“Don’t forget to like. Subscribe. Share. Hit – no! – smash that bell icon. Of course, follow me on all of my social media accounts so I can tell you how my life is better than yours.” These days, no one wants you – your physical company. People are aiming towards your attention and your credit card.
If you are here reading, you probably acknowledge the huge amount of time you spend each day inside the soul-sucking algorithmic online playground that now represents a large part of our overall existence.
And though you realize your dependence on social media, you still can’t quit.
I get it.
Letting go of something that consumes a good part of your life is a tough nut to crack.
In this post. I’m combining my personal experience with scientific research and adding a flavor of fictional characters from a famous book to help you break from your social media addiction.
Carve out “me time” and find something worthy to do. An activity, that will help you reconnect with the curious, adventurous, creative, and brave side of your identity. A task that will serve as a source of sanity and an escape from the fractured anxiety caused by mindless scrolling.
And before you say it, let me interrupt you… I know!
There are quite a few articles explaining the benefits of staying off social media or such that talk about digital detox.
I’m, personally, contributing to this topic for plenty of reasons – the ones just mentioned: help you regain your sanity, find more time, stop obsessing over others. But most of all, because, I believe that these days you should focus more on doing, not on consuming.
Apart from what everyone else is sharing, though. I believe that most publications miss an important point.
Yes, quitting social media or doing a social media detox will calm your senses and increase your well-being. Plus, you keep your personal data for a little longer. But there is something else. Something I don’t see others acknowledging.
The main benefit of taking a break from social media is that you stop living in a fictional world and finally start dealing with your own reality.
With the recent rebranding of the main player in the field – Facebook rebranding to Meta.1 I think that in the future, visiting social media will look more and more like the world described by Ernest Cline in his masterpiece Ready Player One.2
A futuristic dystopia. A place where the real world sucks. Where people consider talking to someone a chore. Connection, closeness, ambition are replaced by detachment and dogmatic slumber. Society is satisfied with shallow thoughts and the pursuit of artificially created stimuli in an imaginary world.
If you still think that life is impossible without impulsive scrolling. That social connection only happens through a plastic screen – soon a VR set. Hopefully, in this post, I’ll convince you otherwise…
That social media is to be avoided and that it’s about time to consider doing something other than doomscrolling.
Is Disconnecting From Social Media Healthy?
We need to get this out of the way, first.
Before you realize that living inside your phone is not healthy. You need to hear about the initial angst that will emerge from disconnecting from the virtual world.
A recent study about social media detoxication proves that taking a brief hiatus from social media won’t contribute much to your well-being. The researchers didn’t find compelling evidence to support the argument that abstaining from social media has a substantive and measurable positive impact on the ways people feel.
The keyword here is brief.
As you read through the study, you find that the practice of digital detoxication was done only for a day by the participants. I mean, they only stayed away from Facebook for around 24 hours. Insufficient time to understand the positive sides of social media abstention.
They also found a direct correlation between negative effects and satisfaction for the given day. It seems that the more we use social media, both our satisfaction increases along with our dissatisfaction.
Exactly like cigarettes and alcohol.
If you smoke, you can feel both good and bad.
Good because of the chemicals released from the black tar (nicotine) you smoke. Bad because of the negative consequences – bad breath, cough, difficulty breathing, impatience provoked from when you’re not smoking.
Therefore, if I know that I’m only going to quit for a day, I can’t get all the positives. Internally, I’m going to think about the next day. The day when I can smoke again.
I’m saying this from experience. I’ve quit cigarettes several times in the past until one day I decided that I’ll no longer smoke. And only after around 2 to 3 months of not smoking – 3 months of internal dialogues where I almost convinced myself to start again – I was able to find joy in not holding a cigarette.
The same happened when I decided to quit social media a couple of years ago.3
Initially, I got this itchy feeling. The desire to plug my brain back into the infinite feed and get my dose of memes and pictures that make us feel strangely good. Only after a couple of weeks, I was able to spot the real benefits.
So, to answer the question, is disconnecting from social media healthy?
Yes, but it will feel quite strange at first.
It’s quite normal to feel stressed and “worried” when you attempt to quit social media. Every withdrawal from something you’ve done for years will trigger physical and emotional responses. You’d want to get back but persisting and staying away for good reportedly – as mentioned in another study – leads to increased life satisfaction and more positive emotions.
Does Staying Off Social Media Make You Happier?
This is another common question for people who are considering leaving social media.
The answer here is like pretty much everything important in life: It depends.
In yet another study I’ve read about quitting social media I found that responders faced many problems during a brief hiatus from the said networks.
They felt bad about not being able to connect with their loved ones, had difficulty dealing with boredom, and were also dull because their usual entertainment channel was missing.
Why is that?
Shouldn’t it be the other way around? We are here talking about staying away from social media after all?
However, I fully understand why the participants in the study didn’t find any positive effects when abstaining from the evil platforms.
