Leaving Social Media is hard. It took effort. These are my experiences with the first few days of the endeavor. I share them because I don’t think they’re entirely unique to me, and I’ve been asked by many people to share them. Some want to be convinced to quit Social Media, while some are genuinely curious how my experience was so bad that i had to leave while theirs is actually pretty fun.
Take them with a grain of salt. But I’d love to hear about yours. If you’ve recently left Social Media (or are thinking about it), let me know what has been going on with you in the comments, or drop me an email.
Neither is this an article meant to convince you to quit Social Media. I’m not trying to convince anyone to quit. That’s your choice. I can tell you, since I have, my life has improved dramatically. But I can’t lie to you — there was definitely a dip before the spike. It was a challenge to get from “leaving” to “God I’m glad I left.” And I want to share my experience in dealing with that challenge. So, I’m writing this guide specifically for those who have taken the step (or are about to), and want to know how to deal with leaving Social Media in the initial days.
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The first day off Social Media is a lot easier than you’d think. Depending on your former level of activity, it’ll feel like any given Sunday morning where you just woke up and left your phone by your bed and made breakfast and listened to good music and enjoyed the morning air. After lunch sometime, when you have your first poop or if you ride the bus or any situation where you’re idle and usually fill the time with Facebook and/or Twitter is the first time you’ll start thinking of how things are going on Social Media.
If you’re a desktop / laptop user, this is also the first time you’ll open a web browser and find yourself typing “F-A-C-E” or “T-W-I” without even realizing you’re doing it. This is also the first time you’ll be aware that you’ve decided to leave this thing that’s been a huge part of your life for a long, long time. You’ll feel a very slight feeling of dread, but your resolve is still SUPER strong and you’ll quickly drown that out. You’ve got this.
By dinner, you’ll have found yourself wanting to share a picture of no less than five things you’ve done, seen or eaten. But you’re still okay. This is still doable. You’ll begin noticing the void that constant distraction used to fill right about now. It’s still not going to ring so loud it echoes in your head, but it’ll be there. But your resolve still won’t be tested…
…Until bedtime. This is the first real challenge. This is the first time you’ll close your night without knowing, in excruciating detail, every opinion on every event that may or may not have happened in the lives of everyone you know. This is the first time you’ll start to feel left out at the very least, and possibly the first fear that you might be forgotten by the world.
…That is, until the people who run Facebook Purity or Twittify or other services that tell you when someone is no longer your friend start asking “Did you block me?” Or “Are you mad at me?” Or “Where’d you go?” Begin texting. You’ll feel like you are missed, and you’ll probably want to copy “No, i just needed a break” to your phone’s clipboard and have it ready to paste a few dozen times.
But after today, there’s gonna be a void of attention. Everyone else won’t notice your absence for a while. That might sound terrible, but It’s only weird until you realize that there have been days in your past where you disappeared from Social Media for a day or even a few days at a time. It’s not ringing anyone’s bell because they haven’t noticed yet — because they’re still facing a wall of distraction, beeping through their phone and slamming their face. You’re one missing voice in a sea of voices, all yelling about any number of things. This doesn’t mean you aren’t missed, it simply means that people haven’t yet noticed because, like you, they fill every moment of their day with distraction as well. They haven’t had TIME to miss you. It’s only been like 18 hours. It’ll happen, trust me. But not anywhere near as soon as you think.
How to handle Day 1:
You don’t really need coping mechanisms or encouragement for Day 1. It’s just like going back to the gym — scary, but not all that bad once you do it. But also like starting at the gym, the worst is to come.
The upshot: as you lay there in bed after the first day, clutching your phone, wondering if you can do this, you’ll begin to think of creative things you can do beyond Social Media that will fill your time. WRITE THEM DOWN. They will come in handy.
You’ll also begin feeling that weird feeling of wondering if doing any of the things without being able to share them is worth doing in the first place. This will be the first moment that truly tests your resolve. You can start writing… but who will read? You can shoot some awesome photos… but who will like them? You can make some music, but who will listen? You can read all those books you have been swearing you’ll read, but who will you share photos of the covers and quotes with, so they know just how literate you are?
You’ll make it through, because you’ll very likely fall asleep thinking about it. It’s a good thing. It means 8ish more hours of not being on Social Media, on autopilot. When you wake up, you’ll have made it through your first day of CHOOSING to be away from Social Media. But that leads to…
By far, without question, the hardest day you’ll face in this experiment.
It’s not a novelty anymore. It’s not just a mindless thing you can coast through. You realize sometime shortly after your phone alarm goes off when you wake up, that your usual habit of clearing the red dots from your alerts on Social Media while still in bed is an itch unscratched. It will be like the feeling you get when the power goes out and you walk into a room and hit the light switch, then think “Oh, yeah… duh.” You may or may not be asking “can I make it through this?” Regardless, this is the first time it really hits you:
You just left the party while it’s still going on. And that party features literally everyone you know. And it’s very likely most of them are going to never, ever interact with you again (provided you stay off Social Media), simply because it’s no longer convenient.
