I’ve been thinking about what I want to write here for the past several weeks. It’s 5:50 am on the east coast, I’m sipping my first cup of coffee, and I have a snoring dog and two cats circling around me. It’s still dark out.
I’ve typed and retyped the same four sentences about fifteen times and now, well, I’m just going to give myself over to the words and see what comes out. That’s what I used to do. I’d have a couple hours to write in the morning before work and I wouldn’t analyze my words too much. I wasn’t trying to write “essays” or “pieces”. I wasn’t trying to write anything perfect, I was just trying to sort things out and convey my experiences as best as I could.
I am beyond grateful that a few thousand of you come here—a place that is still relatively new—every day. I love that my words have meant something to some people. I’ve been able to create a new career writing and teaching and talking primarily because of this place, a microphone (podcasts), and social media. I am a beneficiary of the internet. None of it is lost on me.
And, in the past year, I’ve really started to hate social media. Or, maybe it’s more accurate to say, I hate what social media has brought out in me (and what I see happening there in general). I’m talking about Instagram mostly. It went from something I used as a tool to something that, at times, has been the single most important measure of my value and place in the world. I’ve been convinced it’s the most significant determinant of my career success. My follower count has often been more important—or rather, it’s stuck in my mind more—than the stunning messages I sometimes receive from people saying I’ve helped them save their lives. I’ve put myself in direct competition with certain people and when I’ve been on the “losing” end of that competition, I’ve obsessed about it and maligned them. More than once, I’ve posted things without considering if I actually believe those things, because those messages aligned me with “popular” people. To be fair, I’ve also been willing to say wildly unpopular things and to lose whomever I lose because of it. The former makes me feel totally ill, the latter does not (though I’d be lying if I said it didn’t sting every time people flocked away).
I keep thinking I should be able to balance it better. I’ve taken significant breaks. But I’ve always hopped back on out of a sense of fear that I’ll disappear if I stay away. That my work will become irrelevant. That I’ll become irrelevant. I really do love certain aspects of it, like connecting with people and getting to write quick, little bits of experience, but by and large staying there has been an ego thing. As the new saying goes, If you don’t Instagram it, did it even happen? Or, If I don’t exist on Instagram, do I even exist?
Back to the part about balancing it better. I’m starting to believe this is not actually true—that I, we, should be able to. And maybe not even possible, at least not for me. I used to think that about a certain other thing and we know how that turned out. My self-management wasn’t the problem—the thing itself was. It was made to be addictive. I was steeped in denial and had been duped by a complicated system of cultural influence and programming explicitly intended to keep me in the hamster wheel.
Am I comparing social media to drinking? Yes. For me, I definitely am.
So. I am taking an extended and indefinite hiatus. I deleted my Twitter account (with 4,000 followers) because it’s always seemed like a toilet and I rarely use it anyway. Instagram is off my phone and I’ve logged out of it online. I may go off Facebook completely too after the course I’m running is over (I use it to host my private group—a great, free benefit of Facebook) but for whatever reason, it just doesn’t have the same toxic pull for me. Is this like saying I’ll only drink at weddings or in other countries? I don’t know yet.
What really put the nail in the Instagram coffin was the same thing that put the nail in the drinking coffin for me four years ago: I saw that I would never actually write if I kept drinking. Period. The two just couldn’t co-exist. And not writing a book, or many books, was too important a dream to me. Since getting sober, I’ve been able to write a lot while still being on social media, but this book? My first book? I still haven’t been able to sell it or buckle down and finish it. Do I think social media has something to do with that?
Without a doubt.
It’s not just a time-spend thing, although that’s significant. Once I started tracking it, I realized at times I was spending upward of seven hours a day on social media (!!!)—mostly on Instagram. But even more, it’s an input/space thing. Every time I got on these platforms I ingested hundreds, if not thousands, of messages at once. The messages have varying levels of impact on my attention, from the benign meme about, say, cats (low impact) to a more disruptive post about how as a “white feminist influencer” (a label assigned to me, not mine) I should be talking about a certain item in the news related to race (high fucking impact). I’m not saying the topic, or the post, or the person who posted it aren’t important. And I’m not saying the people who tagged me didn’t have a point. Certainly, I have much to learn and have since then. But, I allowed that single post to take me out of my book-writing groove for at least a month. In that time, I ditched my mission entirely to try and navigate this one post and the fallout from it. I spun around in fear and confusion and reactivity. I posted things before I really had the time to consider or understand them. I accepted a very sexy invitation to The Resistance Dance. Most importantly, I am 100% sure that my efforts had ZERO impact on the actual issue.
