Social media is like cigarettes and alcohol. Toxic. Addictive. Yet widely accessible. Everybody knows it’s bad. Everybody knows that it’s wasting your time and polluting your brain with envy, jealously, and resentment. Yet again, nobody is trying to prevent it – nor take the steps to withdraw. The benefits of using social media, it seems for plenty of people, are far greater than the benefits of staying away. Well, after saying no to cigarettes and alcohol after 7 years of obsessive use, I also decided that it’s time to take care of my mental health. For a bit over 3 years, I’m not using social media.
I did it because I was afraid. Terrified, of the idea that one day I will wake up, and find that my life was wasted.
Spent linking pictures of people going hiking instead of going hiking myself. Perished on commenting under posts about social change or doing something meaningful instead of actually doing something meaningful. Endlessly scrolling through pictures of people having a good time instead of doing something fun with my friends.
The way we spent our days, everything we do, even the simple things, is the way we spent our lives. And gosh, if liking pictures and thinking about what to share next consumes a large part of your day. Then, I think, that a large part of the day is wasted in a senseless imaginary virtual world.
But I was not always like this. Before my life after quitting social media, there was a chapter in my life where, I, too, thought that every meal and outfit had to be posed, captured, and tagged.
Why did I Use Social Media?
Not that I was particularly obsessed with social media. I wasn’t a fan at first. But after joining Facebook, I don’t know when, probably in 2009, it quickly became part of my life.
I’m sure you know why that is. The slick design. The ease of use. The sense of belonging and connection. And yes, the social validation going through your whole body. Energizing your empty soul, secretly seeking for meaning, after posting a picture and receiving a flow of clicks on your post – the beloved like!
Back then, I wasn’t so involved in reading about behavioral economics and human psychology as I am today.
It was strange to me. And I didn’t know why, but I was so obsessed with checking my notifications.
When there was a red number added to the top right of my Facebook page, I always felt excited. Rewarded. As if someone handed a juicy chocolate cake to my hungry brain.
Sadly, this thrill was short-lived. After checking who commented or liked my pictures, I was back. Back in the usual boring state of mind.
So what did I do?
Well, like everyone else, I posted more. I commented more. I liked more!
The more I was doing these things, the more numbers I’ve added to my little planet icon. The more “points” I had, the better I felt. And this little planet icon, was quite literally representing the real world I was living in – virtual, yet so real.
It all appeared so fun and flashy. I mean, everyone online was so good-looking. So adventurous. So insightful. So… unrealistically perfect.
And when this concept gets in your brain you have two options which often overlap: 1) You can either try to outshine the shiniest of your friends – e.g., get a better car, get funky clothes, go to more places, post more happy pictures, etc. Or, 2) feel broken and aimless. Alone. Covered in darkness because you don’t ever go anywhere. You can’t afford to go anywhere. You can’t afford a new car. New clothes. Shiny restaurants. Useless gadgets. Therefore, you are not having as much fun as apparently the rest of the world.
And as I just said, the two go hand in hand.
You might be working hard to create this ultimately good-looking persona online, but there is always someone else. Someone more luxurious. Someone using better filters. Someone posting more. Someone posting less. Someone traveling more. Someone with a better job than yours.
And when these someones start to become your baseline of using social media, and how you actually live and think about your life, it’s no longer fun. It becomes an obsession. A competition. A race that always ends badly for the player.
Why I Quit Social Media?
Honestly, I felt used.
Social media gives you this sensation that you’re doing something. Making progress (by gaining followers and likes). While you’re actually an active contributor to the growth of the platform. Not your personal growth.
It’s not apparent unless you think about it. But in reality, social media platforms capitalize on our compulsive nature by encouraging impulse buys and doom scrolling.
In the book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, the author said it best: “Surveillance capitalists work hard to camouflage their purpose as they master the uses of instrumentarian power to shape our behavior while evading our awareness.”
I thought that I’m using social media to connect with others. To keep my friendships thriving. Until I actually paused and asked myself the question: “Why I’m actually using social media?”
Was it because I wanted to connect with others, or was it because I’m getting regular dopamine hits by this platform that only cares about its bottom line, not mine?
Of course, it was the latter.
As mentioned above, I wasn’t reading a lot of psychology books before. But I do now.