The thing that won’t hit you until much later: It’s fair, because you won’t interact with them, either. Because it’s no longer convenient. You won’t have a thread to react to. You won’t have a post to like. You won’t have a thing to post your opinion on, or react to their opinion on. Your friendship with roughly two thirds of your “friend” list wasn’t meaningless, it was just far more active because it was far more convenient. And now that you’ve read this, you’ve got a huge leg up in the eventual awareness that will come your way. Keep this in mind the next few days, and you’ll be able to swallow the pill a little easier.
But nothing will stop the impending feeling that you are being silly and/or stupid for actually missing an app on your phone and a website. You’re going to think you can’t ever talk about this with anyone, because they’re going to make fun of you because “it’s just a website” or “It’s just an app” and you’re going to think you’re an idiot and that this is so overblown. Those thoughts? KNOW THEM. Study them. Understand them. Listen to the tone and cadence of the voice in your head saying them. Because that voice is the one that’s ultimately going to be your worst enemy in this endeavor.
It’s going to attempt to tell you that there’s no way a WEBSITE can be addictive. It’s going to tell you you’re stupid for being so worked up over it. It’s going to say all kinds of things initially to diminish the weight of the role that this thing has had in your life, because deep inside, it wants you to go back. It is the part of you that is scared to death because you suddenly start realizing, bit by bit, just how big a role Social Media was in your day to day life. It’s not just the boredom of the bus ride or sitting on the toilet or waiting at the laundry that was alleviated. It’s the feeling of being a part of things. It’s the feeling of having friends. It’s the feeling of scrolling Facebook or Twitter, leaving it, doing something else for a few minutes, and going back to Facebook or Twitter to find a whole new slate of things to react to and interact with.
AND YOU HAVEN’T EVEN GOTTEN OUT OF BED YET.
Day 2 is the first day you have to willfully go through your daily life without the metaphorical putty that filled in all the cracks of the time you spend sitting around. You’re about to see just how empty your actual day is without Social Media. And it’s going to SUCK, because you’re not going to contextualize it as “This is how empty my day is without Social Media.” It’ll sound much more like “I’m bored.”
The worst thing in the world to be is bored, isn’t it? Boredom is that nagging feeling of your life slowly trickling out of your body as the seconds tick by on the clock, never to be reclaimed, bringing you ever closer to your inevitable demise. And here you are, coming face to face with the fact that for the past however many years (10+ years on Twitter and Facebook for me), you had a balm to soothe the burn that was reality when it comes to your daily life. You had something to do. You had somewhere to be. And more, you had a willing cache of participants on the ride with you, ready to tell you just how important it was that you ate that awesome steak or visited that cool museum or found that perfect dress.
Now it’s just you, and whoever is in your immediate life. And you’ll get to a point, I PROMISE, where this is enough. It was in the 90’s and early 2000’s, it will be again. But for today, on Day 2, you’re now getting off a train in a subway station in a city you’ve never been to, in a country where you don’t speak the language. And the entire ride there, you had no one to share pictures of the journey with.
You’re going to have to relearn how to live without 24/7 validation.
(I originally typed “distraction” instead of validation, but there’s TONS of distractions out there. I play games on my phone from time to time. I read news feeds. I get email. I get texts. There’s plenty to distract you when it’s needed. But the thing that makes distraction an addition is the validation of your existence and all the little bits you detail from it through Social Media. And like any addiction, once you kick it, you’re going to see just how dull and cloudy your perception was during the time you were on the drug… But it takes time.)
If it sounds like I’m being dramatic, that’s because you’ve not quit Social Media yet. Trust me, if you have, you know exactly what I’m talking about here. You now have to realize what life is like when you’re actually experiencing it, and not cataloging it or reacting to it through a screen.
How to handle Day 2:
Shift the focus to you. Take a picture of the thing you want to take a picture of because it’s something you want to remember, not because it will get likes. Journal. Write things down for yourself, that you would share with others. Play a fun game when on that boring bus ride or on the toilet.
You WILL get the urge to fire your Social Media sites back up. If you need extra help in keeping them off, you can download producitivty plugins that block websites for Safari, Chrome and Firefox. If you’re worried about your access to the sites through a mobile browser, there are extreme measures you can take, like signing up for a proxy service that will tunnel your traffic and block the sites you tell it to. But I’ve found that simply closing your phone and counting to ten helps.
