I want to quit social media. But I don’t. But I do. But I can’t. Or I guess I could. But can I, really?
That’s been going through my head repeatedly for the past few months. How much mental energy do I have to expend on this stupid decision before I just do what I want to do?
Two main factors have kept me from going off the grid.
- The fact that I have to have an account to use a site’s API. (I own three sites that use social media APIs.)
- The thought that there’s no harm in having accounts but not using them.
But those are no longer enough. Time to unplug. Why? It's a story about attention, intention, validation, creativity, copycatting, and image.
Oh, and it’s also about value. Twitter - my main social media outlet for years - just doesn’t provide the same value that it used to. It used to be a place to discover new people and make new connections. It still can be, but more so it’s a place to get crappy content constantly forced down your throat. This declining value amplifies the relative magnitude of the attention, creativity, etc problems that I’m about to touch on.
It's About Attention and Intention
Social media is valuable. But is it worth it? Is that where I want to be spending my time? Does it further my mission more than doing something else would? Is it worth the distraction that comes so easily to my addictive personality? And do I want to be communicating with people on a medium where I don’t have their full attention?
I only have so much attention and energy to spread around. I have to be intentional about that distribution if I want to maximize my mission. So the fact that social media is valuable isn’t enough. Is it more valuable than the other things I could be doing with the time it takes from me (including the time its distraction costs me)? What’s its opportunity cost?
It’s easy to argue the hypothetical scenario where I only spend 60 seconds per day on Facebook, posting my latest article and then logging out. Or even a fully-automated solution (which I could argue against the value of) where I spend zero time on Facebook. But that’s not realistic. These things are heavily engineered to suck every last drop of attention out of you, and they work. Maybe some people are dope enough to pull that off, but I’m not.
My own attention is only one pixel of the image, though. The other pixel (it’s a very small image) is the attention of my target audience. Sure I can get in front of eyeballs on Twitter. I can even get clicks. But is that helping me in any way? I’m reaching people when they’re in their own little hyper-distracted world, trying to scream LOOK AT ME louder than the other 5,000 people on their feed screaming the same thing. No wonder social media conversion rates are so low.
A lie I keep telling myself is that there’s zero reason to permanently delete my accounts, because there’s zero harm in having them but not using them. If I don’t want to use my accounts, then I can just not use them, right? Kind of, but that’s not the point.
It takes a lot of self control for me to not check Twitter when I’m bored. I can do it, but it’s hard. And the deployment of that self control is not free.
It's About Creativity and Copycatting
Participation in social media reinforces the box that we all operate in. Or, as a best case, social media expands our own boxes to also include the contents of other people’s boxes. Either way, though, boxes are involved. And I blindly assume that boxes are bad because lots of people on Twitter say stuff like that. See the problem?
Comedians refuse to listen to other comedians because they don’t want their acts to be influenced. So why do online creatives soak themselves in a 16/7 (We all 'gotta sleep) barrage of other creatives’ thoughts?
I’m a unique butterfly, damnit. But social media makes me less unique. It makes me lose the big picture of my creativity and instead focus on that awesome email marketing strategy that X just came up with, that cool design that Y just launched, and that new pricing model that Z is using. I get distracted from doing my own thing and instead think "ooh, I should do what X, Y, and Z are doing!"
The point isn’t that seeing the creativity of others isn’t valuable. The point is that constantly seeing it isn’t valuable. Sometimes my brain needs some emptiness with which to work. If it’s constantly getting new input then it never has a chance to filter and process the input that’s already floating around somewhere up there.
It's About Validation
Maybe there exists somebody who can use social media without craving likes and retweets. That somebody is not me.
That craving for validation is a problem for two reasons.
- It’s distracting. I post my latest project to Twitter to try to garner some interest. Then my plan is to go back to working on the project. Instead I find myself checking Twitter every 12 minutes to see if anybody had anything nice to say about it, or if anyone retweeted it.
- If I’m creating for retweets then I’m not being true to my own internal creative direction. That’s not to say that my direction doesn’t involve creating a product that other people care about. Of course it does. I want to build something that helps people, and therefore people must care about my product in order for my vision to be a success. But that doesn’t mean I should be chasing micro-validations from people who are only half paying attention.
It’s About Image
You might be the kind of person who would drive a big pickup truck. Or the kind of person who would hike the Appalachian Trail. Or the kind of person who goes to church every Sunday. Whether or not you actually do any of those things is a separate matter, but you think of yourself as the kind of person who would do those things.
I like to think of myself as the kind of guy that doesn’t use social media. Why? I don’t entirely know. It’s complicated. But if there’s a fairy-tale version of myself (there is) that I imagine (I do), it would not include social media use.
Is that silly? Maybe. Maybe giving up real-world value to satisfy a voice in my head is dumb. But... maybe it’s not. Maybe part of being creative is recognizing what my touchy-feely innards want, and embracing those emotions instead of pushing them away.
I’m the kind of person who doesn’t use social media. But I do use it. Therefore deleting social media is an important step in making my actual self aligned with my ideal self.
A Sacrifice Worth Making?
My biggest sacrifice in becoming anti-social is losing access to the APIs of Twitter and Facebook. That’s hard enough on its own merit, but even harder given that I have some sites that rely on social media APIs that I could no longer own if I shut down my accounts.
My mission is to help creatives get their creativity out into the world. Social media can still be a component of that for other people, even if it’s not for me, and so social media APIs could pretty easily wiggle themselves into a lot of the projects I make in the future.
It sucks to give that up, but it’s not a binding decision. The truth is that I can regain access to any of those APIs within 60 seconds of deciding I want access.
The real pain point is that quitting social media means ceasing to own
three two websites that I currently own. I’ve already sold the sellable one, but the other two would have to be shut down. That can’t be worth it, can it?
It can if those websites should be shut down anyway. It’s easy to launch a website, lose interest, and then leave it up for eternity. Keeping the sites online takes no time and no money, so it’s hard to pull the plug. Just like it’s hard to pull the plug on social media when there’s seemingly no harm in keeping inactive accounts. But who is benefiting from either scenario?
(Effectively) Nobody is using either of the two remaining sites. I could leave them untouched, sure. But at some point I’ll either need to put more time into them or shut them down. I’ve been actively working on becoming more decisive, so why not confront that decision right now?
Do these sites lie upon the path that I want to travel? They don’t. So I’m going to axe them and then reap the reward of that. The reward is me trusting myself to let go of things that don’t serve me. That trust will allow me to be even more confident in taking chances and launching new sites, knowing that I have the balls to make the right decision down the road if things don’t work out.
Worst case scenario I relaunch them in the future. Nobody is using them, so nobody would be impacted if I shut them down and relaunched them later.
Bonus: Feed Hero’s design, including the backend, is perfect for the project that I’m currently working on, so I’m going to repurpose it! That will save me tons of time, and also make me feel less crappy about all the time I "wasted" on Feed Hero.
Actually Doing It
Two days ago I sent an email to all users of the two remaining sites that I own that rely on social media APIs. I let them know that the sites would go offline unless one of them wants to take the site(s) over. By this time next week those sites will be either transferred to someone else or shut down altogether. Either way, they won’t be in my hands.
So all that’s left is deleting my accounts. In case you’re interested, here are the links to permanently delete the following social media accounts.
I knew I was going to keep revisiting this decision for infinity until I pulled the plug. Even if it provides no other benefit, that alone was a good enough deciding factor.
And that’s that. I no longer have a single social media account! Now it’s time to get creative.