I gave up social media for a month. This happened next.

Nothing. Nothing, and it was glorious. If you haven’t tried giving up social media, I highly recommend giving it a try. But, now I’m back and — as you can see from the awesome clickbait title — I haven’t lost it. Why am I back and — for that matter — why did I leave? Read on.

First, a little back story for context. I joined social media in earnest about 5 years ago after I published my first book. I thought that I needed to be out there promoting my books. Around the same time, a growing number of academics were also adopting social media. I thought then that I could use social media to promote my academic work as well. Certainly, the number of eyes seeing my work increased with my presence on social media. But the big question was always left unanswered — was it worth the time spent?

This is a very difficult question to answer. I still don’t have the answer and I don’t think I ever will. In part, this is because not all time spent on social media has equal value. As my children get ever-closer to the age when all of their peers have a social media connected phone, I’ve become more and more interested in social media, who uses it, and what they use it for. This has been by no means a controlled — or even exhaustive — study, but I learned enough that I scared myself right off the platforms. I paid close attention as I used (mostly) Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. I talked to colleagues at the university, other authors and parents, and observed people in public. Here is what I learned.

The uses of social media form a multidimensional spectrum, but there are easy to identify extreme behaviors:

  • Use it as a megaphone to broadcast your message or brand without any further engagement.
  • Use it to pass time, starring zombie-like at your phone as you scroll endlessly through your feed, which is curated by an algorithm maximizing the number of advertisements you see.
  • Use it to troll by intentionally offending people.
  • Use it to communicate with friends, family, or colleagues.
  • Use it to engage your audience.

In an ideal social network, there would be mutually beneficial interaction between creators and consumers of media. In reality, though, it’s just a vicious cycle of memes, with the most controversial or sensational going viral. It’s like 24-hour news, but a million times worse. It’s not a nice place to be. So, I left.

But what was the first thought to enter my mind after making this decision? Hey, I should tweet about this. Oops. I became addicted to social media. Luckily, I foresaw this and deleted the apps from my phone and had my browser forget my password. This was enough of a barrier to keep me away, and I stayed away for a month.

It was a great month, too. I was much happier and I got heaps done. It wasn’t just that I got back all the time spent on social media, but that social media was a huge distraction. Every time I had a break in my train of thought, or felt a little bored, or wanted a little dopamine hit from some likes, I’d pick up my phone or open a new tab. Even if I only spent a minute there, it was like hours were lost because that break in my train of thought was now completely lost.

So, given all that, clearly I made the correct decision in leaving social media, right? Well, no. The real lesson I have learned is that I wasn’t using social media optimally. There is value in being on social media, but you must be vigilant. And so, I’m back — ready to make the best of this mess called social media.

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