Why it’s time to leave social media
We cannot lead full lives while digitally distracted
Imagine a life where you simply sit and soak in the beautiful fall scenery instead of using your phone to read the latest headlines on Twitter. Picture yourself spending your downtime on writing reflective journal entries rather than scrolling through endless posts on Instagram. Consider using your limited free time on a new hobby instead of watching TikTok videos of others doing their hobbies. If you had to choose, which life would you want? The clear answer is life without the constant background noise of social media, yet a lot of people still choose to let the overwhelming noise and distraction drown them. But life doesn’t have to be this way, which is why it is time to leave social media.
I say this without being a hypocrite. I deleted Instagram in high school, never signed up for Snapchat, and my Facebook profile is inactive (no friend requests. please). Although social media does have some benefits, like connecting with a childhood friend or admiring beautiful pictures of nature, these benefits are not significant enough and, in my opinion, minimal at best. Time spent on social media could be spent on more meaningful activities, and frequent use of social media causes people to enter a constant state of distraction, preventing them from experiencing solitude. Not only that, but social media also does not help with developing deeper relationships with people. While I could address all the negative aspects of social media, I want to focus on how social media prevents people from living their most meaningful and fulfilling lives.
According to Cal Newport PhD ’09, author of the book Digital Minimalism, the main issue with social media is that these apps are a form of low-quality leisure. Newport defines low-quality leisure as activities that involve passive consumption, such as watching YouTube, whereas high-quality leisure requires some level of skill and challenge, like cooking a new dish or making artwork. What makes high-quality leisure a lot more enriching is that it generates meaning in life and creates valuable things, ultimately making one happier.
Unlike low-quality activities, high-quality leisure helps people reach a state of flow, a psychological phenomenon described by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as being focused on an activity. This intense state of focus allows people to attain true satisfaction that cannot be achieved when scrolling through Twitter feeds or watching TikTok videos. While this true satisfaction may not be obvious in the beginning, it is hard to argue that an activity that requires more input and initiative is less meaningful than an activity that doesn’t have any sort of mastery. In other words, spending time on social media does not make someone better at a particular thing, or help them grow socially or intellectually.
Although it is tempting to think that it doesn’t hurt to scroll through social media while waiting for the bus or being in a line, using these small pockets of time to use social media hinders people from being in solitude. Solitude is defined as being free of external input. People usually associate solitude with loneliness, when in reality solitude can exist in places with people as long as there is no input from other sources. The primary consequence of solitude deprivation, a concept coined by Cal Newport, is that it prevents people from processing their emotions and practicing self-reflection. The constant distraction of social media steals people the opportunity to think about more important things in life like their goals and purpose.
If unresolved, solitude deprivation gives rise to people not understanding themselves that well, ultimately letting internal conflicts persist. In the long run, the accumulation of many small problems causes people to feel this endless state of dissatisfaction with life and with themselves. Instead of using social media, time could be spent on journaling or simply doing nothing but enjoying the present moment like the weather or view. Even though these activities may come off as dull, they are good for one’s well-being because they let one’s mind unwind, which is more ideal than seeking distraction that causes a disconnected mind. Speaking from personal experience, I feel a lot more refreshed and relieved after I practice solitude by writing in my journal about ways I could solve problems that were slowly consuming me, from procrastination to not eating well enough.
The idea of leaving social media may sound daunting, but in reality, it is not that bad. At first, I was concerned that people would inquire about why I deleted Instagram, but to my surprise, none of my friends even noticed that I left the platform. As I distanced myself away from social media over time, I began to notice that it was pointless to look at posts of people who weren’t my friends, let alone people I barely knew. Social media may be a good place for people to know how their faraway friends are doing, but seeing other pictures may exacerbate feelings of FOMO (fear of missing out) and lead to comparisons that are neither healthy nor helpful. A better solution would be simply asking long-distance friends to send pictures of themselves. This realization also came with the gradual understanding that the connections I had on social media were rather superficial. Meaningful relationships come from having face-to-face conversations or doing in-person activities, not from clicking on people’s posts and adding “friends” online. Texting a close friend cannot replace an engaging FaceTime call that requires reading emotions and body language. Clicking like on a friend’s post is not the same as giving a positive compliment to a friend in person.
Therefore, I implore you to consider practicing digital minimalism, a lifestyle where you try deleting social media. If the idea of deleting all of your past posts and photos sounds scary, first delete the app or deactivate your account. Then, see what happens for a month. The first week will be difficult. You will no longer have your phone as a source of comfort whenever you desire some source of entertainment. To prevent yourself from going back to the bottomless world of social media, consider pursuing alternative activities such as learning a new song or joining a fun club. These alternative activities may seem to create an unnecessary burden as they require more commitment and effort, but in the long run, they are worthwhile. By learning new skills and trying new things in the process, one will truly understand how much better life is by pursuing high-quality leisure.
If you are still unconvinced about why now is the time to leave social media, I will end with this question: have your happiest moments in life involved using social media?