Last month, I decided to walk away from social media. I deleted all the apps I used daily: Instagram, Reddit, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Facebook. The decision came from a moment I had while reading Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art on a rainy evening. I had shut my phone off, and everything was quiet.
No distractions. No notifications. No interruptions. Pure silence. I hadn’t had this level of focus and peace in years.
I can’t say the idea was entirely mine. I’ve recently been enjoying the books and articles from Cal Newport, author of Deep Work and So Good They Can’t Ignore You. If you don’t know, Newport has never been on social media outside of YouTube. He did an interview on Valuetainment where he explained his reasons why.
After Newport graduated college in 2004, he went to MIT and worked in the computer science department. He states that the majority of his day was spent staring at whiteboards and trying to solve math proofs. In this environment, he noticed that a person’s ability to focus was highly prized; therefore, social media would be more of a hindrance than a help.
Listening to Newport’s rationale a few months ago planted a seed in my head. It wasn’t until exactly thirty-one days ago that it began to grow.
Initially, the exercise was easy. I started on a Friday, and since every weekend I usually have dinner plans or random things going on, enough was happening to capture my attention. However, I soon found myself reaching for my phone at any moment of downtime. Waiting for a waiter, standing in line, fidgeting between tasks—these were all moments that would have my thumb hunting for Instagram. Now, I had to be . . . present.
As the weeks progressed, the challenge got harder. You don’t realize how often you grab your phone and check something (whatever that something is). I’d pull out my phone and put it back in my pocket. There was nothing to check. With enough time, however, something surprising happened: it became easier to avoid reaching for my phone. I didn’t have a constant need to check on it like it was a newborn.
Today (September 6, 2021) marks thirty-one days that I’ve been offline. Before I return to using social media, I want to share some of the lessons I’ve learned this past month.
Being off social media has made me realize how low-effort the content is on some of these platforms. Despite having curated my feed (for the most part) to try to follow influencers who motivate or inspire me, a few minutes of mindlessly scrolling through Instagram is typically met with the same old posts. There really isn’t anything new.
For example, let’s take quotes, something that often ends up on my feed. I’ve never read a quote from Instagram or Facebook that has entertained, educated, or inspired me the same way that other mediums have when serving me this type of content. Sure, I may temporarily get something from it. But unless it is truly unique and original, a quote from these platforms usually doesn’t leave much of an impact.
If a quote won’t leave an impact on me, then I doubt a picture of a car, wardrobe, or luxurious lifestyle will do anything. Now let’s compare that to reading a newsletter such as Indie Hackers’. Here, I am digesting information that can spark new ideas and interests. The same thing happens whenever I go through James Clear’s 3-2-1 newsletter (and I like that his quotes are either his own or obscure ones that you normally wouldn’t find shared online).
This past month I replaced social media for newsletters, articles, and books which made me realize that I could be consuming something so much better—and more productive—than a social media feed. There are a few ideas from the newsletters and articles I’ve read over the past month that have been truly thought-provoking. There’s even one that reinforced an idea I’ll be mentioning to my team at work. Outside of YouTube due to the amount of educational content posted on it, I can’t say I’ve ever had this happen with any social media platform.
Many creators face creator’s block, a phenomenon similar to writer’s block where you find yourself unable to create despite having all the necessary tools around you. I believe this is due to a few factors such as not consuming enough creative content (e.g., good movies, books, articles) or not taking enough notes to refer back to when creating. However, I think the biggest factor is a fear of what other people may think.
Most of the time while we’re creating, we’re also thinking about our audience. This is something that’s recommended by experts before you even begin your creative process—think about your ideal consumer. Who are you writing for? Who are you filming for? Who are you painting for?
Although this is a good method for ensuring you have an audience, I often wonder if successful authors, filmmakers, and painters created with this thought in mind. Did Pablo Picasso think about who’d be viewing his art when he was painting The Old Guitarist? Did Hemingway think about who’d be reading his book when writing The Old Man and the Sea? Did Quentin Tarantino think about who’d be watching his film when filming Pulp Fiction?
I’m sure they thought about their audience from the perspective of creating something logical and coherent. Obviously, Picasso, Hemingway, and Tarantino didn’t completely disregard their viewer or they’d create a piece of art that was too creative to the point of being impossible (or at least very difficult) to understand. Still, I doubt they only thought about us as they were bringing their idea, their story to life. I think they were scratching a creative itch: I want to see this piece of art created; therefore, I will create this piece of art and ensure it is understood in the most logical manner possible by its viewer. They satisfied the itch first, and they thought about us second.
