“Addiction is a condition in which a person engages in use of a substance or in a behavior for which the rewarding effects provide a compelling incentive to repeatedly pursue the behavior despite detrimental consequences.”
Twelve years ago, I spent a week at summer camp like I had many summers before. And just like those many summers before, at the end of camp my new friends and I exchanged our contact info so we could stay in touch after we all got home.
In previous years, we would share our email addresses, our MSN accounts (remember those days!?), or in the rare cases of the closest of new friendships, we might share our phone numbers (this was back before any of us had cellphones, so this was actually for calling on the family landline — not for texting).
However, I remember this year being different. Instead of passing around MSN addresses, everyone was talking about this new thing called Facebook. No one was wanting to use MSN anymore, because this new "Facebook" thing was apparently better. I told everyone that I’d sign up and add them when I got home… which I did!
Well, I’ve had Facebook for 12 years now — almost to the day, actually!
There has been a LOT that’s happened in those 12 years. There’s been a lot that’s happened in my life, in my family’s life, in my friend circles, and in the world as a whole.
Like, a LOT a lot.
My stance towards Facebook has also changed a lot over this past 12 years. I’ve learned a lot about who I am, who I want to be, and how I want to engage with social media.
After lots of thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time for me to make a change in my relationship with Facebook (and with all social media).
Here are 3 reasons that I’ve realized It’s time to Update my Relationship Status with Social Media… and maybe it’s time for you, too.
1) Because we care about Friendships and Relationships
“Where we want to be cautious… is when the sound of a voice or a cup of coffee with a friend is replaced with ‘likes’ on a post.” ~Cal Newport
Part of Facebook’s mission statement for years was "Making the world more open and connected". And to their credit, they did a fantastic job of "connecting" billions of people around the world… depending on how you define "connect".
As I write this, I have 1,206 "friends" on Facebook. I’m "connected" with each of them, as far as Facebook is concerned. But I recently looked through my friends list, and was shocked by how few people from that list I’ve maintained any level of relationship with. There’s some of them, sure, whom I talk with once every few months or so, and a good number of people whose posts I "like" once in a while… but looking through my friends list, there’s several hundred people whom I don’t think I’ve even had single interaction with in almost 10 years!
And for those whom I have had interactions with these last few years, I’d argue that Facebook was a detrimental platform to have those interactions on.
There’s about a dozen names I can think of, of people whom I love dearly and hold in high esteem, but whose social media posts have supremely frustrated me these last few years. When I talk to them face-to-face, or when we message each other directly, these amazing men and women are some of the most wonderful and loving people that I know. But, when it comes to what they post on social media, I struggle to maintain my esteem towards them. I see some of their posts and, because I disagree with the points they’re making and how they’re making them, I want to yell at them and tell them they’re wrong… which sometimes, to the detriment of our relationship, I do in their comments section. And I’m 100% confident that it goes both ways — that my posts frustrate them in the same way. I can tell, because they often comment on my posts showing the same visceral frustration that I showed towards them.
I hate that…
I hate that this platform that I signed up for to bring me closer to the people I love and care about has been the medium to damage those relationships.
And it’s not like this is a one-off. It seems like every time I log into my Facebook feed, I don’t have to scroll more than just a few posts before I see something enraging that someone has posted.
I’m guessing it’s the same way for you.
In fact, it’s such a common experience that one commentator compared it to the Two Minutes Hate that Orwell described in 1984 — every day, we’re brought back together to collectively yell into the ether, vehemently voicing our outrage towards the "others", not realizing in our engagement that we’ve fallen prey to a system of corruption, built to exploit division and to glutton itself off profits from the wasted lives of its participants.
We know that Outrage is the Most Profitable Emotion, so it’s little wonder social media companies like Facebook don’t discourage it on their platforms. After all, they are businesses with corporate mandates to maximize profit for their shareholders. The sad truth is, you and me spending hour upon hour every week voicing our outrage at our friends and family is great for doing just that.
It’s awful for our relationships, but it’s great for Facebook’s stock value.
That sucks, and I don’t want to be a part of that.
I’m guessing you don’t either.
2) Because we care about Mental Health
Since I got Facebook 12 years ago, there were several seasons when I went long periods of time without the platform. Near the end of highschool I spent a month away from all social media. I spent one year of college with my Facebook account completely deactivated. And when I first moved overseas, I also spent the first year of that season with my Facebook deactivated.
