Prefer to listen?
My jar ain’t big enough.
There’s a classic story told by Stephen Covey in his book First Things First entitled “The Big Rocks of Life.” In this story, a person speaking to a class of business students uses a gallon-sized jar to symbolize their schedule. He also uses various items to represent time on their calendar.
- He first placed several fist-sized rocks in the jar till they reached the lip. He asked the class if the jar was full, to which they said yes.
- He then dumped in as much gravel as he could into the jar, shaking the jar, causing the gravel to fill the space between the rocks. He asked them again if it was full, to which they replied yes.
- He then poured in as much sand as he could into the jar — again, shaking it until it settled around the rocks. He asked the class if it was full. They said yes.
- He then poured as much water as he could into the jar. He didn’t even have to shake the jar to get it to settle. This time he agreed that it was, in fact, full.
He asked if anyone understood the point of this illustration.
“…no matter how full your schedule is,” one student shouted from the back, “if you try really hard, you can always fit some more things into it!”
“‘No,’ the speaker replied, ‘that’s not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.”’
As a husband, family man, employee, and just a human being in need of routine maintenance, I’ve come to realize that my jar is only so big. The more I’ve tried to cram into it, the more my big rocks have remained teetering above the lip—if not rolling out and landing on my foot with a thud.
It’s for this reason that I was forced to take careful note of how I spent my time and compare that to how I wanted to spend it — as well as optimizing my own mental and emotional bandwidth.
Upon analyzing how I not only spent my time but also my mental energy, the total impact of social media seemed to clog up inordinate amounts of my attention and energy. Discovering this was akin to finding a minimized web browser loaded to the hilt with active tabs.
So, what did I do? Over the past 2 years, I closed those mental tabs. I started by shutting down my personal Facebook account, then Instagram, and just a few weeks back — Twitter.
The following are a number of reasons why I quit using 98% of the social media platforms I had previously utilized, how I feel now, and four items to consider for those contemplating making the leap from the social media train.
Reason #1. I’m no match for the machine.
“Why do you make such a big deal out of social media? Why can’t you just treat it like a nice little escape and stash it the rest of the time?”
Man, I wish I were one of those social media users who could just take a peek every Sunday afternoon for 10 minutes and then stow it away — not just physically but also mentally. But I’m not.
I’m not sure why but whenever I use social media, my mind gives it permission to run in the background like a memory-hungry computer application. I find myself thinking about it and checking it as though I’d invested my life savings on a single tumultuous stock.
“I wonder if anyone has interacted with my post.”
“I wonder what so-and-so said about xyz.”
“I’m bored but I know where to get a dopamine bump…”
“Why did I automatically type in ‘twitter.com’ once I opened that web browser?”
And was I ever fulfilled in my checking? Hmm…not really.
Anytime I took the plunge down any feed, it felt like opening my own refrigerator in hopes that someone else had stocked it with ice-cold Hefeweizen and disembodied thumbs up. Ok, that last part sounded a little weird.
I’m a simple dude. I’m no match for Silicon Valley’s algorithm-driven “advertainment” spoon perched atop the cigarette lighter of my own insecurities. As long as I’m logged on, they got me.
Reason #2. Acquaintances don’t matter. Like, at all.
Some relationships are worthy of your attention and they should be preserved at all cost. Others should be allowed to wither, die, and decompose in order to nurture new and existing relationships.
If you asked me 15 years ago to describe my present self, such a reckless shot in the dark would have been investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms. While many aspects of my personality and interests have remained consistent over the years, much about me has also changed. And with these changes comes a shift in those who matter most to me.
While I have preserved many important relationships and even fostered new ones, I likely could not tell you which members of my graduating class from high school are still capable of fogging a mirror.
And if that sounds harsh, it’s really not. Why? Well, the reality is that those people don’t matter. To me — I mean. They don’t matter to me. My daily life. And they don’t have to. Why? Because I probably don’t matter to them. And that’s fine.
According to acclaimed anthropologist Robin Dunbar, the cognitive limit of the human brain to adequately maintain social relationships is about up to 150 people. Called “Dunbar’s Number,” 150 relationships is where we, as a species, max out — or as he put it, “the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar.”
I’m not precisely sure why, but learning about Dunbar’s Number brought me immense comfort — as though someone relieved a pressure valve so as to say, “no, you’re not crazy. You’re just not built for this.”
In addition to not being able to maintain healthy relationships with so many people, I always feel my own sense of self begin to erode when held up to the scrutiny of the masses rather than how I perceive myself. I found myself attempting to impress people far outside my 150 relationships. Even worse, I was failing to impress the only person worthy of impressing — me.
