Earlier this year I read several news stories about how many of us are planning to delete our social media accounts in 2017. Although I often feel like social media is a giant time suck I could live without, it’s never occurred to me to get out for good. So I asked a few friends if they were planning to delete their accounts or change their habits and almost every single person said they were planning to cut back. As for why, their answers included:
“I spend hours at a time just scrolling and it’s not healthy.”
“It doesn’t make me feel good about myself.”
“It’s not real, it’s just a highlight show of other people’s lives. No thanks!”
“I’m trying to set a good example for my kids.”
“I hate feeling the pressure to read and respond to everything my friends post.”
“’I’m sick of the trolls who post anonymously from their parents’ basement.”
Well then. When it comes to social media it appears we either need to quit, significantly reduce our intake, or die.
And as for why many of us are choosing now as the time to do it? Maybe because it’s the season of new beginnings and setting new habits, or because so much of the news we consumed in 2016 was either bad or fake. Or maybe we just, quite simply, need a break.
In thinking this through, I’ve also decided that some social media Spring cleaning is in order. If my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds were a Star Wars character they would most certainly be Jabba the Hutt. I used to follow anyone and anything that seemed interesting. Facebook was my first account and I got it to ... well, be more social. To connect and share things with the people I care about that I don’t see or talk to every day. Then it expanded to consumer brands I like and eventually to news organizations, and somewhere along the line I was accepting requests from people I’d never even met, friends of friends. I followed a similar pattern with Twitter and Instagram where anyone who said something I thought was funny or interesting, or held my attention for 20+ seconds, got a follow.
But if you stop and think about it for a minute, this is a pretty crazy concept for someone my age, someone who didn’t grow up with social media, or even smart phones: being “connected” to someone you’ve never or barely met, “listening” to everything they say and perhaps being influenced by how they see the world. My kids are growing up thinking this is normal, but I think it’s weird. And I’m pretty sure Mark Zuckerberg didn’t create a jazillion dollar company just so I could tell everyone I spent last night lying around in my underpants eating beef jerky and watching The Mindy Project. But Facebook has convinced us – or maybe we’ve convinced ourselves – that everyone we’re connected to is a “friend” and that our “friends” want to know this stuff.
Most of us have people we barely know following us or as “friends”, but we share the details of our lives like we’ve known each other forever. I love how social media gives everyone a voice but I don’t always love how we use that voice. Twitter and Facebook in particular can be very cruel places, and I’m continuously shocked at the venom that spews forth on even the most innocent of topics. Differences of opinion are common but respectful differences of opinion are rare. I used Facebook to ask people about their plans for social media in 2017 (ironic, I know) and most of those who answered chose to message me privately instead of putting their opinions out there for all to see. Is it because our social media habits feel too personal to share with strangers, or are we afraid of being ridiculed, challenged or ripped apart by people we’ve never met? Either way, it probably says a lot about why we’re cutting back or getting out altogether.
So I’ve decided to reduce my use, press reset on some of my habits and cut back on who I friend and follow. Yes, I like seeing what my actual friends and family are up to, yes I enjoy animal videos, great recipes, funny blogs and thought-provoking social commentary but most of what I’m consuming isn’t that. So I’m declaring two days a week social media free just to see whether or not I’ll miss it. It’s not scorched earth, cold-turkey, all or nothing deletion of my accounts, I’m simply cutting back – a tidy landing strip instead of the full Brazilian.
I’m also going to try and be a better user by talking less about myself, and building up others more. This doesn’t mean no more pet pictures or links to vagina necklaces on Etsy (they’re a thing, Google it), it just means I’m going to be more mindful about it all. What I post and how much I rely on social media for connection will start reflecting the fact that I don’t need Facebook, Instagram or Twitter to validate my existence. For that, I’ll use cupcakes.