In what will probably come as a shock to very few people, the end of 2022 brought clarity to a decision I’ve wavered over the last few years: to leave social media.
This may feel like a bit of a, “Well, obviously,” considering it’s been over a year since I posted anything on Instagram, and it’s been 3+ years since I’ve posted basically anything on Twitter and Facebook that wasn’t pushed from Instagram or Goodreads.
This announcement and explanation is shared for a few reasons:
To make this decision official on my part and for the benefit of others’ knowledge, thus alleviating any expectation that I will be reachable via these forms of communication
To share the thought process and reasoning, for those curious
To provide some food for thought and potential clarity, for those considering such a change themselves
This announcement and explanation is not shared to:
Guilt anyone into feeling like they must also quit social media
Elevate myself above anyone who desires to continue using any or all social media platforms in their own personal or professional life
With those intentions and exclusions out of the way… let’s get to the heart of the thing.
📖 A Little Backstory
Back in 2020, in the midst of a life suddenly upended by the pandemic, where we were relying on technology more than ever to connect us, I read Cal Newport’s book Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World.
In it, Newport argues for a new outlook on technology, one he calls digital minimalism. He defines it as follows:
A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.
Upon reading the book, my husband and I decided to do as Newport suggests and take part in a “digital declutter,” spending 30 days away from any optional technologies in our lives. We set limits around our consumption of social media, email, movies, podcasts, audiobooks, news, and more.
I learned a lot about myself and my habits during those 30 days, and at the end of it, I started to ask myself a lot more questions about the technology I allowed into my life, the benefits it brought, and if the pros outweighed the cons.
Around the same time, Netflix released the documentary The Social Dilemma, and I watched it alongside many others. Though I already knew much of what the documentary shared—through Digital Minimalism and other reading I’d done—it was still uncomfortable and a bit disturbing.
Fast forward to the following year, and my anxiety was through the roof. Over a year into the pandemic, it felt like social media had turned into little more than a place for people to sling angry words back and forth at each other about, well, just about everything, and I was not handling it well.
I took a month and a half off Instagram, ultimately returning with what ended up being a lackluster attempt at bookstagram, before taking an official break starting at the beginning of 2022 and still continuing today.
I’d already abandoned Twitter in mid-2020, because every time I signed in, I barely lasted a minute before my stress levels increased and I was running for the hills. Similarly, I’d already largely stepped away from Facebook, except for groups, for the better part of a few years before I took a prolonged break from Instagram.
That leads us to late last year, when I finally made the decision to say farewell to something that has been part of my life for over 15 years.
🧐 Making the Decision
Sometime last fall, after many blissful months away from social media as a whole, I tentatively dipped my toe back in. I signed back into my accounts, but lurked for a while. It was fun seeing updates from people I don’t interact with outside of social media, and even catching up on things from my real life friends that I’d missed, but I was still wary.
After a few weeks, I redownloaded the Instagram app onto my phone, just to see how it would go. It only took about a week for me to delete it again.
When that happened, I began to finally entertain the idea of actually leaving social media for good, with no intention of coming back.
Back in 2020, when I read Digital Minimalism and we did our digital declutter, I did a lot of thinking about my use of technology—social media in particular. Of all my technological habits, this was the one I felt was often unhealthiest, and the one that had the greatest negative affect on my mood, focus, anxiety, and overall mental wellbeing.
As part of the digital minimalist philosophy, Newport encourages you to look at all the optional technologies in your life and consider two things:
What do you use the technology for?
Is that particular technology the most optimal way to accomplish your desired goal?
For example, a lot of people, myself previously included, use social media to keep up with family and friends. That is one of the more common reasons for staying on social media, and was a big factor in my decision making as well.
But Newport’s philosophy asks you to look at that reason for using social media and ask yourself, “Is this really the most optimal way to accomplish my goal?”
For Twitter, I had no reason to use it anymore, optimal or not. Case closed.
For Facebook, my reasons (and about the only ways I’ve been using it for the last 3+ years) to continue using it were:
To have access to Facebook Marketplace and my local Buy Nothing Group
To engage with specific communities I’m part of that are only in Facebook Groups
My brief foray into bookstagram was based on my answer to the optimization question for Instagram at the time. When I considered what I used Instagram for, I came up with the following reasons:
Keeping up with family and friends, in particular those that don’t live locally
Keeping up with the work and lives of other creatives
Sharing my reading with others
Sharing and promoting my writing and other creative work
When I put each of those reasons through the lens of Newport’s optimization question, the reasons for Facebook made sense, but the only reasons I could think of to stay on Instagram were to keep up with the lives of other creatives and to share my reading with others.
So I unfollowed basically everyone except those individuals, made my grand announcement about transitioning content to a bookish focus, shared a whopping six additional posts over the next month… and that was it.
I went radio silent for nearly 2 1/2 months, announced my extended break on January 1, 2022, and I haven’t posted a single thing since.
A few months back, Tsh Oxenreider shared her reasons for leaving Instagram (you may notice some similarities between hers and mine, as well as the decision making process), and one thing she wrote provided a lot of clarity for me:
My next question was the important one. “Are these reasons worth it?"
