by Maisie Smith on April 2, 2018
It’s been two months since I ditched my social media accounts. Facebook. Instagram. Twitter. Bye, bye, bye. Social media became just another tambourine in the noisy parade of a crowded world, where everyone comes out in their top hats and sequined bras to be both clever and profound.
I was addicted to the pings, buzzes, and red dots that come from broadcasting an edited life–and brand–to others. Moments of genuine connection were non-existent and it felt like something huge was missing from my life.
I asked myself, “What would it feel like to not be in a state of chronic distraction all the time?” The answer was immediate:
And so I let go of social media, both personally and professionally, as an experiment in creating vs. consuming.
Here are a few insights from the past few months:
I have become profoundly aware of how much we rely on technology to connect with others. Email, texting, social media—it’s all at the push of a button or the scroll of a finger.
Without a phone constantly in my hand, I’m paying more attention to the world around me. Eyes up instead of down. Watching. Making mental notes. Trying not to judge.
What I’ve observed is this…
People don’t know how to be alone. People become easily bored. And people prefer their phones over human contact.
We turn to our phones–and to social media–to become less lonely, less bored. To be part of something. To matter.
And yet. And yet…
As the brilliant Sherry Turkle says, we are “growing alone together.” It’s interesting to take a step back and watch humanity from a distanced perspective. Try it. What you’ll often see are people with their heads down, frantically scrolling or typing, instead of engaging in face-to-face conversations with the friends and family sitting right next to them.
It’s strange to observe this dynamic when a phone is no longer your main tool for connection. “What the hell is going on here?” you wonder. “Did I just enter a parallel universe?” Nothing makes sense.
There have been many moments where I’ve sat in prolonged silence as my friends fiddle with their phones or check Instagram “real quick.” I sit patiently, a half-smile on my face, while they do their thing.
It makes me feel good–happy, even–knowing that I am present in the lives of people I care about. It wasn’t always this way, and I am grateful that my social media discontent led me towards a better understanding of humanity.
NO MORE “PERFECTION PORN”
How you feel about yourself as a human being improves when you stop worrying about your digital self. Without tons of filtered content to compare against, I’m just…me. I don’t worry about what other people are doing, where they are going, or what they are wearing/eating/drinking/. I’m not poring over their carefully curated lives and tricking myself into believing they have their shit together and I don’t.
This is incredibly freeing.
IT IS POSSIBLE TO BUILD A BUSINESS WITHOUT SOCIAL MEDIA
I’ll be the first to admit that many businesses need social media to spread their message, introduce their services, or talk about their products. Like I said in my previous post, I’m not here to convince you to go all Thelma & Louise and drive right off the social media cliff.
I am here to explore possibilities.
I’ve done more for my business over the past few months than I have over the past four years combined. I’m building my business my way. This means I send handwritten notes to people and brands I love. I attend networking events that make sense for my brand, where people aren’t flinging business cards at me like it’s 1999, but instead enjoy meaningful conversation. My conversation skills have improved because I put myself in situations where I have to talk to people face-to-face, not via an email that’s been rewritten a dozen times. Instead of awkwarding hard, I shut the fuck up so other people can have the spotlight. I’ve drunk an insane amount of coffee with prospects-turned-new-friends. I’m learning about SEO and how to make it work in a way that’s not skeevy or “stab my eyeball with a spork” complicated.
The result? My business (and my bottom line) is growing fast.
Being social media-free hasn’t been all unicorns sliding down a rainbow while licking beer-flavored lollipops. There have been plenty of frustrating moments over the past two months.
LET’S TALK ABOUT FOMO
I’ll be blunt. I have no idea what’s going on in my community. Facebook was my go-to resource for discovering interesting things to do. With over 2.13 billion monthly active users, it makes sense that Facebook is THE place for businesses to broadcast what’s going on in their world. Businesses create Facebook events and figure, “Whelp, that’s good enough.” They forget to update their websites or send an email to their subscribers. It’s an “if you’re not on Facebook, then you don’t exist” mentality.
