Last week, I deleted the Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook apps from my phone. I didn’t delete or close the accounts themselves; I just made them less immediately accessible to myself. I wanted to write about it, to explain why I’m exploring an even bigger move away from social media, but when I called my mom for a clarifying conversation, we both walked away over an hour later with more questions than answers, more nuance than clarity. Instead of a concise piece about the decision, I’ll instead offer you the same array of confusion that we explored.
- Social media is like a hammer: It can build up or it can tear down. It’s a place to find the basest beliefs and bullying and it’s the platform for world-improving activism.
- Social media is also a tool that can help us meet people and grow businesses and yet we were doing both of those things before social, before the internet, before computers. Though true relationship building can be slow and intensive, I believe it is where all of the best stuff happens.
- Yes, true relationship building can happen on and via social media platforms but I suspect that’s far less frequent than superficial interactions.
- I don’t trust the moguls behind Facebook (and its purchased progeny, Instagram) or Twitter. I don’t trust them with my data, I don’t trust their ethics, I don’t trust their motivations. My participation in their platforms, however, communicates implicit approval or at least acceptance.
- There’s too much data tracking and too much acceptance of this loss of privacy for my comfort.
- Most, if not all, of the value I find on social platforms – for example, discovering artists and learning from activists – I can get in other ways.
- Will I disappear, especially as a professional, without an active presence on these platforms?
- How will I keep in touch with friends and family that I now only see on social? Will they be willing to engage with me elsewhere?
- Will I be able to sell the book I’m writing to a publisher or my audience without a robust social following?
- Is it naïve to think that by refraining from (most) social media platforms, that I’m actually distancing myself from the harm that they do? (Again, I recognize that they also enable great stuff.)
- FOMO, or the fear of missing out – on events, cultural trends, etc. (As I wrote that, I realized how curious it is that FOMO was coined to describe the discomfort of missing out that keeps us online rather than the fear of missing out on what we’re ignoring when we’re online.)
- Moving my focus from appealing to greater masses to interactions with individuals and small groups.
- Reassigning the time I have spent on creating social posts and surfing social feeds towards more intentional relationship building via coffee dates, phone calls, video chats, emails, etc.
- Challenging myself to ask more directly for support and help – Would you please share this blog post if you know someone you think might like it? Would you please introduce me to someone you think I might like to know? – rather than the indirect plea for help and support that is the philosophy of creating social media content in the hopes that it will get shared.
- Getting more distance from algorithmic bubbles. Algorithms were created to give us the information that we were most likely to want which leads to things like reinforcing and deepening our existing beliefs rather than exposing us to a wider realm of the world’s perspectives and information.
When my mom and I got off the phone, I opened a YouTube video sent by a friend and there in the feed was an ad that said, “Do you trust Facebook? Yes or No.” Talk about a spike in the distrust that I mentioned earlier since I have no doubt that this ad was no more a coincidence than the time my mom and I were talking in person about rice cookers only to have ads for rice cookers appear on her phone browser the next time she turned it on, or my sister’s recent trip to an ophthalmologist and the ads for glasses that appeared by the time she got home.
“If you carry a phone, you are public. That’s all she wrote,” my mom texted in response to my screenshot of the ad I found on YouTube.
On the continuum where going gentle into that goodnight on privacy is one extreme and forsaking all convenience for a life of rugged self-sufficiency in the boonies is the other extreme, I choose the wide grey middle ground. There, I have no choice but to accept the limitations of today’s version of privacy while also refusing to accept the inevitability of zero privacy or my dependence on social platforms or the pull of my ego that says, “More notifications, more likes, more comments are the measure of your value!”
Right now, today, that means deleting those apps from my phone, noticing my discomfort as I retrain myself to use moments of pause for daydreaming, reading books, writing bits of poems or essays or letters, and/or connecting with those around me. Maybe next month, I’ll choose a different point on the spectrum.
Right now, this is what feels best to me, most nurturing, offering the most presence to my life and those who are in it and who I hope will someday be in it.
As is so often the case, I don’t think this one has any right or wrong answers, just the opportunity for curiosity and exploration.
I’d love to hear where you are in this exploration and I’d also like to ask you directly to share this with anyone you know who might be exploring similar ideas, fears, and possibilities.