And I realized a couple of things that helped me eventually adopt a monk-like virtual life:
- We want to feel valued.1
- We get easily attached to things we use daily that are frictionless.2
- The brain is always trying to reduce the energy consumption.3
- Our brain is a sensation-seeking organism that is always eager to experience new experiences.4
- We are addicted to social validation.5
Knowing all of these default characteristics of our psyche, app founders, of course, use them to control us. Mold our behavior to their likings.
They have designed the now modern social media platforms to keep us inside their shapeshifting fortress full of “fun and games” so they can extract from us more of what they want – personal data and money.
Sadly, we’re blindly unaware of these things. I mean, ask your mom about how Facebook makes money? She will probably say that it’s just a free service to connect people. And probably don’t even consider the negative consequences.
We will get to that.
Based on the points I just mentioned, here’s how things look like in our brains in favor of social media – i.e., why we keep using it:
- I have a huge list of friends that value me.
- I’ve been using social media for X amount of years. I can’t simply stop using it now.
- Social media feels so effortless. It helps me calm down and find peace. Connection. Friendships.
- Opening social media always feel so new. So refreshing. So… there is always something fun to watch.
- Every time I post something online, and people like it, I feel so strangely good. I feel accepted. Appreciated.
But these are just delusions.
Think about it. Facebook, Instagram, all the others platforms, are multimillion-dollar businesses. Do you think that the design of the app is something random? And do you think that they don’t do it for the money?
Absolutely not. The psychology books I mentioned? They don’t simply read them. Social media companies hire psychology experts to help them create the ultimate slot machine that extracts, ounce by ounce, the living force out of your corpse. Plus, of course, your money.
Here’s how the bullets I mentioned above actually look like:
- Most of your Facebook friends don’t care about your existence. They care about themselves. It’s simply in our human nature.
- If you get hooked on drugs, people will try to help you. But when you use social media, people follow you or like your pictures. Making it even harder for you to escape.
- A lazy mind leads to a lazy life. Our mind erodes and we never push ourselves. We click on more push notifications. Satisfying ourselves with more scrolling. More hamster-wheel lifestyle.
- We start to feel good about metrics that aren’t real – likes and followers. We make these things the prime purpose of our existence. Making us live lives that aren’t real.
- Convincing yourself that posting selfies is the ultimate form of creativity shuts your mind from pursuing higher forms of creativity.
The more psychology books I read. The more pieces of the puzzle I was uncovering. I was seeing how the carefully designed prompts – like, comment, share – were only trying to lure me in. Grab me with their suffocating tentacles and make me addicted to scrolling and liking.
But once you peek behind the curtains. Once you realize that these platforms are not trying to help you – quite the opposite. Once you see how everyone, everywhere is glued to this imaginary happy virtual place that only deteriorates your mind and body, you can’t unsee them.
You want out.
I wanted out.
Then I decided to quit.
How My Life Changed After Quitting Social Media?
I become enlightened. I found my secret chakra that summoned my hidden spiritual animal and we all become one. I can describe it as an almost floating state.
Nothing spiritually happened. But yes, it was liberating.
I no longer had to “report” my life to a bunch of strangers (including a few friends) online.
Because, let’s face it, that is what we are actually doing. Reporting what happened in our lives and trying to frame it like it was way better than what it actually was. And yes, it really is a bunch of strangers with just a few friends. Who actually knows all his Facebook friends – I mean really know, not just know remotely?
It felt so strange initially. I didn’t know what others were doing. I didn’t know what new events there were in my city. I didn’t know what day it was!
But the best part was, I no longer needed to know.
After 3 years of not using social media, I now can safely say the following things:
- People won’t call you to ask why you’re not posting pictures of your new trip or call the police because they’ll get worried – as mentioned above, we’re really selfish. We care mostly about ourselves.
- Important things – news, events, etc. – that we think we’ll miss will come to you either way. Either a friend will tell you about an upcoming concert or you’ll read it somewhere else.
- You find new ways to use your phone and laptop. Instead of mainly using it to boost your online presence. You realize that you can use your camera or the keyboard on your smartphone to create something meaningful. A long-term project online. Not a long-winded social media post where you selfishly promote how perfect your life is.
I still haven’t deleted my social media accounts. I still have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. I don’t need to delete them. I don’t feel that I need to delete them. I simply don’t open them because I simply unfollowed everyone there. When I open Facebook, I see nothing. Which is everything I want from Facebook.
I got this sense of strict time management that protects me from wasting my time online.
