My Experience Living without Social Media
How I stopped using Twitter, LinkedIn, Mastodon for 2+ months.
On January 23rd, 2023, I started an experiment and stopped all my social media usage. I didn’t read anything on Twitter, Mastodon, and LinkedIn. I occasionally checked my automated article sharing to see if they had been posted correctly, and during that checks, I read LinkedIn and Twitter messages from people I knew in real life.
The experiment lasted until April 1st, but I’m happy to say that I don’t think I will use any social media as I was using before. And I am quitting any consumption on Twitter.
Before I get to the results and the decisions that will somehow affect my life, I want to explain why I tried this experiment and how I approached it.
For a while, I’ve been trying to reduce distractions such as emails, SMS, and notifications. They occupy many moments in my life, interrupting my real-life conversations and resulting in moving my focus to my phone in the middle of a chat in a café. As I get irritated when people look into their phones while we talk, I also want to stop doing the same myself—walk the talk.
Besides, I was spending hours on social media without realizing it at all. I was not under control. In a blink of an eye, I easily spent one hour scrolling through my feeds endlessly. This behavior cost me a lot, and I started sacrificing important things such as family time, reading, writing, and music. However, there is a much bigger reason for me to reconsider social media.
As social media gave voice to everyone (including me), it became overwhelming. We never had this in our lives for thousands of years; we lived in much, much smaller circles. We valued our community’s opinion within that circle and wanted to belong. When social media entered our lives, we also applied the same behavior there. Now, we value the opinions of people we don’t know and follow. Whenever a jerk makes us feel bad, we feel it in our bones even though we don’t know the person and don’t want to hear (or read) what they say. For me, I only want to talk to people who are kind (not jerks) and don’t draw my energy.
As much as I want to hear diverse thoughts in my life, I definitely don’t want to hear a lot of voices I see there. Also, diversity is terribly represented in social media, and the whole experience creates filter bubbles instead of promoting diverse opinions. That’s why we also never get what we expect.
Meanwhile, I can’t deny that there are also people that I got to meet on social media, such as Michele, Roberto, Nick, Benedicte, and Fatih, whom I have never met in real life, and they are always great to talk to. Social media also gave me a chance to meet with people (also in real life) who read what I write, such as Baris, Kemal, and Daniela. As I was lucky to form new kinds of relationships with these people and many others, my real-life relationships were ebbing and getting shallow.
I have good friends that I don’t know what they value in their lives even though we talk regularly. We only send each other tweets and interesting threads but don’t talk about deep topics in our lives at all. We’re just considering each other and have a touch base over social media. Of course, it’s not a big issue to have a few of these friends. However, I realized that more of my relationships were evolving in that direction while I was seeking high-quality relationships in real life.
Furthermore, my real-life relationships started becoming shallower because all of my life started to evolve around social media. When we met to have a coffee, we started asking questions like, “Have you seen this post?” or just showing each other funny posts. I’m not diminishing the effect of creating shared language or experience; however, I’m questioning the quality of that shared moments. Whenever we conversed with my friends without involving any technology, I had the most fulfilling and thoughtful conversations.
Last but definitely not least, I realized that my ideas were becoming more shallow. When I saw a spontaneous tweet from a random person, that tweet was in my mind for a while, and I was thinking about what this person said. Probably, even the person didn’t think about what they wrote as much as I did. As Twitter’s motto is “What’s happening now,” it promotes an always-on and being-liked culture through its algorithms. Instead of writing quality ideas, I also fell into the trap of getting involved and tweeting more controversial and interesting tweets, even though it’s definitely not my style. Therefore, I had inner conflicts.
I sought to think deeply and share what I found (the reason why this blog exists). Although these ideas can still be shrunk to 280 characters, they never stayed on the platform and were only read by people who were online. What I have written so far is now deep in my profile, and I can’t even find what I said two years ago. This “popular” and “happening now” is an awful combination that creates hype, which I’m trying to avoid everywhere.
All these struggles led me to take a few actions over the last few years, even before starting this last experiment. I reduced my following count to prevent endless scrolling, deleted my Instagram and Facebook accounts, and turned off all social media emails and notifications. The time came to pull the band-aid off.
