I Quit Social Media for a Year and Nothing Magical Happened

I made a resolution in September of 2018 that I would quit social media indefinitely. This seemed to be a good decision because of the literal hundreds of articles detailing gains from the benign better interpersonal relationships to the fantastical I founded a multimillion dollar startup. The truth is somewhere in between, but doesn’t make for good clickbait-fodder.

My Impetus for Quitting

The specific benefits I clued into after pouring through many individual accounts of quitting social media were: mental health benefits, enhanced interpersonal relationships, providing less fuel for the AI-revolution, and more presence in day to day life. I didn’t have clear goals or expectations, just that everything would be better a year after quitting. My expectations ended up being pretty far off.

To start – I defined more clearly the steps I would take to quit. First off I deleted the apps off of my phone. I never got into Twitter or Snapchat, so I only really had Facebook and Instagram to contend with. With the apps gone I knew I had to get at the problem directly at the source – if there was ANY chance of going back on the platforms in a moment of weakness, I knew I would take advantage of it, so I had to delete my Facebook and Instagram accounts.

I genuinely used both Facebook and Instagram as photo archives. There were moments there that I didn’t want to forget. Facebook allows you to download a full archive of your data, so I made sure to do that. Instagram didn’t have a similar option, so I wrote a simple script in Python to download all images from my profile so I could delete with confidence.

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Process

Withdrawal Phase: Days 0-90

I wasn’t quite bedridden or unable to carry out duties at home and work, but I felt shitty more often than usual the first 90 days, and especially so from about days 15-40. I felt a vague depression hovering over me like stormclouds, with no distinct cause, possibly a physical dopamine withdrawal from quitting.

This phase of quitting was characterized largely by physical withdrawal-based symptoms non unlike those seen in individuals quitting opiods (albeit at a much smaller scale)

Automatically, I would pick up my phone upwards of 50 times per day and unlock it, my thumb hunting for my missing apps. After the first few weeks I was able to catch myself doing this more quickly each time until I overcame the habit.

Real world issues began to arise during these initial months. I was performing regularly as a musician during this time and was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to hype my gigs. How would anyone know when I was playing if I couldn’t make a Facebook event? After performing a few concerts post-social media I realized that nobody was really attending just because they saw a Facebook event – the people that were going to come, were going to come anyways.

The Rest of the Year: Days 91-365

After getting past the first 90 days, the rest of the year was mostly smooth-sailing in terms of abstaining from social media. Only one massive philosophical question came up during this time,

“Why do I take photos?”

I still don’t have a great answer for this. I had been on social media since I started high school, which would have been 2004, which is 15 years ago. Since then, the sole reason I have taken photos is to share them via social media. Following that line of reasoning further, and more bluntly, the sole reason I have taken photographs for the past 15 years is to post them confidently in a public viewing location where nobody gives a shit about them.

I think I enjoy the act of taking photographs because they look aesthetically pleasing, or serve to jog my memory of certain life events, but I’m not really sure, time will tell. What is peculiar about this question is that it leads to more questions. “Why do I take photos?” -> “Why do I need a high resolution, high quality camera?” -> “Why do I need a nice smartphone, whos primary purpose is to take photos and interact with social media?” I still have an iPhone XR, but I’m only keeping it because I bought it already. I know that I don’t need it. Something like an iPhone 7 would serve all of my needs fine. I anticipate keeping the XR for many years, and purchasing “last year’s model” when it breaks.

Conclusions

A lot of social media related aspects of my life are different now – I’m not sure they’re better, they’re just different, but I can confidently say that I prefer this normal to last year’s. There’s a bit of rain with all of the sunshine. I don’t see myself ever going back to social media. I don’t see the point of it, and after leaving for a while, and getting a good outside look, it seems like an abusive relationship – millions of workers generating data for tech-giants to crunch through and make money off of. I think that we tend to forget how we were getting along pretty well before social media – not everything was idyllic and better, but it was fine.

Your mileage may vary. I’m not suggesting that quitting social media is good for everyone. I think that it significantly decreases quality of life, but I’m just one person.

