On stepping back from social media

Tl;dr: pretend this is an airport, because the train is leaving the woods. Or something like that.

I went camping Easter weekend.

Early spring and late autumn camping are an art unto themselves. The sun sets early, and it’s cold AF at night.

If you’ve never been, tent camping is a surprising amount of work. There’s the setup, the making camp habitable, food prep, clean up, all at a reasonable hour.

(There’s also sleeping on air mattresses with a bad back, but we won’t discuss that part.)

We do it, because of the endless blue sky. Because of the great stretches of listening to the breeze through the trees. Because it’s worth the time to be alone with your thoughts.

But even out in the middle of nowhere, I am still in the world.

Partially, that’s my own personal anxiety. The sky feels like it’s falling a lot of the time, and as a marginalized person, I do not have the luxury of ignoring the news entirely.

But I also realized while I was out that a much bigger part of it was just compulsive checking of social media.

I’ve been down this road before. In 2016, a couple of years after the death of my son, I quit social media entirely, for over a year. But then I allowed myself Reddit, and it wasn’t long before I decided to start a new Facebook account for business purposes.

And while I will never discount the value of a clean slate, the habits I thought I’d broken in my time away have slowly crept back in, especially in the insanity that has been the last year.

I doomscroll. A lot. I spend so much time clutching my phone that my hands ache, and my hands are already terribly arthritic. I open and close multiple apps looking for a distraction from my brain at all hours of the day.

I’ve given myself a lot of grace for this, because grace is the only way through these sorts of life-altering circumstances. The act of self-kindness is a requirement for growth.

Looking at your life as a dispassionate observer allows you to see habits and patterns without judgment. A lack of judgment allows you to assess the best methods for changing those patterns without treating yourself like a dismal failure.

Because growth through shame and self-flagellation isn’t growth at all. It’s just a temporary change. And it rarely if ever sticks around.

We are all a work in progress. And I truly do think most of us are doing the work.

So in the name of doing my own work, last month I enrolled in Alexandra Franzen’s Marketing Without Social Media course.

I’ll be honest—for me personally, there is no new information here. I’ve been in marketing since before there was internet marketing, and I know how to do it. That’s not why I joined.

What I wanted was the accountability. Personal outreach is hard. It takes courage. And being able to do hard things surrounded by other people doing the same hard things is a gift.

What I didn’t expect was how much I would have to examine my social media habits, and this has indeed been illuminating.

I have always been addicted to metrics, and time tracking is no exception. I’ve been using Rescue Time for almost a decade. I know how much time I spend on social media. It’s a lot. And for the last couple of years, I’ve excused it because it makes me money.

But lately I’ve been rethinking this.

I’ll spare you the specific details of my cost-benefit analysis, but I did in fact do one.

And it turns out, as in most things, the 80/20 rule definitely applies to my social time too. 80% of my social media time is a waste of time. And that’s a lot of minutes a day that I could be devoting to other things.

But honestly?

That’s not even what tipped me over the edge.

It was Rachel Hollis.

See, despite the many minutes spent doomscrolling, I am already incredibly discerning with my social media time. I don’t use TikTok, Twitter, Instagram. I’ve said no to far more platforms than I’ve ever said yes to.

I also regularly tune out celebrities and influencers, because if I have only one goal in life, it is to choose joy. And I think we all know by now that money doesn’t buy happiness. Just security, and sometimes, not even that.

And I knew within five pages of her first book that Rachel Hollis would NEVER be for me. As I said before, I do not find shame to be personally motivating, and that’s basically the essence of her brand. Huge helpings of shame, for other people definitely, but especially for herself.

As a result, I simply haven’t engaged with her content in any meaningful way since. Because I am a semi-professional internet snarker, I’m certainly aware of her. None of her scandals surprise me, nor do the words out of her mouth, because she is the very definition of a celebrity influencer, and everything she does is cultivated to craft her image.

But the thing is…it doesn’t matter what you personally think of her. img role=

No matter how many people cancel her, she will continue to have an audience, because negative attention is still attention.

And these days, it seems that one of the most controversial opinions you can have is to have no opinion at all.

I went to the woods, and still I checked social media.

And in those moments, what I saw in my feed was nothing but Rachel Hollis.

You know what I didn’t see?

Not one single mention of the attempted coup in Jordan. No mention of the ongoing farce of Matt Gaetz. Absolutely no word about all the dead people in China (there was a train crash, but I will forever be salty about how little we collectively seem to care about the apparent genocide of the Uighurs).

A friend made a snide remark about the ongoing coup in Myanmar and I was grateful, because otherwise, this rant would have been much uglier.

And the thing is, it’s not really about Rachel Hollis. In fact, I would prefer to think of her as little as possible.

Nor is it about whether or not people feel obligated to have an opinion. And having an opinion matters—it’s one of our most sacred rights, to speak, or not.

No, this right here is about my own consumption.

The problem with social media is that it turns nearly all of us into consumers.

It starts out fairly innocuous. Connect with your friends. Make new ones.

And I would be a huge hypocrite to say that those things have not been true for me, in incredibly meaningful ways, over the years.

However, as with all things, it’s easier to consume than create.

Social media makes that consumption deliberately addictive.

It cultivates our FOMO, breeds it like rabbits, and encourages habits that can easily turn into paranoia, groupthink, and echo chambers.

And while you can’t entirely blame a product for doing its job, we can and should consider the long term effects of our consumption in our own lives.

In the short term, I’ve removed everything but Messenger, Marco Polo, and Clubhouse from my phone, and I’ve created strict limits around when and where I interact with social media on my computer. I’ve also got several extensions (Kill Newsfeed and Go Fucking Work are some of my favorites) that help me from running off after every shiny internet object that comes my way. I’m not ashamed to admit when I need help.

I’m also not ashamed to admit that, like a damn addict, I still sneak Facebook on my phone browser. It doesn’t work well, and I can’t use GIFs, which is my only saving grace, really.

The truth is that I’m not quitting social media entirely, and I don’t want to. It’s still the place I go when I want to network and find new connections. It’s where I go to share what I’ve created.

And I want to create beautiful things.

I want to use the canvas of my life with intention, to build things that matter, and share them with incredible people. But that’s much more difficult to do when some part of my mind is thinking about how many notifications I have to deal with now.

However, I feel certain that there is a way to use social media mindfully, without getting rid of it entirely.

I don’t like all or nothing solutions.

I’m a big believer in both, and.

I want both deep work and social media.

I don’t think I’m asking for a lot.

But it sure does feel like it, sometimes.

So, I’m stepping back, but not away.

Posting less, unless it’s scheduled.

Less doomscrolling. More genuine connection.

We’ll see what happens.

Thanks for coming on this journey with me.

About the author 

Briar

Briar Harvey is a storyteller and systems witch. She believes that everything has a story and exists within a system. The trick then, is figuring out how to change the rules, and tell a better story. You can hear her talk about systems twice a week on her live radio show, Ask Briar. You can also listen to her talk about terrible kids movies on the podcast Latchkey Movies.

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