I Quit Social Media For Six Years: How a Story From the 1920s Brought Me Back (Part 1 )

Six years ago, I quit social media for one reason.  I quit because I was bad at it.  Like most people, I don’t enjoy participating in activities I’m bad at.  And when I say I was bad at it, I WAS REALLY BAD AT IT.

Just like doing a cost breakdown, breaking down why you are not good at something takes looking at it from multiple angles.  Sometimes you uncover several unenjoyable details.

Some details are in your control.  Some are not. In this series of posts, I’ll take you through my complicated relationship with social media as an artist and expose you to an underrated person in history that inadvertently helped me.

Let’s Go Back in Time...

...to the social media experience of my early 20s:

I was a musician prompted to build an online presence in order to promote my music (this made perfect sense).  I joined Facebook and even started a newfangled Twitter account. (The Twitter account basically lay dormant and only recycled what was posted on the FB page).   

When I moved away from the Midwest to Austin, TX, I accepted all friend requests on FB (from my great aunt to my grade school friend’s dad to multiple acquaintances not even interested in my music).

Instead of confidently using social media as a tool for promoting my work and connecting with others, I proceeded to…

-Snoop around on old high school classmates pages (and feel kind of lame while doing it).

-Learn about one of my shy and beautiful cousin’s unexpected love for hunting and guns.

-Learn too much about the political views of acquaintances I enjoyed in person (but didn’t enjoy when they shouted through a screen).

-Internally catalog someone’s social media behavior to confirm the narcissistic personality disorder I suspected while encountering them in person.

-Oh… and be eternally confused about why people wanted to see pictures of my dog more than videos of my band.

Our dog Linus front and center.

My brain reached full social capacity and busted.  

Did using social media in the above ways cause unnecessary internal discord? Yes.

Was this a waste of precious time? Yes. Yes, it was. So I quit.

BIG TAKE AWAY NUMBER 1:  Don’t use a private social media account to advertise your artistic work.  This video says it well.

The Tangle: Quitting Social Media Led to Quitting Music

When I deleted my FB account, I didn’t only quit social media.  I quit the larger life-long vision of doing creative work. I figured if I couldn’t withstand the promotional aspect, I must not be cut out to be a writer or musician.  It’s hard to tell how all of this became so entangled looking back, but it probably had something to do with rigid thinking (a problem I was trying to solve with creativity in the first place).

Around the time I quit, I believed in “Freedom Unlimited” money in reverse.  As in, I was going to get an awesome day job and no one could stop me. (Apparently, I belonged in the exact opposite camp of whatever FI is - has anyone coined a term for that yet?)  

Whatever it’s called, I didn’t want freedom.  I was scared of it.  In fact, working on whatever I wanted each day as I steered my own business had become an overwhelming burden.  No one could force me to ever promote myself or be on social media to make money from music again! Money from music wasn’t worth the social confusion or the in-person isolation exasperated by social media.

The above thoughts rang true in my head (along with the compounding factor of not wanting to tour).  So I quit. Problem solved… except my creative self kind of shriveled up and died for a few years.

(I’d like to note, I didn’t quit with a big announcement or anything.  There were plenty of nice people online who really supported my music and probably can’t find me now. Not reaching out to them before leaving was a lame move.)

BIG TAKE AWAY NUMBER 2:  Let your true fans “follow” you wherever you go (even if it’s only to a private email list).

Quick Thoughts About Being Off Social Media For Six Years

Unicorns.  Rainbows with pots of gold.  Natural highs.  I’m not going to lie.  They’re real.

Being free of social media was nothing short of amazing for me personally, socially, and creatively (even if there wasn’t a large audience for what I went on to create).

Both Mad Fientist and Paula Pant had Cal Newport on recently to discuss Digital Minimalism.  My personal experience aligned with a lot of what he said. I highly suggest both of these episodes if you are interested in this topic.

Am I the Sane One or the Insane One?

