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.
Once we decided to be mindful about our screen-time, we were able to use methods of online promotion in a more focused way, such as email shout-outs and blog posts to reach our audience. We even kept the option to share our stuff on much-maligned platforms like Facebook and Instagram. No point cutting off our nose to spite our face.
Has there been any discernible difference to the quality of our lives?
If anything, the level of meaningful engagement with our audience has increased. Comments are more considered, rather than simply being a near-automatic Like or cursory reply (which was typically in the form of a smiling emoji).
And with less time spent online, our productivity has increased too. We find ourselves writing, drawing and making more. We take long walks outdoors, away from our devices. Trips out to cafes don’t involve photographing our latte-art, then unconsciously scrolling through other people’s IG feeds. We take a book. We have a face-to-face chat. We allow ourselves to get bored (instead of reaching for that screen to distract us from daydreaming… people are losing this vital part of their mind, of allowing it to wander into a dream).
To lead by example, our website has no direct links to social media and we the Escape Artists cannot be found on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest. We might reconsider one day, but for now we’re happier to avoid them and have our lives free from attention-stealing apps.
We’re not blind to the irony that our story and advice to reduce online-time come to you via a screen. But just as health authorities encourage people to “drink responsibly” by plastering the message on bottles of booze or on posters in bars, our wake-up call is placed where it’s likely to be seen the most.
We hope this article has piqued your interest into a life with less social media. We seek to remind others that unplugging from online apps is not going to turn them into social outcasts. Even those with online businesses won’t suddenly vanish into a black hole of obscurity. There is life outside these cunningly contrived networks. We want to encourage others to take back their attention and be in control of when to use media socially.
If you’d like to learn more, head to humanetech.com and explore the community there. A movement is growing, led by former employees of Facebook and Google, who are addressing the epidemic of screen zombies and unrestrained hijacking of our attention. We can’t escape the prevalence of screen-tech in our lives, but we can learn how to deal with it productively and positively.
And we can remind ourselves that there’s more to the internet than social media.
You are a free-thinking human being.
Social media is a tool.
Don’t let it be the other way around.
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