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How to quit social media for good in 2019

Is your New Year’s resolution to join to growing number of people going offline? Get advice from three people who have left the timeline behind

Was it your new year’s resolution to quit social media? You’re probably not alone. With research predicting the abandonment of the ‘institution' of the internet by Generation Y, and increasing numbers of Generation Z also logging off social media for good, 2019 feels like it could be the year of the social media backlash.

And yet, despite widespread interest in freeing ourselves from concerns about how much time we spend staring at screens and comparing ourselves to others, so many of us still find ourselves addicted to multiple sites, and worry that quitting might mean missing out on events or damaging relationships. With all of that to compete with, how do we cut the cord for good?

SAY GOODBYE WITH A FINAL POST

29 year old artist and performance maker Chloë from Northumberland took the plunge around a year ago, after a decade on social media sites from early iterations Bebo and MySpace through to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. “I'd been thinking about either reducing my social media use or stopping completely for several months” she tells me. “I wrote a post on Facebook telling people I was about to disappear from social media, left it up for a few days, then deleted all my social media accounts.”

START EMBRACING THE PRESENT MOMENT

For Chloë, the decision was mostly about reducing excessive screen time, comparison, and the fear of missing out (FOMO) that come as part and parcel of an online life. “I wanted to spend less time looking at my phone and more time in the present” she explains. “Now, when I bump into people, we get to catch up on our news rather than telling each other what we've seen of their lives online. There’s no thought at the back of my head wondering if someone has commented or liked one of my posts. I no longer compare myself to an endless stream of people who appear more beautiful, more successful or funnier than me.”

Screen time, comparison culture and FOMO are all factors often cited by social media critics, but so is a more general concern about ‘living in the moment’ and being present in real life. This was the driving force behind 28 year old ecologist Will’s decision to delete his Facebook account on a whim during a camping trip four years ago. “I became aware that every time I did anything noteworthy or saw something beautiful, instead of thinking ‘this is great’ or ‘wow, look at that’, I found myself thinking, ‘I wonder if I should put this on Facebook’,” he recalls. “I didn't like that it was so automatic. I didn't like the falseness or how contradictory it is: if you’re showing that you’re doing so well, having a great time and are so content, why are you looking for constant reinforcement?”.

26 year old Gordon agrees: “Psychologically, you know when you’re out doing something and you’re like ‘this picture is going to look really good’? Well now I’m doing things for the sake of enjoying them rather than having to prove anything to anyone else”.

“It felt like a big moment when I pressed delete, but half an hour later my life was still exactly the same” – Gordon

PREPARE YOURSELF FOR WITHDRAWAL SYMPTOMS

Despite their compelling reasons for going cold turkey on social media, both Will and Gordon accept that it’s not necessarily an easy process to do so. Will describes how social media sites purposely make it difficult for users to deactivate completely, and describes the withdrawal process as “a bit like exorcising a demon. It doesn't want to leave, and takes a lot of willpower.” For Gordon, it’s more akin to giving up smoking: “You’re worried about how you’ll cope, but it ultimately doesn’t change you as a person. It felt like a big moment when I pressed delete, but half an hour later my life was still exactly the same.”

Chloë agrees that there are drawbacks, but is firm in her belief that the benefits are worth the costs. “I knew before quitting that I would miss out on events, but decided it was worth it,” she tells me. “I remember two or three weeks after quitting Instagram, I was beginning to question my decision, and I asked my sister to show me her Instagram when I saw several friends out having breakfast together. I'd been having a lovely morning but suddenly felt incredibly sad that I wasn't there. Then I realised, had I not looked, I wouldn't have known or felt like I was missing out, and that made me realise it was the right decision.”

REMEMBER THE HEALTH BENEFITS

For those considering following in his footsteps, Will advises motivating yourself by bearing in mind the psychological and health impacts of excessive social media usage: “People I've spoken to say they don't like it but do it anyway – (it’s an) an addiction like any other. It hacks the mind's reward circuitry, and feeds you dopamine. Boredom is supposedly very important for creativity and health, and it runs counter to those.”

SAVE THE IMPORTANT CONTACTS (AND MEMES)

On a practical level, Gordon recommends making sure to download things like photographs and contact information from social networks before deleting, and emphasises the importance of making IRL social plans and maintaining relationships. Both Will and Chloë say they sometimes rely on a good friend or partner to keep them up to date with events and, occasionally, memes: “my friends update me on funny things I’ve missed out on, like Theresa May dancing,” says Chloë.

The creeping of social networks into other realms is also something to watch out for, explains Will, as Facebook in particular branches out into news publishing and online commerce: “I do occasionally use my girlfriend’s account to look for things on Facebook marketplace as it seems to be far more popular than sites like Gumtree, which seem to have very little on them these days”.

REWARD YOURSELF FOR QUITTING

Ultimately, says Chloë, as long as the important people have your phone number and are still inviting you to the events you should be at, the time and energy otherwise hoovered up by social media is ripe for reclaiming. “My tip is that you should give yourself some sort of treat for quitting. Mine was to by myself a subscription to the New York Times.”

“And,” she adds, “just look up more, and realise that there’s more to life than a screen”.