Which leads me to another, possibly tangential, thing that is really clawing at me.
I don’t like what’s happening with women online right now, particularly in so-called recovery, spiritual, and feminist circles. It appears there is a growing contingent of people who I would assert even six months ago had no awareness of the concept of "privilege," and now feel compelled to call out other women on theirs at every turn. I’m…let’s say, curious…as to how effective this actually is and what said folks are actually doing in their real lives to make use of their own said privilege. It reeks of self-serving virtue signaling and bullying disguised as being “woke” and "empathetic." Even if the instinct is good, the shame-centered approach is not, and most importantly: it doesn't work.
(Update, August, 2021: I see this more now as a function of the system of social media and how it impacts us psychologically and sociologically. When we know that any post or comment can be seen by anyone, there's an instinct to perform what we perceive to be the "right" stance, whether or not we actually hold that stance ourselves. Because of the nature of the medium, we're required to flatten our views into memes and one-liners, which almost always lack necessary nuance and complexity. Add to that algorithms that recognize and amplify animosity and the depersonalization effect of social media and you've got...well...you know what you've got, because you're living it too.)
Some thoughts to consider:
- Have you noticed how little attention we have for longer-form content and true, balanced discussions?
- When is the last time you read a whole book, listened to a long podcast, or watched a video more for more than a few minutes—especially if the content is outside your traditional belief system?
- Are you aware of the proposed legislation in your town or state and do you know the real impact of it being passed (or not) in this coming election? Same for the federal stuff.
- Where are you getting your news sources?
- Do you make an effort to read beyond the headlines, and do you realize that the vast majority of the U.S. media heavily swings to only one side of the political spectrum?
- Do you also realize that because traditional media is dying, those platforms and the people “reporting” issues have become increasingly sensational in order to get you to click, stay, and watch?
- Have you considered that the tension and fear you feel is highly manufactured on purpose?
- How often are you quick to assume the worst-possible intentions in people, and could you be more willing to assume decency instead?
These are some of the things I’m really checking myself on and will be spending a lot of quiet time with in the coming months. I’ll also be finishing my book and smooshing my face into my kid and my cats. Also: nature.
I’ve been spending time every single day listening to both sides of the political spectrum. I’m taking real time to learn about topics I am woefully uninformed about so that if and when I speak about them, my thoughts are actually thoughts and not just a regurgitated headline or meme. I’ll be keeping close to my own intuition and heart to understand what I really believe, not what I think I should believe. I’ll be doing the deep work of creating because at the end of my days, although I am unclear about a lot of things, I am positive that I do not want to have spent my precious time writing Instagram posts and scrapping for popularity.
I saw a quote a while back that's stuck with me, “(S)he who screams the loudest often has the least to say.” I’ve never really been a screamer and sometimes that’s been mistaken for not having as much to say. I know in my bones that’s anything but true now, but social media has turned me into a screamer—not necessarily in the sense of being outrageous and loud, but in terms of mere volume of content: too much, too much, WAY. TOO. MUCH.
I’ve always been suspect of and turned off by people who have to suck all the oxygen out of the room in order to feel heard, and yet, there I found myself, in my own way, doing just that. As my friend Brooke’s grandpa said, “It’s like swimming faster in an effort to dry off.” (Thanks, Brooke’s grandpa.)
I offer these thoughts in case you’ve been feeling some of this too, but mostly to challenge us both to dig a lot deeper. I hope it’s helpful. I do know that I need you and I need community as much as ever. I don’t know if or how we can stay as connected without social media, but hopefully I’ll have some ideas about that as time rolls on.
August 4, 2021 - Push Off From Here: Quitting Social Media (Again)
April 15, 2021 - Quitting The Bouncy House of Social Media