Over the years, I found that social media kept me beholden to a particular group of people — most of whom were acquaintances, lapsed friendships, or distant relatives. Though I initially tried to fashion the online version of myself to be consistent with reality, the continued preservation of that antiquated version of me started to hold me back from progressing into my perpetually changing, authentic self. Even worse, this avatar I constructed had deviated so much from whom I wanted to be now that I grew to question my own identity.
Does my Instagram or Twitter self symbolize who I am or vice versa? Do I even know who I am anymore?
The more I would strive to construct a social media manifestation of myself, the less I felt I knew about who I was. I feel that this was partially because I was aiming to impress or at least preserve a consistent image for those who matter very little to me now. Social media kept me believing that, like a company, I was a brand. But I am not a brand. I am a living organism — terms and conditions subject to change, some restrictions apply. See me for details.
Reason #3. Half-baked thoughts don’t need a venue.
When I left Twitter, I saved all of my tweets. Looking back at them is, well, embarrassing. While I stand by much of the things I said, there are several examples of instances where posting a half-baked thought was likely not warranted.
Why do we feel ok about saying things on our social media feeds that we would never utter in public? Social media accounts are virtual jumbotrons, yet little responsibility or consideration is made for quality assurance. We belch randomness into a box that then clogs the minds of anyone unfortunate to have it illuminate their face.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m going to continue belching my nonsense into blog articles, essays, and even books for the rest of my life — but I’ll at least give you, the audience, the decency of mulling the contents over before hitting the “publish” button.
Reason #4. Having my impulses continually prodded was exhausting.
Now that I’ve covered how the social media version of myself was likely a confused, exaggerated, and vain attempt at presenting an interesting fellow to the world, the following statement is likely not very controversial — most information acquired via social media is…well, off.
To keep people scrolling, the competition for eyeballs is fierce. The more outrageous the content, the more irresistible it is to consume. To maximize engagement, content creators frequently tap into our base impulses — fear, anxiety, outrage, sex, excitement, inclusion, insecurity — generally speaking, FOMO — the fear of missing out.
Reason #5. I discovered that I really don’t want to be famous.
I don’t know if I’m just getting older but the idea of becoming famous sounds 10,000% more terrible than it used to than when I was younger.
I used to imagine that being well known for something would make me feel more whole — that the idea of being recognized for a talent or accomplishment would be a delightful sensation. As a writer and a musician, attaining notoriety just seemed like something I should seek…right?
Then, something happened: I received acclaim from people I did not know…and I did not know how to handle it.
In that moment, I discovered that I’m really not good at receiving praise or compliments. When I receive a glowing review, I experience sensations of what some call “imposter syndrome” — doubting that I am deserving of whatever praise is being showered upon me. I clam up and feel like saying, “Listen, you’ve got the wrong guy.”
Imagine that you’ve been told you’ve definitely just won a Nobel Prize, but that your entire acceptance speech was just you murmuring, “I’m almost certain this is intended for someone with my same name. Have you confirmed our birth dates, social security numbers, fingerprints, and dental records?”
A big reason why I was so active on social media before was the vain pursuit of some form of notoriety for a creative thought or idea. The moment I received a bit of it, my pupils dilated like a fugitive caught in a searchlight, and I dove into the safe embrace of obscurity.
So, why do I still make art? Why do I write, record, or publish? Why do I make stuff? Well, mostly because I enjoy every step of the craft — of the process of sculpting an idea into a consumable piece for someone to enjoy. But when it comes to impressing anyone, the only person I work to impress these days is myself.
And though I still scurry from the limelight, I am still filled with immense warmth whenever I discover that anything I’ve done or created has genuinely helped another person. The difference between this sensation and fame-seeking is that the created thing did the heavy lifting, not so much me as a person. In fact, the piece of my writing of which I am proudest — one that was published in a highly syndicated publication and that I’ve heard has touched many people deeply — was published anonymously. And I love that — it’s my little secret with anyone who has ever read it. And you’re just going to have to hope you come across it one day.
A Few Things to Consider Upon Leaving Social Media
If you, like I was, are feeling overwhelmed by the size, speed, and recklessness of social media and feel like leaping off of this runaway train, there are a few new concepts to consider.
A. You need to have replacement activity ready to go.
For most social media users, scrolling timelines and newsfeeds is not something one blocks off an afternoon to accomplish. This activity is typically the sand and water in your metaphorical jar of time — slipping between the spaces in other activities.
Because of this, if you disconnect yourself from social media access, you may feel a twitch — sometimes an actual physical sensation — to reach for your phone’s social media applications or to navigate to a particular website to bridge activities. Standing in line at the store, sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room, or waiting for leftovers to heat up — these are all twitch-inducers. For this reason, it’s important to look at how you will replace social media even before you ever do.