If you’re using social media with the sole purpose of having fun, this is no longer an option. I’m sure you’ll be pissed. It’s like throwing away your TV if you’re hooked to a particular show.
Plainly, you can’t find joy in not using social media if you don’t internally believe that you don’t need it.
After all, if you ask a smoker who doesn’t think that smoking is bad to quit for a day he won’t find any joy in this. He will resent you.
People are mostly using social media to escape their current reality. A place they turn to when the real world is simply making them feel “blah”.
When you use social media for these reasons, you will never see the benefits.
Leaving social media will only make you happier when you stop idolizing it. When you find other activities that bring you joy and realize that it’s destroying your real life.
For this to happen, as you can imagine, you need to be aware of all the problems caused by intensive social media use.
Leaving Social Media: Benefits Of Staying Off Social Media
Here’s what will happen if you decide to take the uncommon path. A life without social media. A life where you proudly confront the dullness. The dissatisfaction emerges from having nothing to do.
1. You Finally Face Your Problems
In the book Ready Player One. The OASIS – the virtual world described by Ernest Cline – serves as an escape from reality.
In the book, real life is hard. Ugly. Almost destroyed. That’s why, The OASIS is such a visited place. More popular than the real world.
Inside this meta-universe, there are no rules. You can be whoever you want to be. It’s literally an oasis. A place that relieves you from the harsh and monotonous desert called life.
Does this remind you of something?
Aren’t we all entering the current popular social media channels to do the same – i.e., escape our current problems?
I think so.
We never log out of Facebook and Instagram because we follow the mantra, “The best way to solve my problems is to avoid them.”
The truth is, that this leads to a compounding effect – but on the one leading to net positives. The more you avoid your problems, the bigger they become.
2. You Stop Consuming And Start Doing
It’s always much easier to do some more research on a particular topic and stall taking action.
The bad thing is that when you have unlimited access – the world’s information at your fingertips – it feels like there is always something more you can find. Something else that will help you make the best decision.
Twitter, the platform that’s now famous for infinite-like threads, is the best example here.
Since it’s trendy to leave your job and start your own thing. The demand for more posts by famous avatars is at its peak.
People are crazily obsessed with adding more and more tweets to their collection – unrolling Twitter threads.
Is this helpful, though?
Spending every waking moment browsing for more insightful information about doing something actually prevents you from doing the thing you want.
You are spinning your wheels. Thinking and talking about doing something but never actually doing it.
There are no amount of Twitter threads – or Instagram carousels – that will make you a better coder, manager, writer, or startup founder. You can only improve if you put the online tips you so passionately save into practice.
Focusing on the saving part will delay your progress – if you ever start at all.
3. You Break Free From Your Self-Imposed Prison Cell
To enter The OASIS, Wade, and every other player in the book Ready Player One use rigs, gloves, and something like spacesuits. Hardware that’s making the virtual world feel more real to the body and mind.
At some point in the story, Wade, the main character in the book describes his equipment as follows: “I’d come to see my rig for what it was: an elaborate contraption for deceiving my senses, to allow me to live in a world that didn’t exist. Each component of my rig was a bar in the cell where I had willingly imprisoned myself.”
Similarly, as proud as you might be for the beautiful Instagram collection you’ve created. Realistically, these look more like bars added to your prison cell.
The more you obsess with buying things – clothes, gear, etc. – that helps you make more perfect photos. The more dependent you become on the platform. At some point, it becomes your prison and you grow more and more disconnected from reality.
Happiness is associated with getting likes, not having meaningful conversations with real people.
Sure, some people succeed at the online game by reaching the status of an influencer but that, too, comes at a cost. You no longer experience real life. Your actions and thoughts are solely directed towards making your virtual life look better. It’s a rat-race lifestyle that feels inescapable.
4. You Stop Obsessing Over Others
As I wrote in one of my recent posts, you become what you consume.
When you see someone purchasing something online, your mind immediately starts to want this product. Even if you don’t need it, you consider this as an option.
The more posts you see, the more products you don’t have will line up for consideration from your brain. You visualize yourself owning this and you also imagine that the item will solve all of your problems – we shift the burden.
Not only that.
Online, you are constantly presented with a life that is absurdly impossible to sustain.
The resorts. The vacations. The perfect homes.
But that’s just decor. A set to sell you something. A lifestyle. A way of thinking. And, of course, some sort of products.
A study exploring the relationship between frequency of Instagram use and psychological well-being revealed some scary details. The results showed that obsessive use of Instagram leads to lowered self-esteem and physical anxiety.
The more you see perfect bodies, the more flaws you find in your body. Quite normally, you feel worse about yourself and your self-perceived attractiveness goes down to zero.
Social media becomes a dangerous loop where you’re constantly reminded of what you don’t have and of the person you’re not.
Since people post only their best images online. And since perfect is everything you see when “connected” with others. Perfect becomes the expected norm. You desperately want the same level of perfection in your life but when not achieved, you feel inferior.