Here are a few of my key takeaways in the areas I was hoping to improve with this experiment:

Mental Health Benefits

I feel by far less distracted. My attention span feels more robust than it ever has. I also clocked in at 1000 consecutive days of meditation this past year so I’m not sure which can lay claim to more of these benefits, but my hunch is that getting rid of social media helped. Through increased mindfulness, I was able to observe multiple sub-personas within myself. My ‘Instagram self’ was a slightly modified version of my ordinary self. Same with Facebook. We probably all do this to an extent, your ‘work self’ is probably a bit different than your ‘with-friends self’, but hopefully these are all within a small range of variance. With your ‘social media selves’ you are aware that anything you post is there permanently. This adds a lot of weight to your ability to move freely and thus adds stress.

Part of me still experiences a bit of FOMO by being off of these networks, although it’s often transitory and doesn’t significantly register on an emotional level.

Enhanced Interpersonal Relationships

You know what else is exhausting? Pretending to care about people you don’t give a shit about. Maybe you’re just a better person than I am and you genuinely and deeply care about everyone you are ‘friends’ with on Facebook. I didn’t. I had almost 1000 friends and really only wanted to know what about 2% of them were up to, and how they were doing. That means I was participating in a system where I engaged in something disengenous 98% of the time.

I don’t think I have a lot of friends but it doesn’t bug me at all. I actively maintain (and I mean actively) about 10 friendships not including family, and I feel like this is a good number for me. It took me a long time to feel good about this. For a long time, I wondered why I didn’t just automatically feel good about my ~10 quality friendships – the answer came to me when my girlfriend showed me something on her Instagram. Instagram and other social media networks display the number of friends that you have. The only logical reason I could figure for why this is done, is to make you feel bad about having a lower number than other people, otherwise why would they bother broadcasting this number, proudly at the top of your profile page, to other users?

I’m happy with my friendships. They feel healthy, reciprocal, and real.

Presence

I feel as though my reality is less mediated in the ways that a social media user’s is. I don’t visually see things as potential photos for capturing and posting for other people to see (so that I can get approval), I just see them. When I have ideas I think are good, I don’t just shit them out, half-baked, as a ‘status update’. I stew on them, exploring for weeks or months and write them out like this when I want to post them. Usually they just go in a notebook.

Join the Conversation

55 Comments

  1. >I made a resolution in September of 2019

    Perhaps you use a Time Machine to come back and tell us your future story?

  2. Good project, but does believing things you read on the internet, and finding they don’t actually apply to you not conflict with writing something on the internet in some way? i.e. If that statement was unreliable then is this statement unreliable too?
    Anyway, keep going.
    Back in the old, old days there was a sin called pandering, giving people what they want, with no consideration of whether it will harm them. Dante put it in the 8th circle of hell which is pretty low in his opinion.
    I guess that’s where social media resides.

    1. As with most things I’m trying not to be black and white in my thinking. Everybody has to find their own peace in the grey area.

  3. Hey Josh,

    Your post resonates with me a ton. As someone who struggled with mental health and anxiety, and social isolation, I really noticed a lot of positive things happen when I moved off of social media. There’s just so much about it (the addictive, dopamine generation machine + the targeted advertising machine) that is a bain on our current generation. I came to the same conclusion about things like friend counts and other vanity metrics and tricks that current companies use to force you to “engage”. It’s as if we no longer have control over our own actions!

    Over the past year, I’ve been super passionate about *this* problem as one I wanted to help fix. On one hand, I think moving off of digital media is a good solution for a lot of people. On the other, I still see software and technology as a super powerful communication tool that can actually help build relationships between people (as a tech person myself).

    I’ve been working on a new type of social networking platform that is all about maintaining and building relationships with the people closest to you. It’s structured like a private group conversation where you can message, share, and plan with the people in your groups. I’d be interested to see what your thoughts were and if it addresses some of the issues you mentioned in your post. It’s here: https://get.thread-app.com

    I thought it was super opportune timing because I just launched on HN a few hours before this post went live.

    Anyway, best of luck on your journey. I wish you well 🙂

    Best,
    Daniel

  4. On your last paragraph ( “Presence” ) I can relate with you.

    I have done a lot of photography (some professional, mostly amateur) with both digital and film. I’ve done portraiture and street photography.