After I quit, I set out with the plan to have a stable job and abandon all entrepreneurial pursuits acting as bait to get me online. (Cal Newport discussed this concept tactfully.  Some of these big social media companies hook people with the “gateway idea” of family, connection, or a business.)

While a lot of people seemed to be enjoying social media (and I thought I had something worthwhile to sell but still couldn’t bring myself to engage on it), I wondered if something was terribly wrong with me or terribly right with me.  The pendulum swung and I couldn’t decide.

So I read books about high sensitivity.  I read books about giftedness. I read books about autism and Asperger’s. I read them for my new career, but mostly because I wanted to.

While doing research for a song I was writing, I read a story about the first ham radios.  Suddenly social media made sense to me (especially the hashtags).

What Do Ham Radios Have to Do With Anything?

Quite a lot.

If you are on social media right now because of a narrow interest in a certain topic or passion, you might want to thank Hugo Gernsback way back in the 1920s for pioneering this trend.  He smashed together science fiction and radio geeks in a way never seen before, using his role as a publisher of all things nerdy to cross-pollinate contributions to radio broadcasting.  He is considered by some to be the father of modern social media.

He brought together people from all over the world (who were once on the fringes of society) and helped them gain a sense of belonging by giving them a platform for their narrow interests.  Through the use of ham radios, these people could chat, dork it up, and most importantly THRIVE (even with people they may never meet in person).

He was formulaic in his ability to organize people and connect with them, while at the same time so hypersensitive to physical stimuli that he invented a suit called the Isolator to wear in public (it looked like scuba gear).  He said blocking out all noise, changes in temperature, and bad lighting could help people focus better.

He knew what to block out in order to go deep. (But he was extremely naive in thinking this would apply to everyone. His suit was a massive marketing failure).  He was friends with Nikola Tesla (big surprise). I can’t wait to record the songs I wrote about these two friends.

BIG TAKE AWAY NUMBER 3:  Use social media like Hugo Gernsback would have.

In Part 2, I will talk about Routh Soukup's idea of The Outcast personality along with reasons why this personality needs to collaborate more in order to reach its potential.  Also, I will discuss how to make deep processing work for you and not against you while online, what all of this has to do with FI, and where to go after reaching "full social capacity."

What about you?  Have you ever quit social media for a long duration of time?  If not, have you ever considered quitting?

18 Replies to “I Quit Social Media For Six Years: How a Story From the 1920s Brought Me Back (Part 1 )”

  1. The article proved both funny and informative. Also appreciate the shout-out to Hugo Gernsback, who’s work with science-fiction magazines is well known but his adventures with radio, not so much. Great read.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it! Thank you for stopping by the blog. I agree with you that Hugo deserves a massive shout out! I love his story and only briefly went into here. I only recently made the “father of social media” connection.

  2. Excellent article Michelle! I had zero idea of Hugo Gernsback and while I’m familiar with Ham radio it was fascinating to learn about his social use of that medium. Very cool. With respect to your question, as you know, in April I did my Total Blackout Project experiment where I went with no screens or connectivity for 30 days including social media. It was some fierce joy for sure and as it relates to SM, I stumbled on the same conclusions you state here. Be purposeful, have intent and use strategically. Can’t wait for Part 2!

  3. I am very interested in community building right now and social media facilitates community well. However, it also sucks a lot of life out of me. This piece gave me a lot to ponder. Thanks!

    1. I agree with the idea of community building along with learning from a specific set of people. I hope you find an approach that works for you. It has certainly taken a while for me (and I’m still working on it and contemplating all of this quite a bit). I love having a job I enjoy and consequently not needing to tangle up too much of my identity in all of this.

  4. I closed my FB account with my real name, and created one with a fake name (for family only). Even now, I rarely get on FB. My Twitter is for my blog, and while some days Twitter makes me chortle and ponder things, other days it makes me feel down.

    As an introvert and a naturally private person I honestly struggle to interact online. I’d like to get better at it though while balancing digital minimalism, and am totally looking forward to Part 2!

