I’ve had several people approach me in the past week, and ask why I decided to leave social media.
To me, that’s like asking “Bro, why are you quitting heroin?”
I’ve just been responding, “shouldn’t everyone?”
We all know that our relationship with Social Media is a toxic one. We know that Social Media companies collect our personal information and our activity data in order to better orient advertising efforts, directly violating our privacy for profit. We know that Social Media is detrimental for our mental health. We know that we should spend less time mindlessly scrolling through an infinite sea of content, opinions, echo chamber reverberations, desperate pleas for attention, virtue signals, socio-political commentaries… and so on.
We all know this, yet we stay engaged. Somehow under the impression that playing the game will keep us connected. On the contrary… it has ripped us apart, probably more than anything ever has before.
If someone wants to unplug, the “why” seems obvious to me. But I figured I’d share my thought process a bit more in depth here. Being an artist, it’s not so simple to just delete all my accounts. On some level I feel compelled to keep a line out. To engage on my terms without playing the game.
And as an artist, I have very intense emotions, and I feel a need to express them in a way that I find appropriate and compelling. Talking isn’t enough, I need to transmute these experiences into something larger than myself.
So, on some level, I must engage. I must share, because art that isn’t shared is only self indulgence. If the possibility exists that art could have a positive influence on someone’s life, then it is the civic duty of the artist to share it, despite any insecurities or reservations.
the downward spiral
I’ve been hooked on Social Media since the Myspace days, but back then it seemed much more interesting. It was still a new frontier, raw and wild. Virtually no censorship, no restrictions, no obtrusive data collection. And there was a barrier of entry as well—not every household had a computer, nor people savvy enough to use it. In a way, Social Media felt more exclusive. People seemed more open to make real connections.
But within the last 10 years, smartphones have become a staple for nearly every single adult and most teenagers as well. The barrier of entry is now virtually non-existent. And with that, Social Media companies have refined their profit structure and created one of the largest empires this planet has ever seen, to the detriment of our perception of reality and our mental health.
This profit structure changed everything. It incentivised companies to collect personal information, and allowed 3rd parties to advertise directly to the people most likely to purchase their product. It’s brilliant really, but it also permanently altered the culture of “Social Media”, shifting from a wild west into some Huxleyan dystopia.
The early Facebook Feed was chronological, organic content posted only by your friends. If you scrolled far enough, you would see the end of the feed. But somewhere down the line, Facebook decided to make the feed infinite, and curate posts for users based on data metrics.
With content curation, there is no longer a natural flowing, chronological stream of content, but instead, carefully selected posts and advertisements. Content not for the sake of objective truth or consensus moral values, but to elicit attention and response. And with this, we have seen the birth of the most destructive thing to human intelligence since book burning: The Echo Chamber.
In previous generations, we received our information from fewer sources which carried more authority: Newspapers, Magazines, Television Networks. While traditional media outlets were held to a higher standard of accountability, they (at least occasionally) suffered from the same drawbacks of any profit-incentivized journalism: corruption, misinformation, and disinformation. Most people seemed to accept the information as Truth without scrutiny, but at least those who questioned the information had fewer sources to analyze.
Now, for better or worse, there are thousands of websites, blogs, social media pages which share information constantly. To formulate a truly objective opinion would require a person to examine ALL of them, which is impossible. So it seems most people only look to their Social Media Feeds for objectivity.
But again, the purpose of your Social Media Feed is only to keep you on the platform, not to inform you. It “serves” you content based on your behavior: posts you’ve liked/shared, the links you click, the pages you follow, and even how much time you spend observing each post in your feed.
When we log into Facebook, we expect to see an objective representation of the world, more or less. But in reality, we see only a small bubble inside the infinite sea of information, carefully curated to arouse our interest and hold our attention for as long as possible.
This is highly effective for keeping people addicted to the platform, and creates exponentially more conversions on advertisements.
Which is what it all comes down to, the dollar.
Your attention is being commoditized and sold to the highest bidder. And this is not news to most people. We accept it, and we devalue our time and attention to play the game.
Here is a friendly reminder: your time, energy, and attention is limited in supply. One day, they will all run out, and you will die.
Not only are we willingly trading our attention for mindless entertainment and a more narrow perception of reality, but this model actively exploits the fallibility of our nature. Effective posts are designed to elicit an emotional response, which then improves engagement, which then improves visibility of that post, which then garners more engagement, and so on.
Clearly this is not designed to maintain a well-informed, rational public. It’s designed to sustain itself. But the cumulative effect on our collective mind is devastating. We instinctively follow the candy trail of our own cognitive biases, down to unprecedented depths of fanaticism and destructive thought patterns.
The results of our digital culture speak for themselves. We are more depressed than ever before, suicide rates are at an all time high, and we are seeing a rise in political extremism from every angle. Now, you could make an argument that correlation does not equal causation… And you’d be right. But oftentimes, where there is smoke there is probably fire. And there sure seems to be a lot of fucking smoke.
So… this game we are playing is bad. And we all know it’s bad. Like habitual smokers readily acknowledging its toxicity, we do it anyway.
