Lessons from two and a half years without social media

Photo by George Pagan III on Unsplash

This post is for anyone who is considering quitting social media, curious about deleting their social media accounts, and/or is just intrigued about what life is like without social media in the 21st century.

Roughly two and a half years ago, sometime in June 2017, I deleted my last standing social media account, Twitter.

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The main reason for my desire to quit social media came after learning about the attention economy where manipulation tactics are used to keep us glued to our devices to sell our attention for profit.

I was angry that my productivity, mental health, and physical well-being were being compromised so Twitter can profit from selling my attention to corporates.

After months of unsuccessful attempts, that fateful day in June, I finally deactivated my account, powered through the 30-days reactivation period, and my account was finally deleted.

Quitting social media has changed the trajectory of life as I knew it then; life with Twitter as my trusted companion, entertainer, and validation provider.

So, what is life really like sans social media in the 21st-century?

For the most part, not being on social media is my norm now. I don’t feel, nor think, that something is missing or lacking. In fact, it is the idea of being on social media that feels foreign to me.

However, there are some interesting discoveries I have made during the past two years and a half living without social media.

1. The constant itch to share anything and everything online goes away.

The thing I noticed right after deleting my Twitter account was how often my thoughts, feelings, and experiences were filtered through, ‘I gotta share this on Twitter!’

It could be anything; a line from a song, part of a funny conversation, an article I just read, food I’m eating, a song I’m listening to, a show I’m watching, a funny meme I came across, and so forth.

There was this constant need to share anything and everything on Twitter, and my experiences were constantly being interrupted by how sharable they were on the Twitter-verse.

So, for months to come after deleting my account, I would constantly think, ‘I gotta share this on Twitter!’, only to be reminded I couldn’t anymore. It wasn’t until about a year or so later that that thought process completely went away.

One day, the desire to share my thoughts, feelings, and experiences on social media was gone, and that was that. Instead, I adapted to appreciating experiences for what they are without the need to share them online.

Now, my thought process is mostly, ‘Ahhh! I forgot to take a picture/video of [insert awesome experience here]!’ or ‘So and so would totally find this meme hilarious!’ and then forgetting to actually send it.

I guess it isn’t as fun to share every mildly-interesting thought, feeling, or experience you have via text message to each individual contact in your phone, which brings me to my next finding…

2. The world feels a lot smaller. A lot smaller.

The most significant difference I experienced after quitting social media was how much smaller my world got. 

In that, I know and communicate with fewer people. The people that text and call me, and sometimes email me, are the only people I communicate with.

As a result, my world has shrunk down to my family, close friends, acquaintances I communicate with sparingly, and those I mostly interact with in person.

That number is significantly, and I mean significantly, lower than the people I used to interact with online. Yes, getting likes, retweets, and comments is a form of communication. It is a way of people telling you they like something you said, did or shared, in the most efficient way possible.

In addition, my fear of missing out (FOMO) has dissipated alongside getting used to my small world. It is no longer part of my daily routine to be informed about the daily lives, thoughts, opinions, and troubles and tribulations of hundreds of people I follow online.

I always thought it was kind of ridiculous how much I knew about non-essential (to me) people’s lives via social media anyway, so FOMO wasn’t a huge problem for me.

In fact, I am relieved to not be constantly bombarded with the noise.  

3. Most people use social media as their main mode of communication.

As a result, you will be left out, forgotten about, and disregarded because it simply isn’t convenient, or in people’s radar to remember, to text/call/email you.

It is highly likely that I have missed out on some great connections and network opportunities because of my decision to quit social media. That’s just a fact of life; social media is a very important platform to stay connected right now, just like the mail or home telephones were back in their glory days.

I can’t be mad at that.

I chose not to be on social media, and the world doesn’t revolve around my choices.

4. Quitting social media DOES NOT mean quitting the internet.

I thought, naively, quitting social media would solve my addiction to my smartphone and the internet, and subsequently all of my life’s problems stemming from distraction and procrastination.

I was so wrong.

Quitting social media doesn’t mean quitting the internet. You will not finally accomplish your goals of getting your Ph.D., writing a memoir, running a marathon, and ending world hunger because you quit social media.

At least, I didn’t.

Despite my best efforts to practice digital wellness and digital minimalism,  I often find myself relapsing to unhealthy browsing habits more than I would like to admit. I still spend so much time mindlessly browsing websites that add very little value to my life.

Social media is a small part of the puzzle.

The internet is a whole another beast full of endless distractions to keep us glued to the online world. It requires a conscious, continuous effort to use the internet and our smartphones as tools, rather than distraction devices.

5. People’s reactions will not be what you would expect it to be.

I will be honest, in the beginning, I thought people would be a lot more curious and intrusive about my decision to quit social media, both people I knew and strangers. The reality, however, is that most people are indifferent about it.

To my sheer d̶i̶s̶a̶p̶p̶o̶i̶n̶t̶m̶e̶n̶t̶  surprise, nobody really cared, and cares, about my social-media free lifestyle. There are no Oohhs and Aahhs for my heroic bravery to ditch social media in the 21st century.

In fact, it is quite rare someone makes any comment about it. The topic usually comes up when people ask to add me on social media, and the conversation usually goes like this:

Do you have Instagram or Snapchat?
No, I don’t. Let’s exchange numbers!”


Do you have Instagram or Snapchat?
No, I don’t.
Okay, let’s exchange numbers!

That’s it.

I’m not saying people won’t make comments at all, ever. It happens sometimes, and some people will ask why or how. It’s just that, quitting social media will not give you any special recognition or respect.

There are probably many other differences I have experienced since quitting social media I’m forgetting to mention because not being on social media is my norm.

Besides using my experience to write a clickbaity article for views (😜), I rarely, if ever, think about the fact that I’m not on any social media platforms.

In fact, I can say with confidence that I will probably never go back to social media.

I will admit, sometimes I do ponder getting back on it when something super cool happens and I want to share it with someone other than my boyfriend, or like my two friends, but it feels so ridiculous and alien to actually follow through.

Still, I feel smug about quitting social media for one major reason: I get to say a small f-you to the attention economy, at least in terms of social media platforms.

It’s oddly satisfying to me. It is the single most revolutionary act that has been the catalyst for so many positive changes and improvements in my life.

But, this is just my experience, and what has worked out for me rather wonderfully.

As Austin Kleon reminds us, All advice is autobiographical. YMMV: Your mileage may vary. Feel free to break the rules. Make the life you want.

Until then… 🙂

Published by Mehret Biruk

(re)discovering the pleasures of the offline world.

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