In February 2018, we deleted most of our social media accounts. Facebook was finished. Twitter was terminated. Instagram was insta-gone. Why the extreme measures? What prompted us to ditch so many channels that had the potential to spread word about our adventures and unconventional lifestyle?
Avid followers of our blog and website will know that Nate and I spend life in perpetual transit, living out of our bags and in other people's houses, pet-sitting while earning a living online. This lifestyle has us wired up to the internet in a way that’s perhaps more intense than most other work/life situations. While on the fringe of things, our laptops and smartphones help us stay in touch with friends and family, as well as provide a source of income. But the constant online connection has also left us feeling jaded and craving a permanent off-switch. Even regular breaks and “screenless Saturdays” couldn’t ease the anxiety induced by our dependence on tech. Something about our relationship with social media had to fundamentally change.
There was also the added concern of how enmeshed in some social media apps I had become, in my endeavours to promote our blog and website. At the time, I was bombarded by information about how our business would only improve if it was accessible everywhere, at all times, on all social media channels. Each day became a litany of posts, reposts, uploads and interactions. Nate observed with growing sadness as I became consumed by relentless posting, tagging, picture-sharing and commenting. And though I couldn’t admit it at the time, I was overwhelmed by the self-perpetuated pressures of managing my social media accounts. Many of my friends reading this sorry tale will no doubt remember when I would often be more engaged with whatever was on my phone screen than what was happening in the real world. I was a tragic screen addict.
It was only when I was able to admit there was a problem that I realised that I wasn’t wholly responsible for my addiction. These apps and platforms are designed to keep us hooked. From the colours of buttons and notifications to the lack of an end point when scrolling through feeds, we are encouraged to keep looking, keep Liking, keep clicking. But why?
What do social media giants gain from everyone constantly staring at their laptops and smartphones? Consider that these corporations make money from the ads we see on social media sites. The more time we engage with our screens, the more ads we’ll be exposed to. Then there’s the revenue earned from clicking on particular links. And don’t forget the hugely lucrative business of data collection. Your choices and voiced opinions are monitored, harvested, catalogued and sold to the highest bidders to help “tailor and improve” your browsing experience. Oh yes. Keeping you at your screen is a big deal where internet-based profit is concerned.
And if you like a pinch of paranoia with your violation of online privacy, you can factor in how convenient it must be for authorities to have a population of distracted, placated, absorbed citizens who are seemingly oblivious or apathetic to the dismantling of democracy and destruction of our ecosystems. Aside from feeling manipulated by social media corporations, Nate and I also felt that the hours we put into promoting our blog and website were unjustified by the returns we got. Hours of engaging on platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, attempting to “extend the reach” of our published content and images, seemed like a fruitless effort. And even when interaction occurred, it was invariably in the form of weird fake bots (computer algorithms designed to mimic human actions such as Likes or comments on posts), or responses from users who were only interested in promoting their own narcissistic online profiles.
We were shouting into an echo chamber of disingenuous, meaningless cacophony (with the emphasis on phony). Everything the Escape Artists stood for, of mindfulness, consciousness, soulful-storytelling and creativity, was contradicted by this vacuous arena.
And so we bit the bullet and deleted pretty much the lot. I removed the apps from my phone and deleted links on the website. I need to be frank here – it felt like social media suicide for our online presence. In some ways, it still is (we’re not saying that Instagram and Facebook can’t help your business; we’re saying that there’s a price to pay if you decide to connect with them). But I was done with it and was determined to kick my habit. I needed to breathe. The relinquishing of these attention-stealing technologies brought on relief akin to shedding an iron straitjacket. My ability to focus on things increased. I no longer felt anxious as unanswered notifications accumulated on my phone. I felt free. And as is usually the case with the end of one thing, so came the beginning of others. I found examples of online businesses who are flourishing without the need to be plugged into Instagram or Facebook. This stands to reason really. How else did businesses thrive before the advent of the internet? Although having an online presence can be crucial for a lot of industries, there are still telephones, billboards, business flyers and word-of-mouth.