How? (The Setup)
All the struggles I explained were present for the last two years, and I was already discovering what I could do differently. In my research, I found good books and articles and followed a few authors who helped me build the setup I will explain below. Cal Newport, James Clear, and Shane Parish are the most impactful ones. Cal’s books Deep Work, Digital Minimalism, A World Without Email, his podcast, and James Clear’s Atomic Habits fundamentally affected how I changed my environment and created the setup.
I learned that designing our environment in a way that will nudge us to act in the way we want has more impact than searching for motivation or having discipline. So, instead of waiting for motivation, we change our environment. For example, if the television is always visible and on reach, we’ll open the TV more often. If we have the Twitter app on our phone’s main screen, we will open the app whenever we look at our phone. If we see it, we do it. If we don’t see it, we forget it.
That also applies to behaviors we want to build. For example, my bass guitar was sitting in its case for years. I pulled it out and put it in the middle of the room. Every time I entered the room, I saw my bass guitar. Eventually, I started picking it up and practicing more. Another example was building a reading habit. To read more, I put books in every corner of the apartment. Wherever I sat down, I had a book within arm’s reach. Seeing books reminded me to read more, and eventually, I grabbed books one by one and read 1-2 pages here and there until my habit was formed. While forming these habits, I started very small.
In One Small Step Can Change Your Life, Robert Maurer talks about the small steps to build lasting habits. For instance, all my young age, I never flossed my teeth. At the end of my 20s, I really wanted to build this habit. In the book, Maurer recommends starting as small as possible so that you cannot avoid doing it; not doing it would be silly. For example, I started flossing only one tooth. I couldn’t procrastinate because it was so small that I couldn’t convince myself to not do it. Saying the procrastination word out loud took more time than flossing one tooth. Once you start that small and build the habit, it’s easier to add the second tooth. After 8 months of gradually increasing the number of flossed teeth, I’m now fully flossing my teeth every day.
I tried the same strategy in lowering my social media usage. Instead of dropping instantly, I’ve reduced my following count and muted people and keywords one by one. I now have a long list of muted words on Twitter (e.g., eth, bitcoin, NFT, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, football). Designing the platform in the way I want to use helped me a lot to reduce my overall usage. However, Twitter and LinkedIn allow you to a certain extent. Their algorithms are still in place to feed you with new content all the time. That’s why I needed to take many more extra steps and design my environment.
Apps and Devices Setup
I looked for tools and systems to design my digital environment better suited to my needs.
First and foremost, I removed all social media apps from my phone, including Twitter, Mastodon, LinkedIn, Discord, and Polywork (I had already deleted my Facebook and Instagram accounts in June 2020). I also logged out from all these accounts on my mobile and desktop browsers. Once the apps were gone, I didn’t see anything related to social media when I picked up my phone. Whenever I wanted to log in to social media, I had to use the browser. I logged in, checked the feed, and logged out every single time. I also set up two-factor authentication (2FA), and that also made logging in difficult whenever I tried. When small things require extra effort, it gives the brain time to reconsider the action. I actually changed my mind many times during the 2FA process and just killed the tab on the browser.
I wanted to take that environment design one step further and suppress my urges. I was already using Freedom App for a while to focus and block certain websites during my writing time. This time, I set up a daily recurring session that blocks all social media on my phone. Freedom works remarkably well, and once enabled, you cannot bypass it (in its Locked Mode) in any way. Freedom helped me to break my habit of reaching social media without recognizing my own behavior. Later, I extended Freedom to cover my personal and work laptops but with less strict rules.
Freedom App and removing social media apps didn’t help with certain things, such as notifications. I actually wanted to reduce my phone addiction simultaneously with my social media usage. I was often getting distracted by notifications from various apps (other than social media). That’s why I turned off all possible notifications (except calendar notifications, Telegram, WhatsApp, and a few other apps that I use for habits, health, and finance). On my Apple Watch, I turned off all notifications except calendar and on-call pager notifications. I’m living by my calendar; it’s not a chance for me to turn off calendar notifications. The on-call notifications are also not random; I only get them when I’m called for production incidents. I must admit that turning off notifications is probably one of the best decisions I have made in my life so far. It’s so revealing not to have any notifications coming in (and I’m considering turning off ALL notifications, but I will come to that in another post).