    With the latter, I found that film actually helped me _not_ take pictures that actually didn’t matter. I made better photos. Sometimes, I wouldn’t take a photo because I wanted to be more present, in that moment, to experience what was happening.

    The same thing happens with the phone. I do take photos sometimes with the phone, usually of cycling trips or hiking, etc. But why? Memories, sure, but I found myself doing the same thing that I was doing when I first started street photography: taking pics of everything and anything, and forgetting to enjoy the moment at times.

    So yeah. I put down the phone more often or just don’t bring it with me when I go out. I enjoy those moments where I see something nice and just witness it happening.

  5. Typo: September 10, 2019
    I made a resolution in September of 2019 that I would quit social media indefinitely.

    Sure you meant “I made a resolution in September of 2018”?

  6. > I made a resolution in September of 2019…
    You mean September 2018, right? Otherwise you’ve been unplugged for less than 2 weeks at most.

  7. Nice sounds like you experienced the whole journey. I think 10 active friendships is a massive number since it takes time and efford to find those great people. Personally I only hang out with 1 friend once in a while so I’m surprised when you thought 10 was a small number, it’s not. Anyway, great article.

    1. Hey Merunas – thanks for your take on this. I think I believe 10 is a small number due to the prominent numerical representation of friends on social media platforms. In the digital age, 10 feels like a small number – even though, as you point out, it’s not.

  8. Thank you Josh. It takes courage to post about something like this (as well as to quit social media for a year).
    I actually found this post on social media (hacker news).
    I’m planning on soon quitting all social media for at least 30 days and see how I feel. Thank you for confirming that it isn’t easy but something that we all should try.

    1. Good luck Gregory! I was the one that posted it on Hacker News. I still use a few platforms in moderation (just not the Big Ones). Social Media != social media

  9. Hi there, I really love the honest touch of this article. It puts everything in perspective. Honestly, I am also becoming more and more addicted to my phone, and I don’t like it.
    I have a question, did you quit only social media apps or also whatsapp and other instant messaging apps, like facebook messenger? I have this little “fear of missing out”, expecially in terms of missing a message of a friend to eat a pizza together. But maybe the “friend” would not call anyway.

    1. Hey Michele –

      Great question – I think everyone must find their own grey area. I still use iMessage, FaceTime, etc.

      I decided its best for me to avoid any kind of social media platform that had some kind of public profile that was able to view unsolicited other messages in a feed. By that definition, IM apps with people I know IRL are excluded.

      Facebook Messenger is nefarious though because you can trick yourself into thinking you’ll JUST use that and not the website. Maybe you can, but I sure don’t have the willpower.

      I also do a lot more phone calling.

  10. Simple withdrawal from digital social media is telling yourself and others i don’t need it. I have 2 years that i do not use anymore social media but i still think is necessary for everyone that is new to this world. A first time user it seems as a tool to connect and share without limits, but than becomes a time consuming and addiction for information exchange depending on the kind of persona that rests inside you. For example to a scientists its not a time consuming or addiction because they don’t see it a necessary thing to use daily or spend a lot of time on it, because their perspective of seeing things is different. To a young person that has not yet developed his self its a tool to exchange information as much as possible. This is based on info i have gathered from friends and non-friends.
    My opinion is that basically we need social media but before that we need to learn to control our tempo.

  11. So, by leaving a comments section here, one might argue that you’re still “seeking approval”, albeit on our own terms ;-P

    I’m kidding, and I think this post is especially interesting. You’ve confirmed much of my own feelings on the topic. I can’t admit to deleting my accounts – but just removing the apps from my phone did wonders. There’s still more i can do (e.g. monitor my time watching YouTube, which I’m more inclined to categorise as Social Media now), but I’m loving the freedom that I’ve already gained.

    Thanks for doing this.

    1. Your joke brings up a good point. There’s definitely grey area. The information frequency of a blog is so much lower than that of Facebook, Twitter, etc. Plus, there are no algorithms messing with my content – it’s just what I publish, how and when I want to publish it (and in chronological order!).