I remember each of those times with extreme fondness. Some of my deepest and longest-lasting friendships developed during those seasons. I remember being able to engage with people and tasks with deeper passion and focus. I remember my relationship with Jesus being deeper and more palpable. And I remember my anxiety levels about life and the state of the world being just generally lower. Without the Fear Of Missing Out that social media invites us to engage in, I was free to fully engage with the people, the projects, and the moments that were in front of me.
I miss that.
There are many studies that show the detrimental effects that social media has on our mental health. We know it exacerbates depression and loneliness. We know Social Media usage has a negative impact on overall well-being. And we also know that some former executives of social media companies won’t even let their own kids use the platforms they created, because they know the damage it does to those who use it.
What the heck.
Imagine for a second that I was trying to sell you on an "revolutionary new tech product" for connecting you with your family and friends, that at its essence was basically just a glorified online chat room, but that was specifically designed to be addictive, and was definitively known to made you feel more sad, more lonely, more angry, and more anxious about everything. And the cost of using this tech product was not money, but was 16 hours of your week, every week, for the rest of your life.
What would you think of that product? Would you want to buy it?
To me, it sounds like the worst idea ever… but I’ve bought into that idea almost every day for the last 12 years.
That seems silly to me.
It’s time for a change.
3) Because we care about Democracy
There’s a Netflix documentary that came out in 2019 called The Great Hack. When it first came out, I thought from seeing the posters that it was mostly about American politics, so I didn’t watch it. However, last week a friend (whom I have shared many of my social media qualms with) ended up recommending it to me.
So I watched it.
So, the documentary centers around the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, and follows an American professor who wanted to know exactly what information the firm had collected about him (they claimed to have "over 5,000 points of data on every American voter", collected primarily from Facebook), and how exactly they had used his information and others’ information in their consulting work with political campaigns around the world.
Through the course of the movie, it becomes apparent how easy it is for users of social media platforms like you and me to have our ideologies, beliefs, and convictions swayed by those who have access to the technological tools that these platforms have at their disposal. There were many examples given of elections around the world that were successfully swayed in a given direction by Cambridge Analytica, because they knew ahead of time exactly whose minds they needed to change to win, and exactly how to change them. They knew literally thousands of facts about every single person whose vote they needed, and they used those facts to skillfully and surgically manipulate people’s thoughts, until tens of thousands of people "saw the world the way [Cambridge Analytica] wanted them to see it"… until they voted the way Cambridge Analytica wanted them to vote.
Watching The Great Hack was sobering… and terrifying.
There are political bandwagons I’ve hopped onto in the last few years that I was against for most of my life. I like to think that I’ve changed my mind about those things because I’ve become more informed, and that my new stance is more correct than I was before. But if I’ve spent hundreds and thousands of hours of my life on a platform that is proven to have the capacity to change the way people think — to make them vote for things they would have otherwise never voted for, and to do things they would have otherwise never done — how can I maintain my new stance with any level of confidence? How can you?
A particularly poignant and currently applicable example that was given was that of the Black Lives Matter in 2016. The documentary talked about how, after the 2016 USA election, it was discovered that there were millions of dollars spent by Russians on Facebook ad campaigns to promote BLM protests to those who would respond to such ads… but that there were also millions of dollars spent on campaigns to promote Anti-Black Lives Matter protests to those who would be impacted by that kind of advertisement.
The purpose of the ads wasn’t to push a specific agenda.
The purpose was to cause division.
To cause strife on national (and international) levels.
And man, did it work!
Regardless of whether you’re for or against the Black Lives Matter movement and/or organization, can you say with confidence that your opinion has not been influenced by posts you saw on social media? Are you confident that those posts you did see were all actually from the groups they claimed to be from? I know my opinion about BLM comes almost wholly from social media, and I know almost nothing about those who created the majority of the posts I’ve seen (and shared myself).
Near the end of The Great Hack, they showed a clip of Carole Cadwalladr’s TED Talk (which I highly recommend). In the clip, she said, "[Social Media] set out to connect us, but [it] refuses to acknowledge that the same technology is now driving us apart… What we don’t seem to understand is that it’s bigger than you, and it’s bigger than any of us; and that it’s not about Left or Right, or Leave or Remain, or Trump or not. It’s about whether it’s actually possible to have a free and fair election ever again… My question is this: Is this what we want? To sit back and play with our phones as darkness falls?"