All said, I still wanted to share my blog articles on social media. Hence, I set up automation using Zapier to send a tweet and post a LinkedIn message when I publish a new article. That’s why I logged in to the platforms from time to time during the last two months to check if the posts were displayed correctly. (Twitter character limit was often the problem. If you’re following me on Twitter, you might have seen some tweets with broken links.)
Supporting my FOMO
I was still curious to hear from people I follow and didn’t want to miss out. I reduced my following count a year ago to the max. 100. So, I only followed the people I personally knew or valued what they shared. Right before the experiment, I checked whom I was following and if they had blogs. If anyone had a blog, I subscribed to their blog (with RSS if possible) and unfollowed them on social media. That made me sure that I still heard from them at the time I wanted to hear, not at the time decided by algorithms. I also unfollowed them because I cared about them as a person, not what they were doing at that exact moment. I know not everyone writes on their blogs regularly, and they often tweet something rather than blog about it. However, I was fine with this limitation, and I thought if something important happens I would definitely learn from other mediums (e.g., word of mouth) anyway.
Results and Discussion
Since I lifted the restriction, I have been logging in to either Twitter or LinkedIn not more than once a day. Checking them doesn’t come to my mind. And whenever I do, it usually takes me 1-3 minutes to scroll my Twitter feed as I only follow a handful of people, and the majority of them don’t even send a single tweet in months. Therefore, I can safely say that I broke the social media habit.
After the experiment, I thought about deleting my Twitter account. I’m still thinking about it because from now on, I will probably rarely tweet something other than automated tweets of my articles. And Twitter never likes links and doesn’t promote these tweets to anyone. Yet, when I look at the statistics of my articles, I see a few people are reaching out to articles from Twitter. Hence, I’m intended to keep the account and only share links to my articles and occasionally check my inbox for new messages without consuming my feed.
Meanwhile, LinkedIn is a nightmare. There is no control mechanism on it at all. I tried to unfollow people on LinkedIn, and, oh boy, LinkedIn literally doesn’t want you to unfollow people without notifying them. I can see my connection list, but it doesn’t give me an option in that list to unfollow people while staying connected. I don’t want to remove connections with people; I want to unfollow them so I don’t see them in my feed (I don’t care about the posts they liked or found insightful). I can only unfollow them if I go into their profiles and LinkedIn sends the notification “Candost viewed your profile” when I do that. It looks like it will be a constant effort on LinkedIn to unfollow people whenever I see anything from them. Considering I have above 1000 connections, it will take time. I accepted my defeat on this front, but I won’t close my LinkedIn account as I use it for “professional” reasons.
Up to Mastodon. As I was still new on Mastodon, I don’t think I will build a habit of posting regularly on Mastodon or consuming anything there. I follow a handful of people who are only on Mastodon, and my feed is not that dynamic. Also, I have control over my feed—unlike Twitter and LinkedIn—and it gives me confidence that I can manage easily and not become addicted to it. That’s why I decided to keep Mastodon as my main social media platform.
Within all, if I consider the Dunbar number, I want to keep how many people I follow as little as possible. However, I don’t think setting a concrete number is a good idea anymore. I only want to follow people I either personally know and want to learn more about what they think at that moment or people who share knowledge that adds value to my life. I know even this definition is vague and can consist of thousands of people. Also, the question, “What adds value to my life?” is a challenging one to answer correctly. I want to take this thought with every person I follow. If I even begin to doubt that someone doesn’t add value to my life, I will unfollow them. It’s not personal; I like a lot of people in real life more than on social media.
For example, seeing an old colleague in real life makes me happy, but I don’t want to see what they like on social media every day. It’s better to spend one hour over a drink or dinner, maybe even once a year, rather than spending 10 seconds every day on what they liked on the platform without them knowing. I want to reduce these unidirectional relationships and convert them to bidirectional ones where possible.
There are a lot of deep thoughts and perspectives behind what I wrote above. I believe that this post can easily become a booklet or even a book. These thoughts didn’t form within two months; they were shaped within the last few years and supported by other surrounding actions and techniques. Thus, I will pause here and maybe share each topic more deeply in the future.
By the way, how is your relationship with social media?
P.S. Meanwhile, if I unfollowed you on social media, again, it’s not personal. It’s not you; it’s me.