Things I learned by leaving social media

On 8 November 2016, Americans elected their new president, whom I hope to never have to publicly acknowledge. That night, I came to a rather painful conclusion: I needed to abandon social media for a while.

In this particular election, the media had (unwittingly, foolishly, stupidly, or all of the above) enabled a level of insipid, unchecked banter that intelligence and logic were utterly cast aside in favour of whomever had the best catchphrase. Basically, a Hollywood political satire come to life. Very real, very painful life.

It hurt so bad that I had to turn it off.

So I left Twitter and Facebook behind. (I already mostly ignore LinkedIn, except for reference checks when hiring people. I don’t use any other tool for sheer sanity.) I even stopped listening to CBC Radio, for the same reasons. I just needed to ignore The Stupid for a while and worry about myself, and my family.

I returned on 1 January. I’d just had a wonderful vacation, I’d been away from the nonsense long enough, and to be honest … I was missing my friends. It seemed like a good time to go back online. (Whether that’s still the case remains to be seen…)

It’s at this point that we need to acknowledge some lessons learned. And no, this isn’t one of those articles that suggests everyone should abandon social media. For some, it makes total sense. For me, however, it’s just not an option.

More pressure, than less pressure

The biggest problem is expectation. It doesn’t matter that you leave a great big sign that says “Gone Fishin'”, people expect you to be there. And yes, I do mean people, as in actual humans.

Whether anyone readily acknowledges it or not, when you engage with someone on social media, it’s not just text — there’s a real human behind that text: a family member, a friend, or a colleague. Someone with real emotions who might start to wonder what’s up. And your “out of office” notice doesn’t say anything useful.

That started to weigh on me pretty hard. I am proud to say that I have a lot of friends. And in my daily life, I get to see about ten of them … because they work next to me. The other thousand or so? Some I get to see once in a while, after some careful planning, for a few short hours. Others live out of the city, and as much as technology enables real-time video conversations, the reality is that I see them almost never. One of my favourite recent pictures is when I saw a whole bunch of them all at once last summer.

Email? Honestly, how many people write personal emails these days? We cram so many things into our daily lives that we don’t have the time to write. Believe me, I know — I’ve used that excuse for close to four years as a reason for not blogging. Personal emails? “Close to never” is the best definition for me.

I use social media. Whether it’s a chance to vent for a moment, or get input, or share something I find really interesting, all of it matters. And not being able to do that really started to wear on me.

Wait, you did what?!

The other major problem with getting off social media is completely losing track of your friends. I thought I was doing myself a service. Since then, I’ve learned of deaths in families, a good friend is undergoing cancer treatment (again!), and another one is nearly in the midst of a career crisis.

My friends need friends, too, and I’d abandoned them in the process of trying to save myself. There’s a certain amount of “me” that I need to deal with, yes, but there’s no nobility in turning one’s back — unintentionally or not — against your friends.

My friends are important to me. Because I’ve learned what it’s like to not have them, and I can’t afford to lose the ones I have.

Oh that’d make a great tweet!

Two times a day, minimum, I thought of great tweets. (Well, “great” to me, anyway.) Several times I caught myself reaching for my phone, ready to blurt it out to the world.

I’m vocal. (Yeah, I know: duh.) Even if nearly no-one is listening, that’s okay. I still need to talk. And if I’m just talking to myself … well, I’ve been to those doctors. I’d rather just talk to my friends.

Filter or die

Here’s my lesson to you, dear reader. Out of all of this, the greatest lesson I’ve learned is the need to filter: follow only those you need to follow, ditch the ones who don’t help.

Yes, you can easily argue that you should engage people on social media, especially those who need a different point of view. I’ve tried. I’ve seen others try. The sad truth is, you can’t.

Social media doesn’t change minds, it just helps people find like minds to reinforce their beliefs.

I used to have a policy of following people even if I disagreed with them, because there was a learning opportunity. But all I learned was that people are easily angered, often seen as ignorant (regardless of factual basis), and arguments can go on for days without any resolution.

I’ve dropped those people. I’ve shrunk my circle to the ones who matter, the ones who can truly influence me, the ones who have thoughts that I feel matter. Those who want to promote different agendas aren’t of interest to me, nor do I have the patience to sit through rhetoric I don’t agree with.

I know many people who aren’t me, and are quite happy to do what I can’t. (I know a few who likely crack a bottle of wine, sit down at their keyboards, and see how many people they can rile in an evening.) Me? I want to know how you’re doing, what new things are going on, hopefully help out in some way. And I hope that maybe you’d return the favour down the road to me.

Staying … for now

I’m back to my old ways, and hopefully even the oldest one, blogging. Whether I stay here remains to be seen. The year(s) to come will be hard. The right wing of the world is flapping hard, stirring up fear and hatred in an effort to seize control. There may yet come a point when I delete my accounts. (And possibly move to a remote island…)

For now, I’m happy to engage. Just so long as everyone else is happy, too.

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