About two weeks ago, I realized I was more anxious than usual. My body was tense; I had difficulty focusing and seldom felt present at home. The culprit? Social media. I was checking my social media—primarily Twitter—every hour without realizing it. As much as I hated feeling hooked on social media, I loved the feeling of being in the “know” of what was happening in the world (primarily within evangelicalism at large). After all, who wants to be the lone man out when someone asks if you’ve heard about the latest church scandal or jerkish tweet from a theobro?
But then I read Ray Ortlund’s blog post about leaving Twitter. This line stuck out to me:
“Scrolling Twitter is an intense experience. But its intensity can fool us. It feels more real than it is. And the emotional demand claims too much. Twitter betrays the involvement it lures us into. We end up diminished, even injured, over and over again. For years, my own cost/benefit calculation kept tipping in favor of the benefits. I no longer see it that way.”
Twitter is free to sign-up but will cost you to stay on. The emotional demand of constantly scrolling through foolish debates, breaking news, and retweets was more than I could take. And the cost for me took the form of conversations with my son, enjoying the ordinary beauties around me, and having a mind filled with the noise of tweets from people I don’t actually do life with.
So, two weeks ago, I decided to take an indefinite break. I might get back on social media; I may not. Time will tell. But for now, two weeks into my break, I find it hard to believe I’ll be an active social media user ever again. I’m finding it easier to focus, I’ve been more present with my family and friends, and I feel more disconnected from the world around me (and I kind of like it).
I’m not the only one to feel this way. In May of this year, the University of Bath conducted a study with over 150 people with an average age of 29 years old. The study aimed to evaluate the advantages of taking a one-week break from all social media. The study found that people who took a one-week abstention from all social media had higher well-being scores and experienced less anxiety and depression.
Cal Newport, a leading thinker on the effects of social media, had this to say about the results:
“Given the simple study design and the clear effects it revealed, the message here seems to be clear: social media hurts mental health. Which motivates an obvious follow-up question: Why do we insist on still shrugging our shoulders and continuing to treat the use of these tools like some sort of unavoidable civic and professional necessity?”
But more than just feeling less anxious and depressed, my break from social media has helped me experience a fuller life. It’s odd to say, but not being in the “know” about the latest Twitter happenings has made me feel more human. After all, we aren’t made to know everything, everywhere, at all times. Twitter just gives us the illusion we can.
For many of us, social media is our attempt to find belonging. Not just in the digital world but in our own neighborhoods. If we know about every news story and latest happenings around the globe, we don’t feel left out when the people we do life with ask, “What do you think about _____?” Because to answer with a simple “no” often results in social exclusion. We feel left out. Incompetent. And in some cases, wrong.
If that’s you, don’t forget our history. In the past and present, most of humanity receives information from those within proximity. For most of history, it was assumed you wouldn’t know much, if anything, about what was happening 1,000 miles away from you because you only had access to the world around you.
Simply put, it’s okay—and perhaps more human—to be blissfully unaware. And to be blissfully unaware of what’s going on “out there” only helps us be more joyfully aware of what’s going on “right here.” And “right here” is where we are meant to be.