      Keep working towards finding your peace with it! It’s something everyone needs to uniquely carve out for themselves – no article can define that (and I tried to avoid doing it here)

  12. Awesome read! I myself have been wondering a lot if I could quit facebook, the hassle of recreating so many accounts which I created with a facebook account keeps me postponing it.

    This has definitely given me a new perspective, all the success stories about quitting social media were exhausting. Some people claiming that you almost get superpower when you leave socials.

    Thank you for this write-up!

  13. Would love to share this. I think you’re first sentence was supposed to say 2018, not 2019. Can you fix that?

    Also, you make an interesting point about why take photos, which follows your aside about wanting to “remember” some of the things you had on FB and IG.

    I’m no expert, but maybe our memories shouldn’t be tied to photos so heavily. Regardless of where they are posted – or if at all. Some studies show a decline in memory of events if the participant takes photos. Like our brains somehow know it doesn’t *need* to recall the event as well because it’s stored (somewhat) off-site.

    I think the reduction in photo-taking alone can produce benefits we don’t yet understand fully, since taking photos predates social media (albeit not to the extreme we now see).

    Questions for further consideration: Could life be okay with zero photos? Can we be content with our own (fallible) memories? Can we live more in the moment and stop “documenting” life as much, whether for ourself, or others? Is there a Quality-of-Life difference between introspective documenting (e.g. journaling) vs. frictionless & impulsive documenting (e.g. smartphone “instant” photos)?

    I like your post title. Could be read either way. Forces readers to not assume one thing or the other. Congrats on your intentional journey and thanks for the “normal” blog.

    1. Hi Techimist –

      Interesting response, thank you for that. I’m not familiar with the literature on photos reducing memory – do you have any you could link? Would love to learn more about this.

      I love your further questions – stay tuned for further posts regarding some of these.

      My heart is warmed by you calling this a “normal” blog. Normal gets a bad rep these days!

  14. I did this 10 years ago, I saw the facebook writing on the wall, and where that avalanche of butthurt was heading. I’ve poked back every now and then just to see why everyone is so angry, but good god is life glorious just maintaining the IRL relationships I actually care about.

  15. I did this 10 years ago, I saw the facebook writing on the wall, and where that avalanche of butthurt was heading. Then again, I’m a product of the Myspace era…. where we uhh… learned our mistakes the hard way.

    I’ve poked back every now and then just to see why everyone is so angry, but good god is life glorious just maintaining the IRL relationships I actually care about.

  16. Hi Josh!
    I found this post on the Hacker News message board – and it just so happens that I’m on a ‘social media sabbatical’ myself. It’s only been a month, which is about as long as I can reasonably take off social – because it’s my actual job.

    But I’ve noticed a lot of the same things you have – especially about being able to concentrate again, regaining my focus, and rediscovering the ‘realness’ of my close personal relationships. I feel calmer, more in control of my own mind and emotional responses, and more… alive.

    Anyway, I’m glad you’ve shared your experience because it’s a confirmation of my own. I guess I need to figure out what the implications of this are for my career.

  17. Great commentary and good personal observations. I think a lot of people would realize the same thing and end up with much better connectedness to people who genuinely care and have better overall mental health. Unfrotunately, it would cause a collapse of the “influencer” economy! I find for myself, that I take photos for myself and my family. Photos are stored and shared to grandparents and the like without any social media – our family is too far flung and it is one way we stay in touch besides weekly phone calls.

  18. That was quite insightful. I committed “digital suicide” a bit over two years ago now. For me, like you, I had a bit of a rough time in the beginning. I think it was only really for the first month with me. I felt disconnected and it bothered me. And then I Was bothered that it bothered me because, well wasn’t *disconnecting* my entire reason for getting off Social Media.

    My reasons for disconnecting were not so much that I had read it was a good thing to do. I had read those articles as well and I did see the point they were making and those points did resonate with my own instincts. For one I had come to realize, after years and years of posting every single thing I thought was relevant, funny or earth shattering, nobody *really* cared. Not really. They were all too busy self aggrandizing themselves, the same way I was and I know I certainly did not *truly* care about what they were posting. It was a game. A competition for likes.

