dexterity. I really loved living in this imaginary world.
Robert Greene, in his book Mastery, explicates that each individual has certain primal inclinations which they display during childhood. But as one grows up he/she inevitably listens to the “helpful” advice from well-meaning adults. Moreover, in our attempt to fit in with our peers we lose touch with our inner voice and start conforming to the culture around us. No wonder I see so many girls who try to look like Kim Kardashian.
Once you disconnect from the social media onslaught, you can slowly regain your inner voice. It does not necessarily mean you will find your passion. But you will stop caring about whether your true interests are “cool enough” for your friends.
In my case, I discovered the joy of mindfulness, reading, singing and writing. Try disconnecting for 30 days without telling any of your friends and see what that feels like. You may also get some insights on what you are truly interested in.
B. You stop falling for the Appearance bias.
When you have been disconnected from social media for as long as I have, you gradually realize a particular irrationality of human beings — Appearance Bias.
Simply put, Appearance Bias in social media means that we immediately believe the image or post we see is true and honest. For example, you see your old friend taking a selfie with their partner in a beach in Hawaii and you automatically assume that he/she is not only having a wonderful life but also having a much better life than you are. Whether or not they are really having a better time than you is irrelevant (you can never really know) but it does make you envious.
This is one of the more deleterious side-effects of social media. Since Envy is a part of our human nature, we cannot help but think that others have it better than us.
I am at a stage in my life that if I see a person regularly posting selfies then I automatically assume that that person is looking for validation through likes. Either way, social media detox will make you indifferent to such posts.
Also, Appearance Bias is particularly insidious when it comes to fake news. If most people share a particular news article, we automatically assume that it must be true. Just reading the headline of fake news is harmful to the society. More on that below.
C. You develop empathetic skills.
I was reluctant to include this point because I was unsure whether this is because of my social media detox or my mindfulness habit.
If you have been increasingly socializing online, I can bet that you are weakening your empathetic muscles, which require frequent in-person interaction (or training) to decipher facial gestures and non-verbal cues. Instead, if the only emotions you notice are the emoticons in your text messages, then it is both unnatural and tragic. This is probably the reason for the depression epidemic we are witnessing, especially among millennials and Gen Z, because they don’t feel connected to anyone.
But worry not, you don’t really need to delete your social media accounts to improve on this. Just spend time observing people when you are out in the public. Stop grabbing for your phone like an addict. Better yet, leave your phone in the house when you’re out for a walk. At dinner, make small talk with your family rather than browsing Facebook. You neither enjoy the dinner nor absorb the content when you try to do both.
D. You are invincible to viral outrage.
Ahhh. My favorite benefit of social media detox.
No subliminal advertisements beckoning me to buy useless stuff. No politician trying to manipulate and exploit me through outrageous statements. This is the definition of peace in the 21st century.
I still read news and keep up with current events only when I want to. I can’t imagine the feeling of waking up and watching a propaganda video on Twitter. It’s unfathomable to me.
Also, as I don’t know the political views of my friends, I am better off than most people because I don’t need to argue with my friends or unconsciously judge them. I simply accept them and understand that people have a right to their perspective. Due to the lack of empathy in the current culture, most people cannot imagine others having different views which contradict their own beliefs. This is the height of intolerance.
Occasionally, I do get outraged when I listen to a particularly bad news. But I recover from it quickly because I know that I have no control over these things. And because I am not on Twitter, I can safely regain my sense of calmness because I don’t witness people arguing over opinions.
One more point I realized is that 99% of the news out there doesn’t matter. The reason most people follow news religiously is because they want to seem smart and well informed in front of other people. Luckily, I never really had any qualms asking people about the latest happenings. Besides, it’s also a great conversation starter.
4. Moral of my story
Well, the moral of the story is that there is no moral of the story. I just wished to share my experience without Social Media. I never felt like I quit social media during the last one year. All the other entertainment sites seemed to satisfy my cravings for novel information. Moreover, since I did not delete my Facebook account and merely deactivated it; I don’t really know if I quit or if this is a detox for an indefinite period. Honestly, I don’t even care. Social Media will never play a fundamental role in my life.
However, I’d be remiss to not share a few pieces of trite wisdom I gained in the last year.
If you are not particularly interested in sharing photos or your opinions and have been passively consuming algorithmically curated news feeds, opt out of Social Media completely. You can fill that time with literally anything you want — develop creative skills, read, write, etc.
However, if you feel that Social Media is crucial for maintaining relationships in your friend circle and that you will be ostracized after quitting, then the above cold turkey detox method will be too scary for you. You need to take gradual baby steps such as deleting the social media apps from your phone for 2 days and see how you feel. Then try extending it to a week and gauge the reaction of your friends. If nobody cares that you have been inactive for some time then you must learn to deal with this reality. This is exactly why I recommend not telling anyone about your Social Media detox.
And guess what? Unless you are a small celebrity/writer/blogger, nobody will notice your absence. This is not because you are unimportant but because most people are too self-absorbed to care about what you are doing. They only care about how they are being perceived. Save yourself from this misery before it’s too late. There is no joy in keeping up with the Joneses.
In fact, it should liberate you that people don’t really care about you as much as you think they do.
In conclusion, I’d say my social media detox wasn’t as successful as I had hoped it would be. I should have considered the addictive pull of other entertainment and infotainment websites such as YouTube, Reddit, Netflix and taken measures to reduce my consumption. But it was one hell of an experiment nonetheless — it gave me a perspective on life which I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. There is a degree of freedom and mental space within me that, in my humble opinion, isn’t available to the average Facebook user who spends 2 hours per day on the app. Even though I haven’t achieved Newtonian levels of focus and productivity, I feel much calmer than before.
All Rights Reserved for Rohit Kumar Neralla