Ever since I was very young I have dealt with a level of social anxiety. It has never been easy for me to engage freely in casual social situations like birthday parties, school dances, backyard barbeques, and the like. Even today I have to take a moment to calm the panic I feel in my heart before heading into events where there will be lots of people, especially if it will include a lot of people that I don’t know. I have no rational explanation for this. It’s not like I expect anything dangerous or terrifying to happen at my neighbor’s Christmas party. It’s not like I am expecting someone to suddenly ask me a question or make a comment that would completely upend my worldview or anything. Then again, there is a real possibility that people may try to engage in small talk. What if someone mentions all the rain we’ve had lately? What if someone wants to talk about how poorly the Tigers did this season? How will I respond to such things? If I am at such an event and I have something specific that I’m doing there (checking coats, singing, washing dishes, anything that allows me to not engage in small talk), then I’m OK. I’m also OK if I can find my way into a conversation that goes deeper than talking about how good the cabbage rolls are.
“What’s your take on the lapsarian issue?” while a somewhat useless topic, is at least something that has the potential to lead to good theological conversation.
“Did you hear that the Denny’s on Novi Rd. is closing?” leaves me wanting to run screaming for the bathroom.
“I think Christians sometimes use too much Christianese when talking to unbelievers. What do you think?” is the opening to a conversation I would joyfully spend the rest of the party engaged in!
Parties have never been my thing. I appreciate being invited to them, and I do usually want to support a friend or a cause by going, but I’ve learned that it takes a certain amount of mental preparation for me and I will usually see about leaving at the earliest polite moment.
So, when social media really started to make it big, I was emotionally all for it. It meant that I could engage in social situations without having to actually be face to face with people. It was an introvert’s dream! I could get into conversations that had substance and ignore the others without appearing rude. I could take the necessary time to think through my answers, researching if necessary, before replying in a comment or a post. I could post about things that I felt were really important and, hopefully, find others with the same passions without having to have meaningless exchanges with countless people to get there.
So, why now have I made the decision to leave social media behind? Well, allow me to say first that this is not a decision I made at the spur of the moment without thought. I have been thinking about my use of social media and about social media overall and I slowly came to several conclusions. I am not asking—or even expecting—you to agree with these reasons, but I would ask that you take the time to consider them before dismissing them.
(By the way… when I’m talking about social media, I am mostly talking about Facebook and Twitter because those are the only major social media sites I really used. I realize that there are a ton of other social media sites and I believe that most of them could also fit into this blog post. And while YouTube can be considered a social media site, I don’t participate in the social aspects of it [I am not even sure how to]; it’s simply a source of information for me.)
So, there are some personal reasons and some societal reasons for my decision to leave social media.
When I examined why I used social media, I discovered that it was mostly used as an escape. There were other times and other reasons I’d use it (promoting truth, posting ministry updates, etc.), but ranking those uses in terms of time spent and how often I’d turn to it, escapism was at the top of the list.
Also, social media is set up to ensure the most pleasant experience possible for each user. This means that social media wants to show you the things that you want to see and it groups people together based on common likes. If I share some biblical truth on there, mostly the only people who will see it are those who already agree with it. So, that reason becomes almost moot.
Today, social media is so crowded that posting something there is like shouting a message at a football game right after the home team scores big to take the lead. Almost no one can hear it because everyone is shouting something and they are usually thinking that their own message is the one being heard more than the others. And since everyone is shouting messages, no one is listening to anything others may have to say. This is greatly generalized, of course, but I have come to believe that it is not so far off the mark.
By not using social media anymore, I hope to refocus my time on things that are truly valuable for the Kingdom and for my own growth. My hope is that productivity will increase as I spend less time escaping and more time at the grindstone when it comes to unpleasant tasks at work and at home.
Finally, as someone who struggles with social anxiety, I think removing myself from social media will force me to engage more with people on an individual level rather than shouting into a crowd.
I have come to believe that social media sites are truly problematic to society overall as well as to the individuals who use them habitually. I believe there are real physical, mental, and social dangers with social media.
Due to the anonymity granted by the computer screen, when real conversations do occur on social media sites (a rare event, to be sure), people tend to be much less cordial than they would be face to face. Kids who grow up on social media easily learn this pattern of communication and internalize it as the norm. This has serious consequences in terms of their development in real society.
There are physical problems as well. Social media is designed to give the user small bits of reward by way of dopamine hits. Dopamine is the chemical in your brain that makes you feel good after some discovery or event. God’s design for it is to enable you to reenact a pattern of behavior that is beneficial. With social media, “likes,” “comments,” “shares,” etc., cause little dopamine hits that promise more the more you scroll. Social media causes these little dopamine spikes with every “like” you get from one of your posts. Worse than that, the dopamine goes up with just the anticipation of something good on social media, forcing more scrolling and more frequent checking of your social media feed just in case you have new “likes,” “comments,” “shares,” etc. All of this causes dopamine receptors in the brain to expect that constant feel-good experience. That is the basis of physical addiction. As the dopamine receptors in your brain get used to the constant dopamine hits, the baseline gets raised and then what’s normal gets skewed. It’s the reason addicts cannot feel normal when they are not using their drug of choice.
I feel that by continuing on social media, even with these things in check for myself, I’m perpetuating the problem for others by providing one more thing for them to scroll to. And, oddly enough, posting things that are really good makes this problem worse because it encourages people to keep scrolling to find the next really good thing. There is no end to that pattern for the addict.
Here are a couple of videos that further explain what I mean. Though the first one uses the more general term “Internet,” the most extreme forms of what the author is talking about are social media sites. I hope you’ll take a bit of time to watch these.
(Just so you know, there is an 11-second clip in the first video that I would rate at PG-13. It starts at the 7:02 mark.)
EDIT (05Nov18): The lax security of Facebook may be another reason you’d want to delete your Facebook account.
New leakage of Facebook user data, including private messages
EDIT (21May19): Though I haven’t (and won’t) posted about every Facebook breach, much less the breaches of other social media sites, here’s a good summary of the top ten Facebook cybersecurity fails.