Sometimes it feels like being back in high school, where the cool kids darted off to Taco Bell for lunch and I’m left in the library holding my bag of cucumber slices and a PB&J sandwich.
FOMO is the pasty white underbelly of social media. And it sucks.
NO ONE CARES
It only took two short months to realize that I don’t matter as much as I thought I did. Before you restring your tiny violin and play a stirring rendition of “Poor, Poor Maisie,” please know that I’m not being insensitive. I’m being honest.
Here’s the thing…
People will go on with their day/month/year/life regardless of your social media presence. Most of my friends haven’t noticed that I’m no longer on Facebook or Instagram. Everyone’s busy thinking about their own lives, not yours.
This insight stings. But it can also be a gift. When no one’s paying attention, you can take chances. Be bold. Make mistakes. Try again.
A month ago, I was standing in line at the grocery store. The checker was slow and the customers were especially chatty with her. I instinctively reached into my purse for my phone to fill the time. After pressing the “on” button, a moment of sheer panic hit fast and furious.
My email was at inbox zero. Not a red dot in sight.
There literally was NOTHING to read or thumb through. No emails. No texts. No social media.
Guess what I did?
I pretended to look at things. I pretended to swipe and scroll.
Because I was uncomfortable standing there by myself with nothing to do. I wanted people to think I was an important person doing important things on my phone (instead of studying the back of people’s heads like some weirdo). A phone always gives you a way to look busy. According to Sherry Turkle, the average Amercian adult checks his or her phone every 6.5 minutes.
I’m trying to change the habit of using my phone as a cognitive crutch. It’s been a long, sweaty, uphill journey.
WHAT ABOUT THE DEEP WORK?
I wrote about Deep Work in my last post. It’s a term coined by one of my heroes, Cal Newport, and refers to the uninterrupted, deliberate moments of answering your soul’s calling and creating the best stuff possible.
When I ditched social media, I had grand plans to slow my roll and protect my creativity. I wanted to dive deeper into words and stories. I wanted to forget about what everyone else was doing and focus on doing work that would outlast me.
Truth? It’s hard to build that kind of legacy in two short months.
Yes, I’m working harder. I’m out in the world, talking to strangers and stirring a few pots. My projects are bigger. They require more brain space. More pondering.
But it still doesn’t feel like “enough.”
It’s like playing tetherball with a professional. They huck the ball up and over your head. Faster and faster the cord winds around the pole as you duck down to avoid getting slammed in the face by a big yellow ball. You want to put your hands up to block the ball and reverse the motion, but it’s going so fast and you’re so small and the sun is in your eyes and why are you even playing tetherball in the first place?
Building a legacy is a lot like playing tetherball. Sometimes the cord wraps around the pole in the blink of an eye and off you go to the sidelines. Try again tomorrow, pal. Sometimes you block the distractions and minutiae of the day and throw the ball in the opposite direction.
It’s a back and forth. Some days I win. But most days I’m ducking.
• • •
I bet you were hoping for some bits of brilliance in this post that would make you eschew the pings, buzzes and red dots of social media forever.
But it’s not my job to convince you of anything.
My job is to encourage you to tell your stories. To help you punch above your weight. To inspire you to show the world your soul.
And share my experiences as I figure out how to navigate this crazy world while being a decent human being AND a gusty storyteller.
Henry David Thoreau, one of my favorite authors and thinkers, went to Walden to remove himself from living “too thickly.” This was a reference to the chatter of society that constantly surrounded him.
When we feed the system, we are shaped by it. And Thoreau understood the importance of sussing out what helps and what hinders living a meaningful life.
If the idea of ditching social media makes you happy, then please give it a try. Let go of it for a day, a week, a month.
Create instead of consume.
Stop scrolling, start talking.
You don’t owe the internet anything.