It’s time for our Social Media DTR
When the year 2020 started, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted this decade to look like. I realized that much of the 2010’s I have written down and remembered as statuses and media posts on Facebook. Especially the early years, I used Facebook almost more like a personal journal than the permanent-record, global broadcast, attention-monetizing platform that it is… I think most of us did.
So, I asked myself the question: knowing what I now know about Facebook, do I want my next decade to be saved to Facebook’s servers in the same way that my last decade was?
I’ve chewed on that question for 7 months.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s definitely some positives that I’ve derived from my years on social media. As a recent example, while researching and writing this article, I ended up reaching out to several genuinely amazing people whom I haven’t heard from in around 10 years, and whom I’m really thankful to be able to talk to again.
That’s awesome, and it probably wouldn’t have happened without Facebook.
Social media does connect. And the convenience it promises in that is wonderful.
But the cost of that convenience is HUGE.
Based on the amount of time the average user spends on social media, we spend over 870 hours PER YEAR on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
If you convert that to a 40 hour work-week, that’s almost 22 full work-weeks, per year, every year.
I value my friendships and relationships a lot… but if staying in contact with geographically distant people I care about is my priority, there are a LOT of ways I can do that which are much deeper, much more personal, and much more impactful than Facebook, but that don’t cost 22 work weeks PER YEAR of my and my friends’ time. When you add the relational, mental health, and societal damages that we know these platforms have wreaked, it makes continuing to be a part of these platforms seem utterly illogical to me.
All that to say, I’m done.
I’ve had 12 years of experimentation time to see if I could make social media fit into my life in a net-positive way, and I failed.
I tried deleting it from my phone and only using it on my computer.
I tried using plugins and hacks to get the good out of social media without exposing myself to the bad.
I tried limiting myself to just specific times of the day or week where I’d use these platforms…
I tried everything I could think of to make it work, but still I ended up drawn back into the "scroll, ‘like’, rage, repeat" vortex, perhaps not unlike a certain canine in Proverbs 26:11.
These platforms aren’t designed for us to get our maximum value from them. They’re not not designed for benevolence. They’re businesses, designed for maximizing profit. They’re advertising platforms designed with the sole purpose of keeping us engaged for as much time as possible, so they can show us as many advertisements as possible. They’re designed to be as addictive as possible in order to extract every marketing cent they can from the endless hours we waste scrolling mindlessly through their feeds.
Cal Newport said, “We didn’t sign up for the digital lives we now lead. They were instead, to a large extent, crafted in boardrooms to serve the interests of a select group of technology investors.”
Last I checked my Facebook feed, there’s about 1 ad for every 3 posts I see from friends; if I’m there to "connect with my friends", that’s a lot of not connecting with my friends that I need to trudge through in order to accomplish that goal. The idea that I’ve spent thousands of hours on a platform designed to make my friends and I addicted to itself, to turn our time, attention, and desire for connection into someone else’s marketing profit, is sobering and nauseating to me.
So, I’m done.
I value relationships, quality time, mental health, and the whole of society too much to keep partaking in a system that is demonstrably and systematically destroying those things.
So, I’m breaking up with social media. For good.
Sorry, Facebook. It’s not me. It’s you.
The details of what and how exactly I’ll be going forward with this will be the topic of another article which I’ll be writing and posting soon. I mentioned before that there are hundreds of relationships I have that are currently only on Facebook and Instagram, so if I want to be able to maintain those, I’ll need to transfer them to another platform. There’s also a handful of legitimate points of value I’ve gotten from Facebook over the years that I’ll want to replicate in my post-social media life. When I’ve shared the idea of getting rid of social media with those around me over the last couple weeks, there’s usually a few common, legitimate hesitations I hear — reasons people continue to use social media which they don’t currently have a legitimate alternative for, such as news/updates, birthday reminders, etc. I’ll be addressing how I’m personally planning to deal with each one of them in that upcoming article.
I have also mostly talked about Facebook here, but I’ve found most of my critiques to be similarly applicable to other social media platforms I’ve been on over the years as well (Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, etc.), though obviously with various nuances, as each of those platforms is optimized for different purposes. So I’ll also be purging my life of those accounts, which is a topic of longer conversation I’ll go into in the upcoming article.
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Thanks for reading!
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Whether or not you’re currently ready to break up with social media yourself, there are a lot of us who are ready, whose lives will be vastly improved once we take the leap.
Some of us just need a nudge.
If this article has been that nudge for you, or if you have thoughts/comments you want to share with me about it, I want to hear from you. You can email me here.