Quitting Socials

By Mark Nuyens
5 min. read📢 Social Media

Five years ago, I did something that would significantly impact my digital landscape: I said goodbye to my Facebook account, and a year later to Instagram as well. One of the reasons for this decision was the Cambridge Analytical scandal, which made me question the ethical practices of Meta (formerly known as Facebook). However, another reason was their constant demand for time and attention. More than anything, I wanted to experience life back through my own eyes, rather than just through my phone.

More recently, I stopped using Twitter as well. Elon Musk's policies changes made be feel unvalued and unheard as a non-paying user. The once-promised town square had transformed into an arena, where I found myself placed behind a metaphorical column. Ironically, this same arena could very well be the battleground for the fight between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg. In any case, this is the story of my life without social media, excluding essential messaging apps like WhatsApp and Signal, which I found to occasionally provide relevant, personal content delivered directly to me.

Last November, I shared my experiences of a month without a smartphone, which garnered positive responses from all kinds of people alike. This time, I wanted to reflect on my decision to leave social media and how it has shaped my perspective. First of all, let me mention how "quitting socials" has had several positive effects on my personal life:

  1. More Present: I discovered a newfound presence in the real world. Less scrolling through feeds, more engaging in meaningful conversations. Observing subtle emotional nuances in person became more enjoyable.

  2. More Time: Social media consumes an astonishing amount of time. Reflecting on the hours saved over the years was an eye-opener. Just imagine the potential for learning new languages, exploring hobbies, or pursuing sports during that time.

  3. Intrinsic Value: Constantly seeking for validation through likes and comments had replaced the joy of personal moments. Rediscovering the pleasure of taking pictures for myself and cherishing real-life experiences with my partner became profoundly rewarding.

  4. Social Pressure: The pressure to engage with every post from friends and acquaintances often created anxiety. The feeling of being expected to like or comment on specific posts became something of a chore.

  5. Data Ownership: The vulnerability of personal data became evident, especially since the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Looking back, it seems somewhat naive to have placed our trust in social networks for the responsible handling and protection of our data.

A decade ago, I actually proposed a theory related to Maslow's hierarchy of human needs, originally titled "Eating, Drinking, Facebook". In this essay, I suggested how we came used to having these social networks to fulfill some of our social needs, including belongingness and recognition. While social media allowed us to form groups, connect with friends, followers, and like-minded individuals, it also provided a platform for receiving recognition through likes and hearts, satisfying our desire for acknowledgment. In my own experience, this digital world responded to my personal accomplishments and announcements and made me feel appreciated.

Social media had undoubtedly played a significant role in my digital life, which made the idea of quitting somewhat daunting. In fact, the idea of doing so felt like dining at an all-you-can-eat buffet and then choosing only a humble soup. Although the consumption of interesting posts, likes and comments was part of my "social diet", it was similar to fast food - initially delightful but ultimately unsatisfying and unhealthy, or at least in retrospect. In the meantime, these social platforms seemed to have only accelerated their content delivery, overwhelming their users with bite-sized content through apps such as TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube. With our growing capacity to consume this content, I couldn't help but wonder how these platforms would evolve once headsets became our primary medium.

At the same time, I realize that quitting social media isn't a viable option for everyone. Business owners managing online branding or individuals deeply involved in educational or social groups may find these platforms indispensable. Yet, for those who can distance themselves, it begins with breaking free from the figurative cages we've built on these platforms. In my case, I shifted from following brands on social media to subscribing to their newsletters, which proved more manageable and digestible. For social interactions, I relied on WhatsApp to stay connected with close friends and family via groups. Despite their own drawbacks, these channels felt more relevant and also allowed for easy muting when needed.

However, the desire for recognition and the fear of missing out on vital news and events are still present in my life, even today. Occasionally, I miss the likes and comments on my photos. And I especially miss having a platform that allows me to share my blog articles with friends and relatives. Nonetheless, the transition from an active social media participant to an advocate against these platforms has allowed me to reclaim my time, my presence, and my digital privacy.

In conclusion, quitting social media has been a transformative journey, freeing me from digital snacks to appreciate the richness of offline experiences. While this decision to disconnect may not be for everyone, it has led me to personal growth and a renewed sense of well-being.

Update September 2023

I recently dusted off my LinkedIn account for a specific reason: to promote my initiative, Offline November, within my network. While that proved to be a valid reason, it once again highlights how social media are vying for my attention. When I receive a new message from my connections, I am notified by email. However, the actual message isn't included in the email; there's just a link to return to LinkedIn, where they rely on my participation and engagement with their content. The notifications presented through the menu are no longer personalized for me as an individual but encompass notifications from various people who have shared something with each other.

It's almost as if they've "changed their tune" and are now trying to persuade me into the exchange I'm missing out on. If I want more attention, it seems I need to participate more actively. Personal notifications are moved to a secondary tab, initially hidden from my view. It's evident that LinkedIn wants nothing more than my time and attention because that's how they sell advertisements. It confirms what I've known for a while: it's not about professional networking or human connections. It's about ad revenue. They don't seem to care about the means, as long as the quarterly figures surpass the previous year's.