But you know, we could quit at any time, right? 😉
For many folks (including myself), quitting Social Media is akin to abandoning the tribe. Severing your connection to the world, and dealing with the wild bears on your own. It’s terrifying! And even though the digital world is only an illusion, it’s a persistent one.
Not to mention, many people derive their sense of self-worth from their Social Media engagement. Our performance is evidence (or lack thereof) of social value. In reality, “Likes” are essentially electrical currents on a server, which are effectively infinite in supply, yet we allow their apparent scarcity to dictate how we feel about ourselves. Which can influence everything in our lives.
We routinely degrade and disempower ourselves, feeding the machine with every idle moment we pass on these platforms, with every flick of the thumb.
share the process
So for years, as an artist, I’ve been deliberating how much involvement I want with this game. To what extent should I participate in this charade?
Gary Vaynerchuk often encourages his audience to engage constantly in Social Media, and to share the process of their work or hobbies. And this piqued my interest. It shifts the focus away from this repulsive economy of validation into more of a… photo album. And being a huge advocate of “process”, I really like this idea.
So I started implementing it in my own Social Media Accounts (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter). But I was still playing the game. I was still compulsively checking how many people engage with my posts. I was still spending ungodly amounts of time mindlessly scrolling through these platforms, bouncing back and forth between the three as if there were some valuable thing I needed to discover in any given moment.
I felt good about my output, but I was still trapped in the game. A hamster on a wheel.
Then one day, I became acutely aware of how much I derive my sense of value based on what other people think of me. Or rather, I should say, what I THINK that other people think of me. It became apparent that this illusion completely shuts me down.
The catalyst was when I posted a shirtless picture of myself on Instagram. I was at the end of a workout, cooling down, and I had a very real moment of looking in the mirror, proud of the person that I’ve created. Proud of the hard work, all the mental and physical discipline I’ve maintained over the years. The process for self-improvement is arduous and never ending, and growth is so gradual that it can be difficult to measure.
So in this moment I could see my growth. I could see where I started and where I am now, and I could see where I’m headed. I decided to capture it. I put it on Instagram only to be embarrassed that, for many people, this was the first thing they would see when opening the app for the following two days. It racked up 65 likes, which is much more than my other posts.
Though I think most of my followers understood the point, the thought occurred to me — many people might think that I posted this for attention. When we consider the context, it’s not an unreasonable assumption, but it was so far from the truth of my intention. Which then makes me feel disgusted, defensive, embarrassed, and vulnerable. And when my mind goes there, I sink into dark places. I’d like to avoid that as much as I can.
I decided that something needed to change. I announced to my friends, family, and followers that I would be deactivating my personal Social Media accounts, just so they wouldn’t think that I personally blocked them. And even those posts garnered much more attention than I wanted. I was embarrassed again that I even said anything, and became even more firm in my conviction.
on my terms
I was scrolling through old Instagram posts, ready to say goodbye, and I was filled with nostalgia. And again, proud of the person I’ve become, proud of my process. So then I felt that complete renunciation might be a little extreme.
I decided that, instead of getting rid of all the accounts, I would instead change my relationship to Social Media. I will no longer be a rat in the proverbial Skinner Box. I will no longer blindly relinquish my time and attention. I will not play the validation game. But I still wish to document my process and growth, just without an audience for a while.
Being an artist is a constant struggle between the Ego and The Muse (for lack of a better metaphor). The Muse is the inspiration and source of creative energy, but the Ego takes all the credit. I notice that, when my Ego is focused on what other people think, the Muse closes the conduit.
That is to say, I can’t be me, I can’t fully express myself, and be the artist that I was meant to be, if I’m thinking about what YOU think about it.
I wish it were as simple as “don’t worry about it, just be yourself.” But for me, it just isn’t. I was never taught to believe in myself, so vices like this will always be a destructive and slippery slope. So sometimes I need to take more drastic measures for self-preservation.
For now, I’ll keep documenting the process, and expressing myself in my own way, without sparing a single thought of what other people might think about it, because no one else can see it. So here’s what I did:
Facebook: Deactivated, created blank account to manage music pages, kept Messenger active.
Instagram: Unfollowed everyone, removed all followers, and set account to private.
At some point I’ll re-open my Instagram back to the public, because ultimately I want to share the process. But for now, I need to become the process. I need to sink unapologetically to the very core of my truth, and nurture its growth without any potential contamination from the outside world, or any self-destructive narratives in my own mind.
A few days since my departure from Social Media, I already feel better. When I was in the game, I regularly scrolled through Facebook or Instagram, and inevitably would react internally to some extreme or hypocritical post. Instead of engaging (waste of time), I would instead carry frustration with me for the rest of my day.
Now, I feel like I have much greater control over what I feed my brain. I’m spending more time reading books, writing, thinking, practicing… I still check my phone like a fiend, and each time I feel a slight twinge of disappointment, but also an equal measure of liberation.
I feel like a huge portion of my life became simplified overnight. And I invite you to really think about your relationship with social media. How much time are you really spending on these apps? How do you really feel after spending time on Social Media? What do you get out of it, and what do you put into it?
Is it worth it?
If anyone found this post interesting, I highly recommend the documentary The Social Dilemma.