Even if I end up opening a Twitter thread or an Instagram profile. I just read the suggested text and leave. Or, if I open Facebook, I do it because I’m searching for something particular. Once I find it, I move on with my life.
Or if I can frame it simply, the best part of life without social media is this:
You are no longer used by social media, you start to use the tool.
Here’s what I mean: There are a lot of Facebook groups full of people who can help you with a particular problem, if you’re having problems with your website, for example. Or if you want to take your kid to the best dentist in town but a random google search is not helping. But instead of refreshing like a lunatic for new information all the time during your day. You simply search for a solution only when you are experiencing a problem.
You treat social media like any other website online. You visit it only when you need something. You don’t visit it to find something to need.
This needs repeating: When you stop using social media all the time, you visit social media only when you need to find something particular. You don’t visit it to find something, anything, to need.
Let me expand on this concept:
If you pause for a moment and assess your social media usage, you’ll spot the following: You tend to open Instagram or any other social media platform, because you feel dull but you want to feel excited (find something to need). You hop inside the platform to invite some sort of good feeling in your life because it’s currently, at this very moment, missing.
But instead of filling the void with cat pictures and funny videos every time you feel bored, or worse, open it to find something to buy, why don’t you pause for just a second. Interrupt your usual flow of “feeling dull, therefore I should open social media” and think about this for a moment. “Why there isn’t something to be excited about?”
Leaving social media helped me realized that I shouldn’t search for exciting things outside myself in a virtual platform promising to make my life better now but actually doing the opposite.
I should create exciting things in my life on my own. Things to think about. Projects to work on.
Thanks to the Internet, we have the power to create. To build. To learn new skills and use them to create a better future for ourselves and our kids.
Why don’t we use the tools available instead of letting them use us?
Personally, I think that if you’re too busy updating your social medial profile with pictures. Too busy reading what everyone else is sharing online. Your actual life is unexciting and meaningless. Otherwise, why then spent so much time reading and watching what everyone else is doing?
Or if I can frame in one sentence how my life changed after quitting social media, it’s this: I transitioned from consumer to creator.
Now, I don’t want to consume the life of others. I want to create a life worth consuming.
(The above sounds… too good not to be tweeted, right?)
It might sound selfish. But a life worth consuming means that you’re creating something valuable. Something people don’t just like and move one. You create something people adore and want to implement in their lives.
After quitting social media, I fill the void I was previously trying to fill with meaningless shares and likes with determination and curiosity.
What emerged was this site.
Currently, by sharing lessons from the books I read. By creating actionable content based on the findings in great literature, I want to 1) express myself, 2) share my passion for books, learning, doing, and 3) help more people transition from passive consumers to mindful go-getters with a sense of purpose.
But not only that. I got my attention back.
I replaced being a seeker of endless refreshes and more external sensations that are not even remotely related to my goals and only robbing my attention. To being satisfied with a finite, but more meaningful specifically to me, amount of resources.
Some Closing Thoughts
I didn’t find inner peace after leaving social media. And I don’t pretend that I have everything figured out. I don’t.
But I did found clarity and purpose.
Leaving social media gave me the opportunity, the time to have an inner dialog and find the answer to the real question that was troubling my mind.
Namely, “what do I want to do and why do I want to do it?”
Before I was getting my dose of social validation (and excitement) by sharing carefully edited pictures of me doing “important” things like – getting coffee, walking on the street, traveling. Or in other words, focusing on sharing my outer experiences hoping that people will care – and getting annoyed when they don’t.
Now, I get these sensations by writing articles that represent my inner thoughts and ambitions without any expectations and prayers for “likes”.
I do what I do because I want to do it, I don’t do it because I have to do it. Or, because I’m trying to prove something to someone.
Lastly, if you decide to stay and use the platforms I’m arguing against, I wanted to share a piece of advice: Don’t aim people to like you for simply sharing pictures of the places you’ve been. Aim to be admired for the person you become in the journey. And how this person can be of value, real value, not just fake status symbols, to the people following you along.
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- Our emotions govern our behavior. From Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman.
- The more something is easier, the more it will be desired. That’s why, if you want to escape your bad behavior, you should make the desired thing easy to do. This is from Atomic Habits.
- The brain is the most important part of our body. Saving energy is a top priority. This is something I got from Brain Rules by John Medina.
- In Thinking, Fast and Slow, the author explains why we can’t satisfy ourselves with what we have.
- We hide our selfish nature behind altruistic behavior. This is something I learned from the book The Elephant in the Brain.