I’ve been a moderately heavy user of social media on and off for several years now. I’ve been hooked on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at different points in time. In recent months I’ve been questioning why I use social media.
Social media is designed to be addictive. Social media sites bombard us with dozens of images, videos, and ads every time we visit them. We’ve become numbed by the constant stimulus. Social media has radically changed how we interact and it has affected society as a whole. I began to question how it has changed me.
I realized that in many ways social media changed social interaction online into a game of sorts for me. The implicit goal in the game was to get likes or shares. I found myself focusing on optimizing my posts for the algorithms, trying to use the right combination of text, photos, and hashtags to generate the most likes and shares. Then I’d constantly check back to see how my latest post was doing. Every time I checked I got a dopamine hit when I saw a new like or share. It had become a game, a game that I was addicted to. I began to question why I participated in the whole thing. Was I really hooked on it? Had I become addicted to the dopamine hit I got from someone liking or sharing one of my posts? Was this the way I want to interact with the world? What was the point of it all?
I realized I didn’t want to live that way.
I wanted more out of social interaction than likes and shares. I wanted lasting relationships, friendships with people who wanted to be more than just Facebook friends, relationships built on shared values and interests, interactions with people who encourage who me to try new things and step out of my comfort zone.
I wanted meaningful, lasting, connections with people.
Social media doesn’t provide that.
Social media isn’t about relationships, it’s about entertainment. A constant bombardment of images, videos, and text designed to entertain us for as long as possible to generate ad revenue. Making meaningful connections with people is not what social media is optimized for.
I realized I had believed the lie that social media was about friendships. In reality social media had inserted itself as the middleman between me and those I cared about. Yes, I have made a few friends online through social media, but most of those friendships were developed outside of social media, many of them in person. I realized there were other lies I had believed that kept me using social media.
Lies I Believed About Social Media
It is necessary for building a following
It is necessary for maintaining an online presence
It is needed to stay in touch with friends and family
These are the lies kept me thinking that I needed social media. The truth is I don’t need social media at all.
Building a Following
Building a following via a blog and a mailing list is far more effective than maintaining a Twitter or Facebook presence. Mailing list subscribers are more valuable than Twitter followers. Since starting the mailing list for this site I’ve gained around 500 subscribers by setting up a list that automatically emails my latest posts out every other month. During that same time I gained around 50 Twitter followers while working hard to post quality tweets and retweeting other relevant content. Getting 500 email subscribers was far easier. This may be the subject of a later blog post.
Maintaining an Online Presence
Maintaining an online presence with a website or blog puts you in control, and allows you to deliver the content you want to deliver to your own subscribers without having to pay the middleman for it.
Keeping Up With Friends and Family
Keeping up with friends and family can be done via phone and email. These means of communication have the added benefit of being more personal. Calling up a family member or friend you’ve not talked to in a couple months is more meaningful than sending them an IM on Facebook. Sharing pictures and video can be done via text message or email. If you want to update a large number of friends and family on what you are doing a mailing list is a good way of sharing updates. Mailchimp makes managing a mailing list easy. Mailing lists have the added benefit of offering more flexibility than a social media site when it comes to composing your update. Email allows you to interleave text and any number photos as you see fit.
In many ways developing friendships the old fashioned ways is easier. Make a special effort to meet those in your neighborhood. Call that friend you haven’t talked to in a year. Find local meetup groups for the things that interest you and attend regularly. Try to get a group of old friends together for an activity. Make a point to facilitate face-to-face social interaction every day.
What I Am Changing
I am working to cut out social media as the middleman in my friendships. I am making an effort to establish more direct means of communication with people I care about - phone, email, etc… Am I abandoning social media completely? Right now, not completely. I’ve still got some friends that I only communicate with via Facebook. I am closing my Twitter account and I’m working to wean myself off of Facebook by establishing other means of communication with friends. Eventually I will close my Facebook account.
The people around us are ultimately what make our lives meaningful and make us feel connected. People are important.