Why I Quit Social Media

Epistemic Status: Personal

I’m not a Puritan. I eat dessert, enjoy a good cocktail, and socialize a lot.  I like fun, and I don’t think fun is wrong.

So I really understand the allergy to messages of ascetic self-denial.

But lately I’ve found it necessary to become more like this:

220px-athena_giustiniani

and less like this.

woman-crying-mascara

More balanced, deliberate, reflective. Less needy, emotionally unstable, dramatic, and attention-seeking.

I’ve written about this process here, here, here, here, and here.  I’ve been at it for about a year.

Why is it worth being less of a drama queen?  In some ways, equinamity is a lot less fun.

But, ultimately, being a drama queen is a dependent’s lifestyle. It makes you unable to function on your own.  As a practical matter, I am not a dependent, and so I sometimes need to do things — in real life, outside of my own head, where the actual state of the world matters.

I also think it’s wrong to constantly interrupt things other people are doing to change the subject to All About Me.

And, basically, that’s what social media does. It distances you from reality, makes you focus on a shadow-world of opinions about opinions about opinions; it makes you more impulsive and emotionally unstable; it incentivizes derailing conversations to fish for ego-strokes.

I don’t dislike petty bullshit — I enjoy it all too much.  I could happily spend eternity picking fights and chasing drama if somehow that were feasible.

So I asked myself “is there, ultimately, anything wrong with living in a world of screams and shadows and impulse pleasures?  Do I actually care about anything else?” And the answer was “Unfortunately, yeah. I have to literally sustain my own life, and there are people I genuinely care about.  So…ok, reality matters.”

And if reality matters, obviously you shouldn’t be doing stuff that makes you into a moron.

Life after social media isn’t hard, in my experience.  Life without one pleasure isn’t miserable, because there are other pleasures. The brain’s pleasure mechanisms are damnably homeostatic; you adjust to about the same amount of average happiness, regardless of how intense or mild the pleasures in your daily life.  I miss the drama of social media now and then, but not most days.

I think if you consider yourself reality-oriented or “serious”, then quitting social media should be overdetermined.

I’m a little more ambivalent about all that — I’m the kind of person who might plug myself into the Experience Machine — but I think as long as we live on a planet with limited resources, a pure life of fantasy is suicidal, and at least sometimes we have to deal with reality.  And we should at least not mislead, or dissipate the efforts of, people who are trying to deal with reality.

Plus, even for dreamers like myself, I think there might someday be a better Annwfn than Facebook.

 

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14 thoughts on “Why I Quit Social Media

  1. Your social media experience sounds very different from mine.

    In my experience, sure, it is easy to make the social media experience into one of drama and fights, if one is so inclined. But I’ve also found it relatively easy to make it into one of connection, broadening your views, and learning more about the world. E.g. on Facebook, if you’ve got a friends list with diverse views and put sufficient effort into enforcing politeness and respectfulness norms on your wall, then the comment section of pretty much any post you make will be an opportunity to learn something more of the world and to have your preconceptions (respectfully) challenged.

    I think this has more to do with the kinds of social circles one curates, and the kinds of conversational norms one tries to encourage, than it has with social media intrinsically.

    • People who don’t engage in bad behavior will perceive a sort of mirror-image of my experience — social media will seem to be making *everybody else* into monsters. The fact that you’ve had to guard the walls of your little garden is evidence of that.
      But, of course you may have found a good corner where policing isn’t too hard, so it’s less stark for you.

  2. Congratulations! I’ve been running a quixotic crusade against Facebook on the backburner for years, so it’s always a thrill to see someone else buy in. Life is better without social media. More free time, less frustration.

    Plus there is something of a critical mass to fighting social media. If everyone but one person is one Facebook, people will post events on Facebook and accept the risk of missing one potential attendee. If significant numbers of people aren’t on Facebook, people will email their friends about an event or otherwise choose non Facebook channels to communicate. The more people opt out, the more the need to multi-channel, and consequently the less the ability of Facebook to capture content by allowing someone to communicate via a single channel. Each person creates more value than they themselves internalize when they switch away.

    • Like, social media for me is a place where the people are more intelligent and interesting an open, and I can at least feel like I accomplished *something* when I make a post that other people like.

  3. After reading this, I started wondering whether I should quit social media. But I’ve already taken steps towards mitigating these problems — and I don’t mean “I’m working on it, I promise,” I mean I got fed up at some point with how much tumblr discourse was dominating my mindspace, and I changed my usage of the site a lot so that now it’s mostly an emotionally neutral timewaster (really!). I suspect I’ve done most of the useful work on that front, and my problems are more these ones, which are abetted by social media but go far beyond it.

    On the other hand, even if I don’t involve myself in discourse and do my best to shield myself from it, I’m still seeing the shadow world — I still see the strange truncated characters people turn into, the strange ways the medium makes them talk, even if I quickly scroll past it and never let it get to me. So the question I”m left with is, how harmful are these distortions are when all the other bad parts around them are removed?

  4. I probably need to quit or at least strongly limit social media but like… almost none of my emotionally close friends are geographically close. This is at least 6 months away from changing.

  5. I’d just like to flag that this post seems to me as self-defeating. You write
    >>I also think it’s wrong to constantly interrupt things other people are doing to change the subject to All About Me.
    Then you immediately follow it with a paragraph giving an unbalanced, one-sided characterization of social media based on *your own experience,* one which is of questionable generalizable relevance (as evidenced by Kaj’s first commented on this thread).
    In general, it seems to me that since you started this blog in 2014, you’ve trended away from writing exploring ideas for their own sake, toward writing posts that are either overtly focused on you, or posts that seem to be thinly veiled pep talks for yourself, rather than a means of making intellectual progress and/or conveying valuable information to readers. (I think that a careful review of counts of your posts over time by topic would bear this out.)
    Of course, if this is what you want, I’m not one to stop you, but to the extent that I’m able to ascertain a trend from the outside, it’s the opposite of the one that you describe (!!)

    • In general, it seems to me that since you started this blog in 2014, you’ve trended away from writing exploring ideas for their own sake, toward writing posts that are either overtly focused on you, or posts that seem to be thinly veiled pep talks for yourself, rather than a means of making intellectual progress and/or conveying valuable information to readers. (I think that a careful review of counts of your posts over time by topic would bear this out.)

      FWIW, as a reader of the blog I have not noticed such a trend. And looking over some recent posts, I suspect such a trend is only visible if you construe some of the superficially intellectual/informative posts as “actually” personal (i.e. “veiled,” thinly or otherwise). For instance, on the front page right now, I could 6 posts relating information and/or making intellectual arguments, 2 “housekeeping” posts (I’m filing the job update here since it has no interpretive content), and 2 personally focused posts (including this one). I’d find it hard to take issue with those kinds of numbers without also taking issue with, say, Scott Alexander’s writing (much of which is about his personal experiences, even when he’s drawing a tentative moral from them).

  6. Commenter says “I think that a careful review of counts of your posts over time by topic would bear this out”. Commenter does not actually do any kind of careful review or count. Because coming up with a protocol to code posts would be work. Doing the count and applying the protocol would be work. Solving the problem of how to control for life events and isolate any trend (if one exists) from a collection of idiosyncratic spikes would be work. Nitpicking, however, is not very much work.

    Producing quality content takes work. Work that the producer of this blog has frequently undertaken for the benefit of the readers and has generously distributed to that readership at no charge. I am thankful for that work. I appreciate the content posted here.

  7. Basically, I lurk more than I post. That being, I do like to hear/see what others are saying. So a yes, basically, to your essay, unhealthy self-absorption is a trap of social media, agreed.

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