When I first thought of the topic and name of this post, I was unaware that there is a book with the same name, which I have not read. I only discovered it because I googled my title to see if anyone else was writing about similar things.
Anyway, with that being said, the thing that prompted this post is my recent decision to delete my Instagram account (actually delete this time, not simply deactivate). And this time I did not announce it because I didn’t want people to contact me trying to convince me not to delete it, which is what happened last time. I guess if people have not already found my website, email, or phone number after I shared it so many times, then we are not destined to remain in contact – c’est la vie.
As some of you may know, I used to be ‘one of those people’ who had no social media accounts at all and could basically not be found anywhere online. I was like that for four years after deciding to delete all my social media in 2015 due to my observation that I could not rule out the possibility that everything I shared on social media was a subconscious attempt to build my ego in some way, which I deemed to be a harmful action both for myself and for others. I found it harmful toward myself because any action done in an effort to look good or boost my reputation or status in any way could be said to encourage a stronger attachment to these superficial things (which will inevitably lead to more pain in the future). I found it harmful toward others because social media is known to promote comparative mindsets, and sharing good things from my life is putting forth a false idea of what my life is like and likely resulting in others comparing their lives to this idealized version.
If I had to characterize those years of being disconnected with a single word, I would say ‘peaceful.’ I had a lot of free time which I spent reading books and exercising. When I used the internet it was intentional – I was trying to learn something about some specific thing, or I was using it to communicate with individual people that I know. I did not know anything that was going on in anyone’s lives and they did not know anything about my life, unless we actually communicated with each other. I often left my phone at home or in the car because I didn’t need it. I never compared my life with anyone else’s because I didn’t see what anyone else was doing. I didn’t know anyone’s drama, and I also avoided all of the inflammatory political stuff that is constantly circulating on every social media platform. I may have missed out on some interesting things too, but that’s a small price to pay for peace of mind. It’s easy to just send a short update to a friend if something important happens; no need to notify every acquaintance and casual friend I’ve ever had about it. By the way, I just received a letter from my friend Kristen today, which made me happy. If anyone would like to exchange snail mail, let me know!
Many of my friends can’t imagine not using social media. The most common question people ask me is, ‘How do you know what your friends are doing?’ And I often reply, ‘Why do I need to know what all my friends are doing?’
I think people have become addicted to being connected and knowing all kinds of details about everyone’s lives. How did people keep in touch before the internet? They made phone calls, wrote letters, and went to see each other, among other ways. People found a way to keep in touch if keeping in touch was their priority. I assume people’s friendships were also less fragile – friendships don’t need constant contact and communication to remain intact, as least in my opinion. If a friendship can’t survive then maybe it’s just not meant to be.
I have several friends that I have only talked to once or twice in the past several years and don’t have much idea what’s going on in their lives, but I still consider them good friends. One example of this is my friend (and ex-roommate), Tyler, who I met in the army. I hadn’t seen him for nearly 10 years, and we also did not really keep in touch during those years, but when he found out he was coming to Taiwan for work he reached out to me, and we met up while he was here. 10 years had passed with almost no contact, but it was great to see him and really didn’t feel like much had changed in terms of our friendship. Besides this, we also had a lot of stuff to talk about and catch up on. In some ways I feel like this is an ideal form of friendship – the friendship remains intact without any added pressure of feeling the need to always be in touch. In this case, me still having my messenger account facilitated this contact, but it would have been just as easy if we had exchanged emails.
I think fear of missing out is inextricably linked to social media usage. We feel like we will lose friends if we don’t use social media, we will miss something important if we aren’t constantly checking the news, and will disappear into nothingness if we don’t occasionally remind everyone of our existence online. While I may have exaggerated a bit in the way I phrased that, that is the impression I developed over time when considering the overall trends of how people use social media. I would like to challenge this mindset.
I think it doesn’t matter if we lose friends. I know a lot of people all over the world and I genuinely like many of them, but honestly I would go insane if I tried to keep in touch with everyone. People may claim that social media is a form of keeping in touch, but that’s like fast-food socializing – it makes you less hungry, but it’s not nourishing or healthy in any way. People who are meant to be your friend will still be your friend. Plus, more often than not, when someone I hadn’t talked to for years reached out to me on social media, it was to try to get my to join some pyramid scheme or do something for them – they never just wanted to chat with me. I don’t mind missing out on that.
