My Social Media Exodus

Depending on your definition of “social media”, I’ve just deleted all but three of my social media accounts. It was about fifteen purged, total, including my personal big three of Twitter, Tumblr, and Reddit (I’ve never had a Facebook). It feels pretty great.

I could lie and say that my primary reason for doing so was ideological: privacy concerns, security concerns, alarm at how social media is affecting society, objection to surveillance capitalism as a model… and, sure, all of those were reasons; they’re all sincere beliefs that factored into my final decision to become an internet hermit, cast away from the sociological zeitgeist.

But honestly, the biggest reason was just the realization that social media hadn’t improved my life in a long time. Idly scrolling through my various feeds, dropping likes here and there, writing the occasional (mostly‐ignored) contribution—it was all automatic. Idle. Intellectual background noise. I never felt better for it, and I frequently felt worse when I got caught up in the outrage machine.

Quitting Twitter was easy: despite having an account since September 2008, the longest of any of them, it’s the one I’d never managed to find a real use for. The platform always struggled to make social interaction feel meaningful due to the character limit and broadcast‐predominant nature, and I’ve never felt a need to cast passing thoughts out into the ether—nor am I funny enough to become a joke account of any note—so my account ended up 90% retweet. I followed a lot of interesting people, but ~700 accounts all marketing themselves to me became too much after a point, and I liked everyone individually too much to ever unfollow enough people to make it tolerable. My biggest impediment here was that I used Twitter as my primary OAuth login for sites I didn’t care enough about to register individually for, so I had to go through the list and delete or de‐integrate them all.

Losing Reddit and Tumblr were harder. I had them both for nearly a decade, accumulating an archive of my personality throughout the years. Almost every single friend group I have today is thanks, in some way, to those I made on Tumblr. Still, though, none of the archive felt meaningful to me—my top comment on Reddit was a one‐paragraph answer to a simple question, and my top post on Tumblr was a snide, kneejerk political statement in response to something that had annoyed me earlier. The algorithmic, ephemeral nature of both were antithetical to putting effort into anything you posted, because why bother? Why put work into writing detailed comments that people would only see for ~twelve hours, or posts that would get skimmed past in favor of pictures and memes? What value would have lied in saving reblogs, one‐liners, low‐effort commentary? What did those say about me that would matter to anyone else? I had hundreds of followers, yet no matter how high the number got, the number of humans having a discussion with me never seemed to increase. All followers ever seemed to get me was numbers. Abstracts of human interaction.

Ultimately, though I exported my data from all three in case I had some burning need to refer back to something I stuck on them in the future (thanks, GDPR), of all three, there was only one post on one platform that I felt a substantial need to save and stick elsewhere—fairly easy thanks to the fact that I had used a custom domain for my Tumblr and could redirect the post’s link to its new home on my site (further reinforcing one of the oldest lessons on the internet: never put anything of value on a domain you don’t own).

That’s it. Thousands of posts, tweets, and comments across three of the biggest sites on the internet over the span of a decade, and that’s all I felt I had ever posted that had real merit or that was worthy of true archival. It was something of a stark realization to me, the knowledge that I had spent countless hours on them and ended up with one thing to show for it. All the rest was scrolling mindlessly through whatever content was served to me, feeling worse about current events, the world, myself.

I still get the urge to scroll with near the same frequency, when I’m bored or feel the need to fidget; I unlock my smartphone without thinking, reach for empty space on my home screen where an app icon used to live. Frequently, I found that I now do something more productive: catch up on my reading list, learn something, start a personal conversation with a friend. It feels much better. Just as frequently, I do something less‐productive: watch a video from my YouTube subscriptions, play a game, opt to sit in silence. These feel better, too. At the very least, they feel more honest.

The only three I have left are Medium, YouTube, and Discord: Medium, because I find it is one of the few examples of social media done right, and it is frequently thoughtful and thought‐engaging; YouTube, because I enjoy video content and there is no meaningful platform for it otherwise at the moment; and Discord, because I cannot convince most of the people I care about to switch to an open source platform instead. I’m fine with these, for now. It is not only possible but likely that this will change in the future, but that can be handled when the time comes. For now, they all add to my life.

It is equally as likely that I re‐join one of the deleted services at some point, if I survive my current health issues and find I’m doing well enough in the future to make a serious push to become a professional writer, whereupon I will, by necessity, find myself joining the legions of self‐marketers on social media that so drained me before. Such is capitalism. Still, though, this would be from a fresh slate, without the baggage of social media misuse from younger versions of myself. I will find that no less an improvement.

For now, I have three spaces left on the internet on which to post anything, and all three—Medium, (this blog!), and my personal site—require thoughtful consideration and something of note to say prior to sticking something on them. Most importantly, none of them allow for re‐sharing; all my content will be by myself, for myself. I feel genuinely excited about that.