Only when you detach yourself from this perfection, you can find calmness and joy in the imperfection that’s a big part of everyone’s life.
5. You Realize That You Will Never Get Everything You Want But That’s OK
Imagine having everything you ever wanted.
Would you be finally relieved or you will go crazy because you won’t have enough space to store all of the crap?
Happiness is quite subjective. For different people, it means different things.
What I found out though is that happiness doesn’t come from pursuing more things to buy. It comes from practicing a set of activities that bring you joy. For me, it’s writing. For you, it’s probably something different.
Sure, we all feel good when we buy things. But this quickly fades. A new feeling always emerges and replaces the satisfaction that came from the previous purchase. A new object will enter your view and destroy all the previous positive sensations and replace them with negative ones that say, “your life is still not perfect, you are still not in the possession of X.”
What really counts is having a life where you practice a set of routines that make your life meaningful.
The author Erich Fromm describes this as having versus being mentality.4
When we use social media, we are obsessed with having things. We see what others have, and we think that we’ll reach their level of happiness only when possessing the same objects. This never comes.
Being, the contrasting venue is what should be on our aim. We understand that we can’t feel lasting happiness by accumulating things. It comes from doing meaningful things.
The reason you feel good about realizing that you will never get everything you want is because wants emerge all the time in your mind. There is always something you want. But that doesn’t mean that you actually need it. That’s the mentality of being.
When you focus on being. You feel good about practicing activities that bring you joy and meaning – painting, drawing, writing, building something. Thus, you move away from wanting to have more to wanting to do and experience more.
6. You Uncover What’s Terrifying In Your Real Life
“As painful as reality can be, it’s also the only place where you can find true happiness. Because reality is real. Do you understand?”
These lines are from the movie Ready Player One.
They explain why James Halliday created The OASIS.5 He did it because he wasn’t sure how to connect with others. He was looking for an alternative way, a safer way, to build relationships with others.
The above is the equivalent of using modern dating apps. It’s emotionally painful to get rejected in real life. That’s why apps like Tinder are so popular. A drink in your face hurts but you can live with a swipe.
How this habit affects your life though?
You never learn vital skills.
A person who is only using social media to talk to others never learns how to actually talk to others. Besides, he breaks when there’s even the slightest obstacle in the way.
We secretly avoid real interactions because we’re afraid. Afraid of rejections.
If this is the case – and it commonly is – my question to you is to observe why you’re so addicted to the platform. What are you avoiding?
As stated, as terrifying reality is, it’s still the only place that’s real.
Online, things are safer. You can’t get injured.
But if we do this all day, how to we mature?
We need to expose ourselves to more obstacles.
The more we fall, the more we learn to pick ourselves up. Thus, we get stronger.
7. You Will Be Amazed How Nuanced Life Is
I still remember life without social media.
I’m a kid of the ’90s. Born in 1988, my childhood was spent mostly outdoors. We didn’t have phones. Our parents had to roam the neighborhood, find us, and physically drag us home so we can eat together.
Nowadays, I think that our whole physical life is a constant effort to create this flawless online persona.
We’re always refreshing our feed to find more things that we can later acquire. Once we have them, we’re eager to share our newest possessions to evoke envy in others.
It’s like the more others envy us, the better we feel.
We don’t ever stop to look around us.
Media have convinced us that what’s around us is unimportant. Only what’s online has value. And only if it’s with the right amount of followers.
People look at you and then they quickly gaze back to their phones. Searching for a higher status. You don’t count. You’re not on the screen. You’re not famous enough.
Only when you disengage from this madness you can finally feel and appreciate what’s right here, next to you. It might not be shiny enough. But it’s surely more real than what’s out there.
Some Closing Thoughts
People will do anything other than consider their dreadful reality.
The greatest source of suffering for the modern man is the most banal: Boredom.
We can’t survive even a minute without doing something.
That’s why social media websites are so popular and so hard to quit.
They offer endless streams of positive sensations with almost no effort – you just have to move your finger.
Even if life throws a curveball, we need to fight in order to survive. Resting after a wrestle proves intolerable because of the boredom it produces.
That’s why I personally think that the best way to leave social media. The most adequate antidote is finding something else to do when you have nothing to do.
Something that’s aligned with your long-term goals.
Doing. Not consuming.
Practicing something that can help you learn something new. Or, as strange as it might sound, even consider talking to the person sitting right next to you.
Do yourself a favor:
Join Going Further: A 13-day email series on how to keep progressing in a world tirelessly pushing toward regression. Great for people who feel stuck in the endless loop of not doing.
- The Verge. Mark Zuckerberg on why Facebook is rebranding to Meta. Heath, Alex
- A science fiction book turned after that into a movie.
- I unfollowed everyone online 3 years ago. The best decision in my life.
- You can read about this comparison in more detail here and here.
- James Donovan Halliday is the side character and tech industry businessman in the backstory of Ready Player One.