After all, I’ve just named my only reasons for staying on. If this answer is ‘yes,’ then I’m saying ALL my reasons for not being on IG aren’t as heavily weighted as these two reasons for being there.
As I contemplated coming back to social media after my extended break, this was the question that weighed most heavily on my mind, in particular the implication that, if I stayed, I would functionally be saying the small number of reasons to stay outweighed all the other reasons I was considering leaving.
And that is what finally made the decision for me.
🤨 The Why
So why am I leaving social media?
Put simply, for me, the cons far outweigh the pros, and my life is better when I don’t use it.
I only had two “optimized” reasons for staying on Instagram, but my reasons for leaving were much longer. Here’s a few of them:
It makes me a more anxious, stressed out person. Maybe it’s just the events of the last few years and what people have been talking about as a result, but there is a noticeable difference in my level of calm when I step away from social media and am able to be more intentional about the content I consume.
The more reading I do about it, the more I believe social media (at least as it exists right now) does more bad than good for our culture at large. It negatively impacts attention spans, discourse, self-esteem, and mental health. That isn’t a system I want to contribute to.
As my husband and I discuss the kind of life we want to live and the family culture we want to create, social media (and honestly, a lot of other technology use) doesn’t align with those values.
Related, it takes a lot of effort to use it well. Even when I limited the people I followed, I was still bombarded by ads and suggested posts, reels, accounts, and more. At this point, it’s near impossible to only see the content you truly want to see. (And don’t even get me started on the algorithm.)
Further related, it also takes a lot of effort to put up the appropriate guardrails to limit the time you spend on there. It’s no secret at this point that the goal is to get you to spend as much time on it as possible. Intentionally choosing to limit my time on there often feels like swimming upstream.
While it may look different and be slower, it’s not necessary to share my writing or grow my audience. It’s difficult for me to not view social media as a promotion tool or marketing avenue because that’s what it is for so many other creatives (and what it's been for me for many years). Many other creators I admire as artists and respect as individuals are similarly stepping away from social media in favor of creating good, deep work that social media doesn’t allow space for, and I want to do the same.
Those aren’t all of them, but they are some of the biggest reasons for my decision, especially for Instagram.
There are many people who are able to use social media without it impacting their mental health, work, and other aspects of their life, and that is a wonderful thing for them. I am not one of those people, and I’ve learned to be okay with that.
⏩ Moving Forward
After a lot of back and forth on how to proceed, I’ve decided to leave my accounts up, along with all their archives for the time being.
This is for a few reasons:
While I won’t be using social media anymore, people may still search for me there; this allows them to find me and then immediately see (via bio) where they can read my current work and actually connect with me
If others want to use social media to share my work and tag me, no reason to stop them
Maybe ridiculous and an unnecessary concern… but I don’t want anyone taking my handles 😂
I am also continuing to use Facebook for the express purpose of having access to the Marketplace, my local Buy Nothing group, our condo association group, and the Exhale community. I’ve bookmarked each of these pages, so I can click into them specifically when I want to engage with what’s there or use the service. But if/when there are other avenues for these resources, I will be fully leaving Facebook as well.
All of this could change at any point. I may later decide to stop using Facebook even for these limited purposes and actually delete my accounts. I don’t know. Right now, this decision feels right.
Moving forward, this is the best place to connect with me creatively. This is where I’ll be sharing all of my writing (including links when I write for other publications), and I would be tickled pink if the comments section here on Substack became even more active than comments ever were on social media posts.
Sarah Anne Writes is a reader-supported publication. Subscribe to receive new posts and support my work.
📚 Additional Resources
If you’re interested in doing some additional reading or research, here are a few things that I’ve read, listened to, or watched over the last few years that have impacted this decision in some way, or simply given more food for thought:
Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport
Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier
The Social Dilemma (documentary)
Why I’m Leaving Instagram by Tsh Oxenreider
The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place by Andy Crouch
Thank you, friend, for reading this far. I truly hope you can see that my desire was to share my experience, but never to shame someone into making the same decision. My hope is that it’s been helpful for you in any decision you may be wrestling with regarding this topic, and provided you the same kind of clarity that Tsh’s post provided for me.
I’m so grateful for your readership and support, and look forward to sharing more in this new season of life.
Absolutely amazing! And you’re certainly not alone. The timing of seeing your post come through is ironic for me because I was just listening to a podcast interview with Cal Newport this morning, and I’m definitely wanting to read Digital Minimalism now. I think your post was just the extra nudge I needed!
Great article! I appreciate how thoughtful and detailed you present your reasoning. I have followed a similar vein, although I was never on facebook and do not own a cell phone. But even so, I set myself a 'tech fast' during lent from any social media sites, news, etc. While many books offer great advice and reasons for tech decluttering, I felt that it was being a role model for my children that gave me the needed conviction to actually make the move. See my post 'Reclaiming your stolen focus - A Lenten fast with a tech twist' https://schooloftheunconformed.substack.com/p/reclaiming-your-stolen-focus