Text your friends. Say hi. This is a good day to let the ones you want to keep in touch with know that you’ve left Social Media, and you’d like to stay in touch. Answer their questions. Laugh and joke about it. This will fill some of the dead minutes you have in your life.
That book you wanted to write? Or painting you wanted to paint? Or whatever you have thought you’ve always wanted to do if you had time to do it? You have it. Literally, right now. You can start working on that, but I’ll tell you from my experience it was hard to get focused on Day 2. You’re still withdrawing from the constant stream of validation-based distraction.
The main thing is to simply repeat this one phrase: “I don’t need to share this.”
You don’t. It doesn’t matter what it is, you don’t NEED to share it. You just want to, cause you need stimulus.
You can get the news you’re missing from Apple News, Google News, or directly from the news sites like AP, New York Times, Washington Journal, and your favorite cable news app. You can download games if you need something to do on the bus. You can also download word processing apps, music-making apps, a journaling app (I recommend Day One), or browse YouTube to learn how to cook things or make things. Or you can just watch tons of kitten videos.
You’ll probably do all of the above this day, and still have hours to spare that used to be filled trolling Social Media.
Day 2 is the toughest one. It’s the first real day you have to cope without your mental crutch when things get boring, and ultimately there’s no other recourse than to simply stick with it. You’re not yet in the mental space to know how to balance things and just “be”, you just know you’re not where you were. This is a reset day. It sucks, but it should help to know that it’s by far the worst day of the whole experience.
It’s a repeat of Day 1. You will be jonesing like you were Day 2, but you’ll feel a lot like you did Day 1, where the first few hours are just crusing by. You’ll have your challenges, but your opinion on them will be a lot different than Day 2. You’re now in a pattern. If you can make it through Day 3, you will be well on your way to a whole week off Social Media, and that’s 1/4 a month, and that’s huge.
The major difference is the memories of Day 1 and Day 2 will play a part in how you behave on Day 3. Day 1, you were missed and got some texts. Day 2, you were so challenged to face being off Social Media that you found ways to distract yourself, both that day and for the future. Day 3, you’re going to remember those things and go “Ok, so what now?”
This is the day the march toward whatever’s next begins. This is probably the day you’ll actually start on whatever project you came up with on Day 2. You may not get very far with it, but hey, you’ll start, and that’s something.
This will also be the first day that something happens in your friend group or in the world that is much discussed on Facebook or Twitter that you missed. You will be asked by friends what you thought of it all, and you will respond “I didn’t see it.” Some part of you will actually be a little proud inside. You may think to yourself “Something happened and I didn’t see it, and I don’t really miss it.”
If you do have those conversations with friends, you’re going to hear a mix of things in response that range from “Oh man, I really should quit Social Media too, but…” to “You’re so brave! I tried but can’t” to “Come on, it’s just a website” and everything inbetween.
That’s going to be the case going forward, only you won’t have to remind yourself you didn’t miss it.
How to get through Day 3: resolve, but it’s not as hard as Day 2 was. You’ve got momentum now. You’re through the Heroin Shakes of Social Media Withdrawl, but you’re not safe yet. You’re getting close to functioning like a normal, albeit bored, human being. Now it’s just a matter of keeping it up.
You will vasillate between “I am so glad I left!” And hovering over the “download” button in the App Store to reinstall the apps. You’ll still find yourself typing “F-A-C-E” or “T-W-I” in the address bar of your browser mindlessly when you open it. You’ll have the conversation about leaving Social Media with friends who ask you “Did you see that thing on Social Media” a few times a day, each day.
You’ll also notice, slowly but surely, that your overall level of anger and stress is lower. When you realize it, it’ll spike, but then it’ll subside. And those cycles will begin spreading out over the next few weeks. For the end of the first week, though, you’ll find yourself still tense and angry at times, as you’ve dived pretty hardcore into news feeds and aggregate sites and other ways to feed your information addiction.
It’s not a miracle cure for being stressed about the internet and world events. But it absolutely does streamline the information you receive, and reduce your reactions to peoples’ opinions on it. And that part of it is what’s going to really make the difference: you realize, just because people have opinions doesn’t make you obligated to hear them. Your brain will begin sifting through opinion to find fact. You will begin reading news for the information, instead of for the fallout.
A week off Social Media. It’s not exactly a day to celebrate, but it’s certainly a milestone. It’ll go much like days 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6. You’re getting rebalanced. You are either through or facing your first weekend without the prospect of live-blogging your food choices or where you hiked or what movie you saw or what game you’re playing. It’ll be weird. But not nearly as bad as Day 2.
You’ll begin hearing your own thoughts in your head, without the need to either vet or validate them with anyone else. You won’t be nearly as angry in general. You’ll be plenty angry about the world and the events going on in it, because right now it’s a total shitshow. But you won’t be chewing tinfoil over the stupidity of the comments on every item you find important.
