Why I Really Quit Social Media

Intimacy is Not Scalable

As I’ve slowly come around on online dating, a topic I’ve been staunchly on both sides of during my time living in New York (more here), I’ve begun to re-examine my relationship with the other “digital vice” I think plagues our generation: social media.

I’ve been off all social media platforms since January 1, 2019. I’ve “cheated” a few times, making an Instagram to join a pickup basketball group chat (that I’ve since deleted) and a reddit account to start going to various meetups (that I’ve also since deleted), but I don’t consider those getting back on. I have LinkedIn out of necessity, but want to delete it. And yes, I’ve tried TikTok — for a day back over Thanksgiving break. I promptly deleted it after a five-hour scrolling binge (without eating or drinking water) that left me extremely worried for our kids.

This isn’t going to be a post on the tangible downsides of social media. There are tons of studies out there about screen time affecting circadian rhythms, serotonin, dopamine, & Vitamin D level — social media of which is most people’s killer. Everyone and their mother has told you that by now, so it’s your choice to make what you want from it.

Nor will it be about the popular “social” downsides — I’m extremely self-conscious, which used to manifest as hyper-anxiousness and competitive comparativeness, so obviously seeing other people’s highlight reels was gonna make me feel shitty.

This is going to be a different post. About the downsides of using social media to self-share period.

The real reason I quit social media is because I became overwhelmed by how many different ways I was giving myself to the world. I distinctly remember in college having active conversations with people through iMessage, GroupMe, WhatsApp, Instagram, Slack, Snapchat, & FB Messenger, not to mention emails. I even remember having conversations with the same people across multiple platforms. It was so much work to manage how many mediums I had to express myself and try to connect with people, so much that it would give me palpable anxiety. I’ve never had more than 10 unread emails or texts and to this day get stressed whenever I see a red badge on someone’s phone. I’ve turned all mine off for that reason. I don’t keep email or Slack on my phone and don’t use iMessage on my computer. Separation of digital church and state is extremely important to me.

Something else that stressed me out was that each of those platforms I used to use required a profile, something I had to forfeit to the digital world to participate in the fun. Despite being quite an open book and socially-minded person, it never seemed logical that I felt so much pressure to put on a different hat than the ones I was already wearing just to join. Particularly when joining meant sharing parts of my life I didn’t consider particularly interesting or impactful.

I quit because I wanted to stop performing what I thought wasn't real.

  1. This was not a decision made from a place of moral superiority. I never considered myself above another person because of my digital minimalism. Nor do I prescribe it as doctrine.
  2. This was also not a decision made from a place of shame about my own life. I have always appreciated the life I had, no matter how tough it’s gotten for me.
  3. This was also not a decision made from a desire to not share, perform, and connect with others through my own life story. I’m a natural performer and love entertaining, provoking, and making people think. You just have to read my last 3 pieces to see that.

The difference between my attitude as a performer and attitude toward social media is that I only enjoy performing what I deeply care about and find impactful. Nothing about my life beyond my ability to write about a lesson it’s taught me is anything I find worth sharing to the internet.

Again, this is not because I don’t love expressing myself or experiencing the rush of positive feedback and vulnerability that comes from putting a piece of myself out there. That’s human. Everyone loves that. I just saw from an early age how dangerous it can become to perform everything.

The best explanation I’ve ever seen of this was done by Bo Burnham, notorious anti-social media proponent and recluse. The video is only a minute long, so I won’t paraphrase.

As social media has commodified our attention into a currency, it's also tricked us into thinking that we have the right to access others’ attention simply for existing.

That has not only bred a generation of entitled, overly self-centered people (what critics primarily hark on), but also people who have become accustomed to performing so much that they are fundamentally worse at earning real love, intimacy, and support.

Think about it — the more fake, cheap dopamine you pump into your system, the more accustomed and reliant you become on it and utterly unprepared you will be when real, pure dopamine rolls around. It’s the same problem with porn and sex.

Social media is to emotional intimacy what porn is to physical intimacy. Both cheap versions of the real thing.

The Facebooks, Instagrams, and TikToks of the world have tricked us into thinking that social connection is an outcome we can maximize, devaluing our own interest into an input and intimacy into a prize.

However, the inherent value of real, true human connection hasn’t changed — it still lies in its rarity.

These crossed wires are a real problem. Our limbic systems were architected when societies were no larger than 100–150 people (hence the fact that our immediate memory for names and faces caps out about there) and built to seek commitment with so deep that it lasts a lifetime, through good and especially bad. Commitment based on daily in person interaction. For better or worse, that’s how we’re made up.

It will take ages before our biology evolves to catch up with the new reward systems we‘ve built for ourselves. I’m sure that our great great grandchildren will be biologically wired to distinguish digital dopamine from the real, but we’re not them. We’re still so early in the evolutionary timeline of social media that unfortunately our brains have no choice but to judge the connection & intimacy we get from it as real.

Even if we’re conscious not to rely too much on it to fill our cups, that way of life still spits in the face of the biology that predates our existence and determines your survival. It spits in the face of our flourishing. At the most primal level, it’s a form of self-sabotage.

I get the excuse — it’s easy to do when you’re not fully aware of it, trapped by positive feedback loops, not to mention the peer pressure that surrounds it.

But I promise, in the few moments you do become self-conscious of your behavior and realize how widely you’ve spread your soul, you’ll realize just how much you’ve thinned it out in the process and start to question how little it must be worth if so many people have found a way to deserve it.

That thought pattern is the real reason depression rates are so much higher now among people my age. We’re no less anxious than past generations. The difference is there were never as many ways to settle as there are now. Never as many bandaids.

Intimacy is not a numbers game. Playing it like one is a surefire path to loneliness and emotional desolation. As soon as you realize how we’ve been brainwashed into treating it as one because of these platforms, you’ll feel how I feel. Tricked, manipulated, ashamed, and above all: hurt.

That’s why I got off social media, and why it’s the best decision I ever made.

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Carter Owen

Carter Owen

Aspiring author and humble observer of human behavior writing from NYC — sharing my journey and what I’m learning along the way. Think more, feel better.