In general, I’m not a fan of social media. It’s vain, addictive, prone to disinformation, and a waste of time. Social media is basically a high school popularity contest, only worse. With just a few clicks, anyone can judge anyone by the prettiness of their profile and the number of followers they have.
Yet I’m still pretty active on social media, and I don’t plan on leaving.
By now, everyone knows that social media is bad for our health. According to a comprehensive analysis in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, social media and smartphone use by youth is responsible for bullying, low self-esteem, normalizing self-harm, disturbing sleep, and general bad mental health.
So, the answer seems obvious: if social media makes you miserable, just quit.
But it’s not that simple.
Social media has become mandatory
The unfortunate truth of today is that social media has become ubiquitous. It is no longer a place reserved for hip teens, cat pictures, and videos of people pouring ice over their heads for “charity.” Social media is now a landscape for everything, from politics and law to healthcare and business. Everyone is on social media and everything happens here.
Want to open a restaurant? Post food pics on Instagram and update your hours on Facebook. 4.9 stars on Google Maps can be more important than a website.
Going to university next year? Get your questions answered at your college subreddit and find your floormates on Facebook.
Want to be a writer? Make your presence known on Twitter, connect with other writers, and say something witty once in a while.
Bored? Check Facebook for events near you and use Spotify or Songkick to see if any artists you like are performing near you.
The truth is, if you’re not on social, you’re missing out on real, meaningful opportunities. I’ve found many professional opportunities on social media I would have otherwise missed. And I balk at how many opportunities I have missed by virtue of not being more active on social.
Of course, you can still rely on good ol’ IRL networking. But guess where your IRL connections are getting their news? That’s right, social media.
Instead of quitting social media, learn to adapt
I avoided social media for a very long time. Throughout university, I only used Facebook to keep in touch with high school friends. Instagram I used as a tool to edit and store vacation photos. Snapchat…I barely bothered with Snapchat.
But when I finally stopped screwing around and took my writing career seriously, I learned that to become a writer in the 2020s, you can’t just write well. You also have to see yourself as a business.
I needed a brand and a marketing platform. While I don’t have a full-length book to sell yet, I do write regularly and want to grow my audience. These days, I’m slowly and steadily spreading my internet footprint.
I’ll be honest. There are days where I want to run away to a cabin in the woods, write with a pen and paper, and read (gasp) books. But having a social media presence is a necessary component of the career I chose.
Social media takes practice
Social media can be overwhelming, but it’s a skill like any other. And it takes practice to get good.
A list of tips for fellow social media avoiders deserves its own article, but for starters, here are some ways I push myself on social without getting too stressed:
- Set a goal and a limit. I aim to be on Twitter 15 minutes a day, but after that, I’m off the hook. I just try to stay consistent.
- Compartmentalize and streamline. I use Instagram and Facebook for personal correspondence, mostly. Medium and Twitter are my public profiles. I also only follow things I’m genuinely interested in.
- Learn the culture. Each platform has its own norms, culture, and language. This takes time to learn, and I’m naturally better at some platforms than others.
- Just participate. I used to worry a lot about not having enough followers. These days, I just try to participate. Liking, retweeting, and commenting on other people’s content can take you farther than stressing out about the perfect post. It’s also more fun and more meaningful.
The takeaway: it’s all about balance
Perhaps one day, if I ever become super successful and well-known, I’ll abandon social media and be a mysterious recluse like Haruki Murakami. But I consider this scenario a dream — it’s a privilege I don’t have right now.
For the time being, I can only manage what I can control. I can’t control how mandatory social media has become, but I can control how I fit social media into my life.
Finally, consider following me (@ChartheShark304) on Twitter! I promise I’ll keep my obnoxiousness to a minimum ;)
Li Charmaine Anne (she/they) is a Canadian author and freelance writer on unceded Coast Salish territories (aka Vancouver, Canada). Her work has appeared in literary journals and magazines and she is at work on her first novel, a contemporary YA about queer Asian skater girls. To read Charmaine’s articles for free (no Medium subscription required), sign up for her newsletter.
EDIT [29/Jan/2021]: Changed title to “When Quitting Social Media Doesn’t Work” from “Why Quitting Social Media Doesn’t Work” because I believe it more accurately reflects the content of this piece.