    I appreciate this post for being both funny and informative! This also made me think Hugo Gernsback created ham radio networks so people could ham it up together! Har!

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m sorry to hear Twitter makes you feel down at times. I go in with no expectations at this point (while engaging with strangers), but it’s still crazy to think it tugs around my sense of self as I experience highs and lows in a similar way as I did with family/friends.

      I’m wishing you the best as an introvert and private person in this space. It is HARD! It’s ok to acknowledge that while still trying to get your ideas and voice out there. Find your tribe and I hope you thrive.

  5. Interestingly enough, I’ve always used social media pretty passively simply to scan and take in information while putting out almost nothing. With my PFI twitter presence I engage a bit more. I have to work hard to avoid the twitch and distraction though…and fail too often. I think it’s a net positive..for now.

    1. Thanks for sharing PFI! I was a passive participant as well. They say people with a lurking style can suffer the most psychologically versus people who are more open or extraverted. To be honest, I still am reserved to some extent.

      I like your idea of looking at it as a net positive. I might have to create some more rules around it to keep it enjoyable and meaningful. I appreciate your tactful and useful use of social media btw!

  6. Very nice story and very well written 🙂

    I have quit FB a long time ago already. I do not have any personal social media anymore. I only have social media accounts for my blog. I really do not see the point of social media for myself. Twitter is probably the best but everything is too ephemeral, a post rarely lasts more than a few minutes.

    There are some usages of social media that makes sense. Like FB groups for discussions on a common theme, like a forum.

    1. Like you, I only have social media accounts for my blog. I don’t know how other people keep up with it all! I feel like I’m swimming in it already and can barely keep up each day when I go in with a purpose! Twitter is my favorite at the moment. I agree that social media can be useful when used with intention.

  7. I’m so happy I started actively participating on PF twitter last year since it allowed me to “meet” and interact with people having similar interest. It really has been amazing and I guess that is one of the ways I’ve used social media like Hugo Gernsback would have. I’ve also connected with local mom groups that way or due date clubs for my pregnancy.

    I like this perspective, since I have some trouble with being too sensitive with things I see on occasion. I’ve needed to avoid certain types of posts or they just make my anxiety go out of check. Like you’ve mentioned in a comment above, I think using social media with intention is the way to go. Also being aware of how some of the things I see makes me feel as been useful in deciding what type of content I’m okay with seeing.

    1. Like you, I enjoy interacting with people who have similar interests. PF twitter is an enjoyable place for the most part.

      Anxiety on social media is not a small issue in my opinion because it can permeate someone’s entire day and influence the way they interact with others. Being aware and cutting out excess, damaging, or useless information does seem to be the key.

  8. Nope, can’t say I’ve considered quitting or taking a break. I work at home, so social media — especially Twitter — is a form of socialization for me. I’m not great at promoting my work on there, I suppose, but it’s also just about keeping up with my friends in the PF blogosphere.

    Still, I’m glad it was so cathartic for you. But I’m glad you’re back on Twitter now!

    1. I’m glad you find it to be a beneficial experience that fits you well. I enjoy it more now as an adult and would definitely gravitate towards it even more if I worked from home. That makes total sense!

  9. Great article! I quit social media in my personal life 2 years ago – it was great. I found social media to be a total time suck vortex, one that never produced good feelings.

    I even ran my blog for about 18 months without any social media accounts at all…..lol……probably not the greatest approach in terms of reaching a wider audience!

    But, since I’ve been using Twitter for the past few months, I have found it helpful in terms of connecting with like minded people, finding new and great sources of content. The narrowed focus of using it specifically for the blog seems to make it much more productive feeling than personal social media accounts ever did.

    1. I’m glad you can relate and thanks for the comment Phia! Like you, I got back on social for creative work. As many have said to me, I’m glad I found YOU through Twitter or I probably wouldn’t have come across your blog.

      Narrower focus and a sense of productive purpose certainly helps the overall experience.

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