My favorite social media replacements include:
- Reading books — digital or physical. My favorite device these days is my Kindle Paperwhite. It is a blissful escape from my phone or computer. It’s waterproof, contains my entire digital library, can receive articles I’ve previously sent to it, and has a battery that lasts for weeks on end. When I’m out and about, I can pick up reading a book or article right where I left off with the Kindle app. Also, did you know you can connect your Kindle account to your public library account and check out books digitally? And of course, there are always, you know, physical books as well.
- Journaling. Think of journaling like updating your social media feeds without ever hitting the “publish” button. It’s actually even better because you can also say everything you’d never say to your “friends” and followers. And with a digital journal, this feels damn-near like social media. Personally, I prefer an app-based service called Daybook that I can write to from my phone or computer, but any password-protected note-taking app will more than suffice.
- Educational apps. Right now, I’m trying to learning Spanish with Duolingo so I can better communicate with my Hispanic neighbors. Mi objetivo es cambiar cervezas por lecciones de español … y amistad.
- Arranging physical hangouts with friends. Increased vaccinations mean we no longer have any excuse not to hang out. If you have time to scroll a timeline or update a profile, you have time to arrange an in-person hangout — no phones allowed…unless you’re showing each other pictures of babies, dogs, or cats.
- My favorite — consciously doing nothing. When was the last time you had a few minutes to kill and you didn’t fill them with anything? The next time you feel the twitch of boredom approaching, just place your hands in your lap and do nothing. Maybe close your eyes and feel your breath enter and exit your nostrils. Think about the wonderful people in your life. Daydream about an upcoming event you’re looking forward to. Listen to the birds or watch the way sunlight reflects off leaves. Simply observe the present moment. It’s just about the most underrated activity.
B. You’re going to be seen as a weirdo.
Are you going to miss out on some stuff by leaving social media? Eh, that depends. While you may miss out on a joke here and there or some breaking news as it unfolds, if there’s something you were meant to see or know, you will eventually. I personally found, though I did miss out on all kinds of information about aquaintances, news that mattered about people that matter to me eventually trickled into my orbit. I’ve yet to miss a substantial event or bit of news due to my absence from social media platforms.
“Oh, I forgot — you’re not on social media” is something I hear on a regular basis whenever news of friends is discussed, but guess what? It’s discussed in person eventually — only I get to hear it in person for the first time rather than chew on a regurgitated version of it like everyone else who is living through the reruns. This leads to the next item…
C. You’ll find that in-person conversation is night-and-day better.
One of the areas of my life that has improved immensely since leaving social media is one you wouldn’t imagine — socializing. Why? Because as briefly mentioned before — regurgitating timelines in person is about as agonizing as discussing the weather.
“Hey, I saw that picture of your kid that you posted. He’s getting big.”
“He sure is. Hey, I’m glad to see that your mom is doing better.”
“Thanks, she’s just had — ”
“ — hip surgery. Yeah, I saw that. You know, I’m going in for —”
“ — knee surgery, yeah, I saw that you posted about that. Let me know if you’ll be well enough to go to that —”
“—weekend street fair? Yeah, I saw that you discussed wanting to get a group of friends together to go to that. I know that Rick can’t go because he’s —”
“—moving to Canada. You saw that post, too? Sheesh, I mean, it’s cool that he scored that new—”
“—job with the solar panel technology firm. You saw post that, too?”
If you’ve had a conversation with a friend who is also in your social media sphere, you know that this conversation isn’t that exaggerated, but is as equally soul-crushing.
D. You’re going to feel great no longer being a product.
Social media would have us all believe that we’re their target demographic. We’re not — or else they’d call us “members.” What do they call us? Users. Social media is not designed to connect long-lost friends, help maintain relationships or people explore new interests. It is a funnel used by advertisers to bypass our gag reflex. It uses psychological manipulation at every turn to get you to scroll, to react, to doubt yourself, and to believe that you need to buy more stuff. It’s not an accident that your timeline is referred to as your “feed.”
Believe it or not, there are ways to be just as informed and connected as those on social media — become a member instead of a user. Seek out products and services not funded by advertisers. While this means that you may have to start paying for certain things, you’ll find that paid memberships lack much of the addictiveness and psychological manipulation of ad-driven content. Because of this, you’ll also find that once you become a member and begin paying for services you once received for free, you’ll likely spend less because your experiences are much less controlled by advertisers.
My challenge to you is not to terminate all of your social media accounts, but simply to gauge your dependence on them and how they actually make you feel. Maybe it’s time for a break…before you break.