Being constantly connected robs us of the creativity needed to bring our unique ideas to life, the creativity Picasso, Hemingway, and Tarantino had while creating their works of art. We think so much about the audience we’re attached to that we don’t try something truly original.
If you think about it, we’re constantly linked to people to the point that they’re living in our pockets. We’re taking them with us everywhere we go. In our homes, on a trip, at dinner, in our office—our entire network is always with us. It’s no surprise that this pressure to please those we’re connected with seeps into our craft. Before we’ve picked up the brush, pen, or camera, we’re thinking about them. We fear creating something that will be judged as bad, so we don’t create, and if we do, it’s something unoriginal.
Being disconnected allows you to tap into your creativity. Once you pull the plug on your social media platforms, you’re allowed the freedom to investigate new things. You don’t have to please anyone but yourself because, in that quiet moment of creation, you’re by yourself.
Another big lesson I’ve learned from being offline for a month has been how present I am when I’m not constantly checking my phone. Throughout the past thirty-one days, I’ve found myself being more conscious of my daily actions, and this has led to me being more productive.
Instead of checking my phone first thing in the morning, I’m taking a few moments to wake up. I’m thinking about important things that may be happening in my day and things I’d like to accomplish. I’m using those extra minutes gained from not scrolling through Instagram to journal.
You’d be surprised how these productive, little moments add up. One productive action leads to another, and that productive action leads to another. Eventually, it snowballs into an overall great day. By using my time more wisely, I’ve become conscious about this compounding effect, so much so that it even seeps into me having better downtime.
For example, I started watching an excellent series on Netflix called Roman Empire after work. Normally I don’t watch documentaries, but I needed a break from reading and decided to try something new. In my opinion, watching this well-made series is more productive than spending an hour scrolling on Reddit, being subjected to watch whatever was posted that day. This is due to a conscious choice on my part on how I want to spend my downtime, and I gain more satisfaction from it because I’m watching a great documentary as opposed to seeing yet another quote or silly video.
In the thirty-one days that I’ve been away from social media, outside of my girlfriend wanting to send me a funny or shocking video, I haven’t had anyone comment on my absence. Although I’m not famous by any stretch of the imagination, I—dare I say—doubt this would be any different if I were.
This proves a sentiment that has been echoed by others much smarter than myself: everyone is worried about themselves. People are too preoccupied with their life, family, friends, drama, work, goals, failures, and trajectory to care that Diego M. De Los Reyes has taken a thirty-one-day social media sabbatical. And I guarantee that you’ll experience the same thing if you go offline for a month as well.
Understanding this has been a pretty freeing feeling. It’s been one of the final nails in the caring-about-what-other-people-think coffin. You can post something silly, say something stupid, or work on another new project—everyone is too worried about themselves to care about what you’re up to.
I now have to ask myself: will I be returning to social media tomorrow, and if so, which social media platforms will I use?
The simple answer is yes, but there are some caveats. Regarding social media, the only two platforms I see myself using are Instagram and YouTube. The former because I enjoy the things my girlfriend sends me and occasionally posting photos and videos, and the latter because I get a lot of enjoyment from the platform. I’ve been introduced to some amazing minds on YouTube such as Ali Abdaal, Matt D’Avella, and Captain Sinbad. To this day, I still use a lot of the principles and lessons they’ve taught me in their videos.
Surprisingly, while having to Google work-related things this past month, I’ve found Reddit to be particularly helpful since it brings together niche communities that have great insights. Though I can’t see myself downloading the app again because, for the most part, it’s a waste of time, I definitely will be using it when I need to research tools and topics.
So out of all the apps I deleted from my phone last month, I’ll be downloading Instagram and YouTube tomorrow for the reasons mentioned above. Everything else is better left for specific scenarios using my desktop.
Overall, this past month has been very productive. I’ve spent more time reading, writing, trying out new ideas, having conversations, being present, completing projects at work, and enjoying life.
If you’re wanting to try something different that will help you be more productive this month, I challenge you to try a 31-day social media detox. And when you’re done, feel free to reach out on Instagram and tell me your experience. Oh, the irony!
This Japanese philosophy can improve your life.
My thoughts on Stoicism.