    Additionally I had really come to abhor the constant bombardment of political memes. What had once seemed fun had turned into a constant political campaign. I watched people I had known for years, and who had known each other for years, reach the point of not speaking to one another anymore. And worse yet I realized that I had become just as bad as the worst of what I saw. What I saw was that Social Media was not just bringing people together, it was tearing them apart. Worse yet it was destroying years long relationships and substituting new ones, with total strangers, built on political party lines.

    At some point I went back through my profile and read what was there and I realized I wanted no part of that person. Could that really be me? No of course it was not. Somehow online Social Media had allowed me to create a caricature of myself. One where I thought I was amplifying all my best traits and showing how creative I was. In reality though somehow While it may have started out that way I realized I had been swept up in the flash flood of anger and bile that Facebook had become and I had done just the opposite. I had just become another voice in a sea of voices who thought they were changing peoples points of view on subjects that were important to them but who were really just talking to themselves out loud with no one listening except people who already agreed with them. It became painfully apparent that I was not changing anyone’s point of view.

    So I quit social media. I turned of my devices and I went back to the real world. At first I did miss the invites to events for things I liked to do. How was I going to spend my free time if not by going and hanging out (mostly with people I did not really know and with who I would never really have any other contact with *except* online) at the latest XYZ meetup/party/happy-hour/etc. Turned out I had a lot to fill my spare time with. All of a sudden I had time to rediscover hobbies I had been neglecting, I started spending more time riding my mountain bike and since I was not posting status updates anymore I actually had to tell my wife about how my day had gone.

    Honestly after first month or so off Social Media I was so busy doing all kinds of fun things I had totally forgotten how much I used to enjoy I really no longer missed it at all. So, for me, personally, it was the right choice to make. I’m more active, feel more centered in the real world and I am much less stressed out now, well except for when I turn on the news, but then that is a whole other rant…

  19. Your comment on the not giving a shit about 98% of your “friends” hits the nail on the head for me. I figured out a number of years ago that I don’t really know these people and they were transitory in my life and should have stayed that way. Facebook and social media in general messes with the ordinary and transitory makeup of relationships. There’s a person I might have had a few laughs with in high school and then 10 years later I see that person on FB and friend them and start engaging with them – but then I realized, are they my friend – were they ever really my friend? Of course not, we went our separate ways and if social media hadn’t happened we would have never seen or probably thought about each other ever again – and that’s ok. Social media is a general negative for our society – there’s nothing social about it. Great read, and thanks.

    1. Well put – “Of course not, we went our separate ways and if social media hadn’t happened we would have never seen or probably thought about each other ever again – and that’s ok.” It seems so verboten to just grow apart these days

  20. Josh, just wanted to say I am glad to have stumbled onto this post. I am not really really what I think of when I picture a social media addict (I am mostly into the hobby group feature of facebook for music and electronics design), but I do see a lot of addictive behavior with relation to my concerns about the posts I make, as well as the amount of time I spend checking my phone to see what may have come up since 5 minutes ago. I also see the stress it causes me seeing people in the periphery of my life respond to the odd thing or two I do post and only then remembering how many people I am friends with that I don’t really want to know their personal thoughts and opinions and maybe more importantly, with whom i don’t want to share my own. It often leaves me feeling anxiety and loneliness.
    I’m glad to see that the change has been so beneficial for you, reading this has made me see where I am missing some of those things in my own life, and really regardless of whether or not I do end up leaving social media, I can say reading this, I feel inspired to focus on getting more of the things I need into my life.
    Here’s to the Healthy, Reciprocal and Real. Cheers!
    Jesse

  21. I can definitely relate to many of the things you are saying here. Although I will say that it’s hard to maintain friendships with people who are still on these platforms because they aren’t as motivated as me in regards to putting work into the friendship. They are still getting their “being social fix” (so to speak) from their social media platforms so they don’t feel as much of a need as I do in regards to maintaining friendships that have a real-life element to them. I guess it’s kind of hard to describe. I just feel like I have left this “haze” that was created by social media and people who are still in the haze are somewhere. I definitely feel more alone but at the same time, my low moods are less often and much less intense. It’s definitely a give and take.

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