Should You Quit Social Media?

This morning, I started to compose a tweet but quit halfway through. I was going to tell my followers I’d logged out of Facebook and forgotten my password. And while it would be easy enough to sign in via email, I’d decided to use the situation as an opportunity to take a break from Facebook.

When I realized I was writing about quitting social media on a social media platform, I stopped typing and logged out of Twitter. It felt like I was punching myself in the face to show the world how much I was tired of punching myself in the stomach. Instagram’s appeal has always escaped me. Once I was out of Facebook and Twitter, I was out of social media.

I’ve been skeptical about social media for a while now but reluctant to pull the trigger on stopping my social media activity for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me. As a writer and a narcissist I’ve justified my social media use by saying I need social media to promote my work and general brilliance. But I’ve come to believe social media’s value to me as a promotional tool might be eclipsed by its propensity for distraction.

Georgetown Professor Cal Newport is a social media critic and a convincing one. In a back of the envelope calculation, Newport shows how the average person misunderstands their social media use. He says the things we ostensibly use social media for, like keeping up with friends and family and personal causes, require far less time than the amounts of time we actually spend on social media. We’re on social media for an average of two hours a day, far longer than it should take to look at photos of your baby nephew or whatever.

And there’s new evidence that social media is hurting our wellbeing. A study of female college students published this month in the academic journal Body Image determined that posting selfies on social media led to worsened mood and body image.

So we’re kidding ourselves. We’re not really using social media. Social media is using us. As I’ve written before, I believe Facebook’s recently decided to prioritize personal posts over news to mine more data from its users and court advertisers. Personal posts are easier to monetize than news stories. And, in light of Facebook’s unquenchable thirst for personal data, posts from friends and family reveal more about your life, your demographic information and consumption patterns than posts about news and information.

I’m not sure how long I’m going to keep away from social media. I’ve written stories I’ve I’d like to share. I’m getting itchy to post links. But I’m really enjoying the experience of absentmindedly hitting “F” in a browser window in a moment of distraction, having it autocomplete to Facebook and seeing a sign-in page instead of a news feed. Instead of an excuse to scroll down my news feed for 5-10 minutes keeping my face in blank stare that speaks only of a half-bored interest in not finishing the thing I’m supposed to be working on, I instantly click off and return to work, slightly proud of myself for being logged out.