Social media has engrained itself into the fabric of our lives to the point of addiction. The dopamine hits we receive from the likes, comments, retweets, and other interactions lead us to spend more time looking at our screens than most of us would like to admit. I've done my best to overcome this by setting screen time limits and deleting apps from my phone, but the end result always falls short of my ambitions. Regardless of my method of control I always found myself endlessly scrolling Twitter or just picking my phone up to refresh Instagram. My viewpoint of social media may be a little pessimistic and while I believe that it has been a net positive on the world, over time it has lost several aspects of what made it so special in the first place (at least for me).
I've been on social media since the days of MySpace. From there I moved to Facebook, then added Instagram, then Twitter, then Snapchat, then Reddit, and I even gave TikTok a try. Social media has made a huge impact on my life. My wife and I connected via mutual friends on Facebook. I was reached out to on Twitter for an exciting career opportunity. My parents can keep up with their grandkids via Instagram posts and stories. I'm sure thousands of others can share similar stories. So why did I leave?
Steve Jobs has been attributed with saying that the most precious resource we all share is time. Whether you believe that or not is up to you, but for me, it is 100% true. We all have responsibilities that place constraints on the amount of time that we have available each day. As my number of responsibilities has grown the amount of time that I have outside of those responsibilities has dwindled. This may not be the case for everyone, but I assume it is for some. What this means for me is that the time that I don't have dedicated to my necessary obligations should be managed with great care.
I recently had the opportunity to take a step back and evaluate what is important to me. This list will most likely be different for everyone, but mine looks like this.
- Be the best husband that I can be.
- Be the best father that I can be.
- Maintain a high standard of physical and mental health.
- Be the best software engineer that I can be.
These are the priorities that I schedule my life around. They all require time and effort. You'll notice that having the most Twitter followers, getting the most retweets, or commenting on posts didn't make my list. For me, spending time on social media felt like a waste of time. Looking at my screen time numbers at the end of each day felt demoralizing. Time spent on these social media platforms that provide an endless list of posts and ads just seems to melt away. Paul Graham wrote an essay several years ago explaining how short life actually is. I would highly recommend giving it a read because I think it resonates with my decision to step away from social media.
I recently made the decision to delete my Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Reddit accounts. I made the conscious decision to stay on LinkedIn and HackerNews (I'll go into why in the next section). Each of these apps is not inherently bad and if I'm being honest, bits and pieces of each of them could probably contribute to my core priorities positively. In the end, the decision came down to the time spent on the platforms not being worth the value received from them.
Taking ownership of my time was a massive driver for quitting social media, but it wasn't the only driver. As I mentioned before, I'm still on LinkedIn and HackerNews. The reason that I'm willing to stay on those platforms is that they provide enough value for me to feel good about spending time using their products. LinkedIn provides a lot of professional value to me and I honestly don't spend much time at all scrolling my news feed. HackerNews provides me with a lot of relevant tech news and helps me stay up to date, but doesn't require a lot of time. I typically don't get involved in commenting on posts, but do enjoy stumbling across posts that I am interested in. The HackerNews news feed is also paged, which means I don't find myself endlessly scrolling for more information.
My decisions about what I'm willing to spend time on are mostly based on the value they provide relating to my "core priorities". I'm happy to spend an abundant amount of time with family and friends. I'm more than happy to spend time learning and writing blog posts. I won't hesitate to spend time working out or getting some extra sleep when possible. These are things that provide a lot of intrinsic value to me and therefore merit a majority of my time.
As I was able to analyze my priorities it became obvious to me that social media provided me value in some ways, but also took up a disproportionate amount of time versus the time that I could spend on activities that provide much more value like watching a movie with my wife, playing with my kids, or improving my skills as a software engineer.
These sorts of decisions always involve trade-offs. I was willing to trade the value that social media provided me with more fruitful activities that will hopefully lead me to a happier and more productive life. This was an extremely personal decision and I have nothing against people who enjoy spending time on social media. Just remember life is short and I don't think we'll ever look back on our lives wishing we spent more time doom-scrolling on Twitter.