Quitting Social Media: Three Months In

On Labor Day weekend 2020, I deleted (or initiated deletion of) my profiles on Facebook, Instagram, and MeWe. Here’s part of the announcement I wrote at the time for friends and family:

I am an easily-distracted person, with a strong tendency to choose quick entertainment over productive activity. There’s no entertainment so quick and easy to access as a phone in one’s pocket with Facebook and Instagram ready to hand. Over the years, I’ve found myself reaching for said phone more and more often….

Worse than the frequency of distraction is the effect on my overall mental state. It isn’t just that Facebook is often irritating…. Even reading a few screens full of perfectly wholesome, encouraging social posts leaves my mental vision foggy, my work focus dissipated, and my appetite for daily life dull.

That announcement was three months ago. Since then my only interaction with social media has been via official pages such as the one for this blog (administered from my invisible “ghost account”), and indirectly through a few people showing me things others have posted. For the first time in about three years, my days are free from endless, mind-numbing scrolling through other people’s pictures, updates, and opinions.

Though I extensively thought through the ramifications of quitting for an entire year beforehand, there was one thing I never saw coming: I never considered the possibility that I wouldn’t miss social media at all.

It’s not that I hated being on Facebook; if that were the case, I’d have quit long ago. It’s just that I love mental peace and focus more than I love the quick pleasure of seeing something new every minute. This isn’t a matter of nobly choosing what is good for me over what I want; I simply needed the courage – and a practically workable plan – to choose what I myself would truly prefer.

Being off social media feels to me like locking a door that needs to stay closed, or plugging a leak that’s continually draining away valuable resources. Obviously, there are some such doors in life that can’t be locked, and some such leaks that can never be fully plugged and must always be watched. (For example, I can’t practically get around having a smartphone in my pocket.) This makes it all the more important – and also gratifying – to lock and plug the ones I can.

In my announcement I quoted one of my favorite sayings: “The easiest temptation to resist is the one you don’t encounter.” Three months into “not encountering” social media, I believe that saying even more strongly.

This is not to suggest that my brain has stopped its search for passive entertainment. During election season, I found myself constantly (and I mean constantly) hitting my favorite news and commentary websites for “the latest.” One nice thing about this substitute is that it’s inherently limited; the news cycle may be 24 hours, but there are only so many different stories to report and opine about during that time. Also, news gets boring after awhile – especially when election season is over.

Years ago I followed Paul Miller’s series on The Verge about his one-year experiment of living without internet. In a particularly memorable installment, Paul recounted finding a folder full of mostly-unfunny GIF memes on his now-landlocked computer. His report: “I looked at every image in that stupid directory… I read every imbecilic word.”

While I (thankfully) haven’t become desperate to the above extent, I have been amused to find myself scrolling through the photo gallery on my own phone, looking for something “new” in a collection of pictures I took myself. This is, once again, a very limited activity that quickly becomes boring!

The same applies to sitting in front a search engine trying to think of something interesting to look up. Without the passivity-coddling convenience of the never-ending scroll, “browsing” online seems to lose its charm.

It’s no coincidence that I’ve made record progress on my reading since Labor Day. I’ve both finished and started several non-fiction books, and I’m finally close to completing The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which has taken me longer to read in real life than the quest to Mount Doom takes Frodo & Company in the novel.

Even with the aforementioned self-distraction of periodic news-binging, I am more productive at work and more present at home. The attention that was going to Instagram now goes to my task planning app, Todoist, which helps my workdays but has also vaulted my weekends into greater fruitfulness. One weekend undertaking is this blog, which uses time I’d spend consuming something on producing something instead. And when I play on the floor with my son Matthew, I actually play with Matthew – rather than “playing” with my phone while trying to keep one eye on him.

In writing this update I didn’t want to be tedious by quoting the entirety of my quitting announcement. However, I do want to reiterate one important point from that piece: I am not suggesting that everyone needs to quit social media. (If I were, my wife would be the first recipient of that advice.) Rather, I’ve made an “editing decision” for my own personal life based on my own personal inclinations and struggles.

Three months in, I am very happy with my decision.

‘Everything is permissible for me,’ but I will not be mastered by anything.

1 Cor. 6:12 CSB