What about Social Media is bad?

Everything, some might say. But such barbs might not help identify and address the core issue.

For the past few days, I have read a lot of posts where people describe why they are quitting social media — Facebook, Instagram, and the peskiest of all, Twitter; I empathise with the stories they are narrating. The wasted hours or the effects of doom-scrolling or an overall sense of negativity, helplessness. Colin Devroe describes well how these platforms have affected his ability to focus.

[W]hen I’m still, when I’m idle, when I feel like I could be bored at any moment I grab my phone and scroll through Twitter which sends my mind into overdrive on a million topics, timelines, thoughts, and emotions.

I get all of that. But my train of thoughts takes a slightly different turn, and I am left pondering what exactly do I find problematic about social media platforms.

Is it the timeline? If that’s the case, why is YouTube a concern? Is it the recommendations feed? If that’s the case, why is the chronological timeline on Twitter still pesky? Is it the trends? Well, why is the curated Instagram an issue? None of these is problematic in isolation. The effect that all of them put together have on me is the concern.

Passive consumption hurts me more

I have realised that social media platforms lead users towards passive consumption. They benefit from their ability to make meaningless interactions pleasing. Or at least engaging. All the concerns I have stem from this “user-engagement-at-all-cost” business practice. Irrespective of how pleasing this interaction feels in the moment, it leaves me furious for the time wasted.

Twitter timeline is prone to do that. YouTube homepage does that, and so does their recommendation engine. Instagram, Facebook feeds do that. For me, even the Reddit forums tend to do that. Debatable, but Podcasts do that too. And to top it all, my smartphone does this to the worst effect.

In short, meaningless interactions with any service or device is a problem. Passive consumption it leads to leaves me exhausted, feeling shit.

That is why a community like Micro.blog is not generally on such lists. The timeline component of Micro.blog, even though Manton has designed it to be different from Twitter and its ilk, is social media. But given the nature of the community, the interactions tend to inspire me to create, to act. Be opposite of passive. Even then, the timeline on my smartphone still causes me to waste time. It makes me pull down incessantly, subconsciously, and refresh. To check for more posts to interact with. The pull-down-to-refresh has to be the most unhealthy use of our thumbs.

I had this issue identified some time back. It quit the social media that was useless to me, Facebook. I put control on those I use, Micro.blog and Twitter. It is their hunger to make me mindlessly scroll that I had to stifle. Most often, they do that via their apps on my smartphones. So, they don’t get space on my phone anymore. I access all the timelines on my computer. I follow the RSS feeds for many blogs to avoid visiting the timelines frequently.

Not a problem for all

That said, I don’t judge others who continue to benefit from social media platforms. Get happiness out of using some or all of them. What’s hollow for me might be meaningful for them. This thought was one of the reasons I didn’t post when I quit social media for the first time. I wanted to avoid sounding preachy. Plus, the resolve to not use the platforms at all didn’t last for long anyway. I share the dilemma that Cheri puts down in her brilliant essay aptly named No Social Media Club.

My feelings are true to me, but I don’t want others to feel judged for what they choose to do. There was a time when our messier feelings were shared in certain contexts. At home. With family. With friends. With a therapist. Not online. Not like this. Not where someone who recently shared a donut photo might feel momentarily stung by my essay. You see my dilemma, no? What is currently truth for me might be a hurtful barb to someone else.

Absolutely. I am no one to judge other people’s choices. In response, they might judge me for such posts I write on my blog that I have no clue if anyone is reading at all. I have no likes or re-shares to show for them. I do this because I get clarity, happiness out of writing this, sharing this. As they say, you do you.

In short, in the strictest sense, I am not “quitting” social media. It’s not the platforms in themselves that I have a problem with. Any interaction that leads me to consume meaninglessly, passively or makes me feel shit is what I am quitting.

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