More than that, you’re going to begin finding things important in a different way than before. The massive emergent need to alarm everyone to each and every thing that’s newsworthy will fade. You’ll begin to see that reaction isn’t necessary at every single step of any process. And more, you’ll realize just how useless your old reactions were — armchair activism and the soapboxing that takes place on Social Media is, by and large, useless for everything except getting people pissed.
(Aside: That’s not to say that massive movements can’t be organized and executed through Social Media, and that’s really the huge benefit to those platforms. But do you need to follow every single movement of those events? Do you, specifically, need your finger on the pulse of every little thing going on all the time? Not really. It’s enough to know that on X date at Y time, a thing you want to do is happening. Show up on that day at that time and do it. ACTIVISM matters. TALKING ABOUT ACTIVISM is mostly masturbation. It’s like sex: even though it’s fun to talk about it, you don’t NEED to for the actual moment to count.)
Your friendships in your daily life will strengthen, but they will also change. You’ll begin to notice that people you may have chatted with every day or even every hour on Facebook or Twitter, even the ones in your daily life, respond to you slightly differently.
This is the same situation as people who stop drinking and still hang out with their drinking friends, but much less stark. There’s still going to be a slight chasm there — they’re still in this thing that you’re not. And remember, CONVEINENCE underscored most interactions with people who were in your social network. You’re all on the same site, all day, every day, and chatting with each other is simple. It’s in the same window, or one window away. And you always had something to talk about.
Now, what you talk about begins to center more on each other, and larger dumps of feelings about the days’ news events are relegated to conversations over drinks or lunch. It’s not as easy to text swaths of material about how you feel about the current news, because you have to also contextualize it. On Social Media, you have the piece you are reacting to right there in the conversation. On your phone or on Instant Messenger or in Slack, however, you have to share the link, and then react. And that microsecond of effort will begin making the differences between “I’m bored” and “this is important enough to discuss.”
You’ll also find that you overshare at first. You send too many pictures of things. You talk too much. Because you used to have this public-facing bulletin board you could pin everything to, you’re used to pinning everything to something. And now, you’re one-on-one or in smaller chat groups… You might find that you start sending volumes of stuff that, when it was just out there and your friends could see it in a stream and “like” it, might be a lot for each individual or group you chat with now.
You’re going to have some moments of loneliness. You’re going to feel unteathered and free-floating. This is a good thing. This is where you do the work of learning what it’s like to be an individual again. But it doesn’t feel very good in the moment. You might even find yourself during these three weeks thinking “okay, the worst is over, and I’ve detoxed from Social Media. It’s okay to go back now.”
Maybe it is. But just know, while YOU have changed in the past few weeks, nothing’s changed there. It’s still the same “PAY ATTENTION TO ME, YOU SUCK” fest it was before. You will very likely find yourself leaving just as quickly as you came back. Hell, a quick dip in that shit-filled pool might convince you you made the right choice all along.
Or, it might be time for a really hard conversation with yourself: that maybe you need this, because you have nothing else. I had that conversation with myself… Still am, in fact. It’s not true, of course. But there’s definitely been moments where I feel like nothing I’m working on matters because no one will ever see it, and if no one can see it, what’s the point?
Of course, the answer is that the work you do is supposed to fulfill you, regardless of outcome or audience. And I do get there, over time. Doesn’t stop the feelings from creeping in.
Day 31 and beyond:
You did it. You established a habit of NOT succumbing to the constant need to yell and be heard. You realized that almost everything you used to share actually didn’t matter to anyone but you, and everyone else was simply participating in the circle-jerk of “I’ll like yours if you like mine, but neither of us actually really care.”
Of course, we DO care. I do care that my friends’ kids are walking now, and that some of my friends are starting their first Marathon training while others are going for their 50th lifetime marathon. I care that the artists I like are sketching. I like seeing the final pieces. I care that my friends are going through hard times and just need a pick-me-up or some words of encouragement. I care a lot.
I still get all of that, without the deluge of the rest of what makes Social Media a broken and terrible experience. It reminds me a lot of the late 90’s, when we all had access to the internet 24/7 but nothing beeping at us every second of the day telling us what we MUST PAY ATTENTION TO RIGHT NOW, much less the need to be seen reacting to it all the fucking time.
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Repeating this at the end, because by n ow you’ve probably forgotten that I had this caveat at the top: These experiences are mine. I share them because I don’t think they’re entirely unique to me, and I’ve been asked by many people to share them. Some want to be convinced to quit Social Media, while some are genuinely curious how my experience was so bad that i had to leave while theirs is actually pretty fun.
Take them with a grain of salt. But I’d love to hear about yours. If you’ve recently left Social Media (or are thinking about it), let me know what has been going on with you in the comments, or drop me an email.