Going off on a bit of a tangent here: One time a friend told me she thought I didn’t care about her because she didn’t think I would miss her when I moved way. This was incomprehensible to me because I willingly spent a lot of time with this person; what does it matter if I will or will not ‘miss’ her in the future? I have never had anyone say anything like this to me before or since, so I’m not sure if this is a common measure of ‘caring’. My time is worth a lot to me – if I willingly spent it with you, then I obviously care about you. The only time we ever experience in this life is the present moment, spending our present fantasizing about the future or clinging to the past is not useful. My friend’s statement made me curious and, being the nerd that I am, I decided to poll approximately 30 people that I knew and ‘cared about’ (located in Hawaii) to ask them if they got the impression that I cared about them or not.
Initially I was just curious if people in general got the sense that I cared about them, but the findings showed a clear difference between males and females (no one who identifies as anything else was polled). While this was obviously not a valid scientific study, the results were that 100% of males polled (approximately half of the people) said they think I care about them, while something like 15-20% of females polled said they felt I cared about them. This is a massive difference. I added this part in here to recognize that there are certainly different cultural norms and expectations between males and females, and different ways of expressing and interpreting ‘caring.’ I acknowledge that I am writing this as a male and that perhaps females or those identifying as women would need to make different considerations than I had to when choosing to stop using social media and ‘intentionally miss out.’
If a news story is important, we will hear about it from someone else even if we didn’t check the news for a week or month or whatever. Not only that, but much of the news is sensationalist, biased, and just there to trigger you (resulting in sharing, more ad views, and more money for the news) – not really the kind of stuff you want to be exposing yourself to on a daily basis. Nowadays we’re used to knowing everything immediately through the internet, buying something online and having it delivered within 1-2 days, being able to communicate with anyone at any time, etc. We have lost our patience – relax and trust that you will know what you need to know, not everything needs to be under our control all the time.
In terms of making our presence known online, I think this has a great potential to cause problems. This is primarily due to the ‘like’ function on social media – those little meaningless notifications are like crack to many people (myself included), and the fact that they’re inconsistent makes it way more addictive (like a slot machine). How many likes will this post get? It’s also pure manipulation by the system and not representative of how many people actually like your stuff, since the app/website often chooses who and how many people will ever actually see your stuff in their feed.
At first I started this paragraph with “speaking of not sharing things online” and proceeded to share this with you all, then realized that was stupid. At least on here I don’t really notice how many people actually look at my stuff. Anyway, last night I ended up buying a paintbrush and wanted to try out painting with ink. I decided to just sort-of paint intuitively and make random marks on paper and see what it ended up being just based on my feeling. I ended up painting on blank postcards and enjoyed the process so much that I painted like 25 of them. I felt like they looked really cool so I texted a photo of them to a few of my friends and some of them said some nice things that made me feel good. This was more fulfilling than any amount of feedback or recognition I have ever received on social media. Why do I need 1500 followers on IG when it feels better to receive a single compliment from a friend? A like is not a real compliment.
Something I haven’t yet mentioned is the effect of constantly seeking external validation. If we share something online, we obviously want other people to see it (and presumably like what they see). When we receive the inconsistent feedback from others (partially due to the social media algorithms), it can start to cause us to notice pattens in what receives more attention, and change our behavior.
When I first started using Instagram again in 2020 (due to COVID) I planned to just use it to share some photos with my friends and follow a few photographers so I could study their photos and maybe learn some things. The result was that I got caught up in ‘the game’ initially and became addicted to the ego boost and validation. In the beginning I shared all kinds of photos – some portraits of my friends, some pretty flowers I saw, sunsets, street photos, etc. But over time I realized that I prefer to look at street photography, and the result was that I followed (and was followed back by) a lot of street photographers, resulting in my street photos receiving more attention than my other photos. The result of all that was that I ended up shifting that account to be exclusively for street photography and I started primarily shooting street photography and neglecting other types of photography that I also like (because I was only sharing the street photos).
I find this type of influence to lead to inauthenticity. If I wanted to make money through photography (which I do not), then it would be important to consider what other people think, but if I want to express myself then it’s probably better to not consider others at all. The thing that draws me to all sorts of art is that it is a unique expression of the individual. While each individual also contains part of the collective (and that there is arguably no true individuality), self-expression is still valuable and important for our wellbeing (it doesn’t have to be art). I think doing things for recognition is not self-expression, it is just pandering to the masses and building our egos, and this tends to be a really slippery slope when trying to share your creative endeavors on social media. We may start out with the best of intentions, but these apps and websites have been specifically designed to exploit human biological weaknesses. Having my own website helps a lot with this, but gives me none of those nice dopamine hits because very few people see my site.
The years that I didn’t use social media were some of the better ones in my life, and I did not notice any significant inconveniences or negative effects. Recently I have been feeling overstimulated and honestly would love to not know anything for a while. I want to retreat into myself and rest, and I hope that I can continue enjoying my art and photography without sharing it on a large-scale.
As always, feel free to email me or comment if you have something to say!