I finally own my life again.
Photo by Luke Chesser on Unsplash
It all started the day I realized that my thumb had Pavlov’s reflex to click the Instagram button every time I unlocked my phone.
I was not alone in this. I had absurd conversations with friends during which we all admitted to being subject to the same disease: compulsively opening Instagram or Facebook, without reason, only to close the app a few seconds later.
It was useless.
A waste of time.
Perpetual interruptions in what we were doing.
The idea of getting this nonsense out of my life has been running through my head for a long time. The trigger was Netflix’s documentary, The Social Dilemma.
It was high time for all this to stop.
“If you’re not paying for the product, then you are the product.” — The Social Dilemma
You have probably heard this phrase before. That’s why Facebook is free. So is Instagram. So is Twitter. Just like Snapchat.
You are the product.
Or, more accurately, your attention is the product.
Advertisers fight with the help of ever more perverse tricks to get your attention and make money with it. Period.
These are some of the truths you learn in the Netflix documentary. I really recommend you take a look at it. It’s short, it’s well done, and it changes the way you look at things.
That night, I wasn’t particularly determined to change my life, or make big decisions. I was just looking for something a little instructive to look at over dinner.
After 30 minutes, I had made my decision. It was “la goute d’eau qui fait déborder le vase”, as we say in French. I took my computer, and methodically deleted all my accounts (which is no small matter, as if we were being held back…). Then, I concluded the carnage by grabbing my phone and taking a malicious pleasure in deleting all these sneaky applications.
No more Facebook. No more Instagram. No more Snapchat. Twitter only to share my stories, and no app on my phone.
I just kept Messenger and WhatsApp. Which are more communication tools than social media.
“Social media is a drug” — The Social Dilemma
Do you know what drugs do? They attract us by showing how cool they are. They are not. It’s a subterfuge. And we end up getting caught in their net. We don’t know how to live without them anymore. We even wonder how we managed to live without them.
After a month without social media, I realized that it wasn’t bringing anything positive into my life.
I haven’t regretted my choice for a second.
I was afraid of losing touch with people. It turned out that the most important people in my life had my phone number.
Day 1: There’s a blank spot on my phone’s homepage.
From the moment I erased all this, the first feeling that came up was relief. As if I didn’t have to pretend anymore. As if I had just been released from years of “imprisonment”.
As if I finally had the right to close the shutters of my house.
I felt lonely but in an incredibly pleasant way. No more constant sharing. No more constant availability. No more constant solicitations and notifications. These were reduced to the bare minimum.
I felt like I was out of the loop.
Suddenly I understood the true meaning of the acronym FoMO.
“Social media utilities have made it easier than ever to know about the range of online or offline social activities one could be engaging. On the upside, these social resources provide a multitude of opportunities for interaction; on the downside, they often broadcast more options than can be pursued, given practical restrictions and limited time.
This dual nature of social media has driven popular interest in the concept of Fear of Missing Out — popularly referred to as FoMO. Defined as a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent, FoMO is characterized by the desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing.” — explained the authors of a study.
I wondered what was going on there. What people were doing. Posting. I wondered if I was missing something. If I wasn’t pulling myself apart.
Which was probably the case. But I didn’t care. I had changed my focus. So everything was fine.
Week 1: “Let’s post a story about it! Well, wait…”
This is perhaps what surprised me the most. Giving all this up highlighted a bad habit I had. This reflex of sharing everything great that was happening to me on Instagram. You know, to show how great my life was. I just forgot to share the negative moments too…
I would catch a beautiful sunset and instead of enjoying it and focusing on the moment, I would lose half of it for the sake of posting a Story.
I would go surfing, same: instead of jumping into the water with all my enthusiasm, I would first take a picture of my board on the sand, with the sea in the background, because it was “cool”.
I would eat a delicious meal, the dish almost had time to cool down.
At first, it was worrying, to see how far these media had invaded my life in all its corners. But then it revealed something much more interesting.
I could now enjoy things for myself. Selfishly. I didn’t need to share anymore. I could now immediately immerse myself in the pleasure of the moment in question, without worrying about anything else.
In fact, I took a malicious pleasure in watching people around me make their own Stories. It was as if they and I were separated by a transparent window. I bathed in real life, they were locked in the falsity of appearance.
I now do things for myself. And I no longer seek external validation. I no longer make people envious by posting snapshots of my travels.
I do things for myself.
In complete privacy.
An assessment after 1 month:
It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
It wasn’t that hard. Maybe because the decision had had time to mature for many months before I made it. And because I knew why I was doing it.
The hardest part was not being able to share my photographic work on Instagram anymore. Because I am a photographer too. But I decided that my mental health was more important than that.
Removing all forms of social media from my life has brought many benefits. Here is a summary.
I am much more focused.
Scrolling teaches us to be deconcentrated. To unplug our mind and put it under an infusion of uninteresting scrolling images before our empty gazes.
I have regained some of my ability to focus.
Just like the concentration I had as a child. When I grew up, I missed those long afternoons spent reading. It was as if I couldn’t focus anymore. Now I understand why.
I am also less distracted, thanks to the drastic reduction in notifications.
I now can focus on what matters.
On myself. What I want to do with my life. Without any unsolicited outside influence. I am in my own little bubble.
“Remove all these useless tools. It’s a wonderful world.” — The Social Dilemma
I have more time.
I used to get lost in endless scrolling. I grew lazy. Do you feel mentally tired? A good scrolling session doesn’t require to turn on any brain cell.
Which means that I was losing one to several hours of my day, every day.
Now that I no longer have this easy and constant distraction, I read a lot more. Up to 1 or 2 hours more each day. It feels good to focus your attention on something really meaningful, something that adds value to your life.
My screen time has decreased a lot. The only screen time I have now is when I’m working on my laptop. And that’s already enough.
I have a lot more time in general. Less time for a ‘fake community’, more time for my real community: my loved ones.
I have realized that, contrary to what we are led to believe, life is better without.
They have created a false need. But when we no longer have it, we lack nothing. On the contrary, it’s as if I had freed myself.
Social media have only brought one positive thing in my life. When I was younger and discovered myself as a homosexual. It made it easier for me to see that there was a community, people like me. I could learn from what I saw of them, and that helped me to build my identity.
But I’m sure I would have done just as well without it.
We don’t need it. Why would you want to see what other people’s lives are like? You only see what they allow you to see.
It makes us envious. Curious in an unhealthy way. Narcissistic. It puts us in competition with each other. It erases our individuality.
Why make a spectacle of us?
I believe that this constant need to show ourselves reveals a void in our lives.
If I had to find a few drawbacks — because yes, there are some tiny ones — this is what I would cite:
- I have less “passive” news from my family and close friends since they often share their daily life on Instagram.
- I sometimes find myself stuck to get information or participate in contests and games since everything now happens on Facebook and Instagram.
- As mentioned, I can no longer share my photographic work, which is an issue as a photographer.
- I no longer have that “personal memory diary” that I used to have by sharing Stories and being able to retrieve them over the years in my archives.
“I decided that my mental health was more important than that.”
I couldn’t recommend you to try anymore. Try it for at least a week. Give yourself this little challenge.
You’ll learn a lot. You’ll discover things, about the impact of social networks and yourself. You will have a clearer vision of what it brings to you and what it takes away from your life.
Removing my social media is one of the most important and positive decisions I have ever made in my life.
No wonder many Silicon Valley workers drastically limit their children’s screen time, if they don’t outright ban them from social networks.