Why I quit social media

Taking a break from social media, and then quitting it entirely, had a huge impact on my life and business. If you have recently questioned your use of social media, you might want to read this article.

How I got started with social media

A few years back when I started sharing my art online, I was reading a lot about how to present it, and inevitably I saw advice that you should share your work on social media. So I started social media accounts and tried to build my following there.

I put a lot of time and energy into it. At that point, I thought it couldn’t hurt to be known as many people as possible. And social media seemed like the answer to that. It certainly kept me busy. Keeping up with making posts and the latest trends meant a lot of work with very little results, especially in the beginning. It also meant being up to date what others were doing. This took away time from me making art and learning new things, so basically the things that I wanted to do in the first place. But it also felt sort of relaxing, to keep scrolling through this feed of other people’s work, and I told my self it was inspiring.

At some point though I realized to keep up with all these social media activities you basically have to be a one-person media company at the same time. You have to market yourself constantly. But everyone in the creative industry (and other industries, too) subscribed to this opinion, whether they saw success from it or not.

The negative impacts of social media

After a few years of doing this, I recently came to the conclusion that I really don’t want to be on social media. I find it more important to spend time getting better at my art, and I can’t do that when I have to think of these platforms that demand daily attention. It’s not that I don’t like to connect with people, and it‘s not that I find marketing useless (it isn‘t!), but I like to do it in a more personal and effective way than social media can provide. For me, social media is just not worth the time I have to put into it. It might have its benefits, but for me there are not enough benefits when I weigh in the negative impacts.

One of these negative impacts is that being active on social media slowly (or even instantly?) took away my ability to focus and to block out distractions when I was working: focusing on my art, writing, acquiring new skills and knowledge, and teach all of it in an effective way. This process of deep concentration is what author and computer sciences professor Cal Newport describes as „Deep Work“ in his book of the same title.

He defines deep work as: professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.

The ability to do deep work is – I think – one of the most important things for people who are creative and who want to earn money with their creativity, so for any working artist. Also for anyone else who works with his brain. If you want to create things and cultivate this ability to search for things in yourself, and to put them on the page or on the canvas or wherever you want to put them, you need to have the ability to concentrate and to focus. You need the ability to sit down for long periods of time without getting interrupted.

I noticed that when I was using social media, I was very distracted and not really able to focus on the things that mattered to me. I was becoming more scatterbrained and anxious, and it became harder for me to focus on hard things, like reading difficult texts or writing and drawing for long periods of time – things I used to enjoy. Instead I was drawn back to check my profiles all the time. From what I’ve been reading and hearing from others, this doesn’t just happen to me, but to a lot of people who use social media regularly. Maybe you’ve experienced it, too?

They keep you coming back to distract you

That‘s because social media companies use a mechanism that rewards distraction, to keep you coming back. They need you to spend time on the platforms so you can see the ads that their customers pay for. So every time you check your profile and see likes or comments popping up, you get a dopamine hit, not unlike a dog who hears the bell and starts to salivate. So what do you do? Of course you hit reload, or keep checking your profile all the time. The distraction is built in, and it’s especially nasty in combination with a smartphone, that device you always have with you and that can even pull you out of a phase of deep concentration with a notification sound. This is actually something that these companies took from took from digital slot machine designers (you can read about this in Cal Newport’s new book „Digital Minimalism“ and also in Jaron Lanier’s book „Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now“ – all recommendations are listed at the end of this article).

I don’t want to put social media and tech companies necessarily into a bad light, although I sure would have some critical questions for them and there are a lot of very questionable decisions they’ve made (and still make). For example, these addictive mechanisms were consciously built into their apps – although we don’t even know how it will affect our brains in the long run. I know they already have affected me in a very bad way after a short while. Sean Parker, Facebook’s former president, has stated their platform was “exploiting vulnerability in human psychology”. You can exchange Facebook with any of the other social networks here. The computer scientist and computer philosopher Jaron Lanier describes this mechanism with the following acronym: „Behavior of users modified, made into an empire for rent – BUMMER.“ It sounds funny and almost harmless, but what this mechanism stands for quickly turns into something far more sinister if you take a look at the recent documentary „The Great Hack“ which takes a closer investigative look at the Cambridge Analytica incident.

Why artists need to steer clear of distraction

But back to the artist who keeps getting distracted by social media. What‘s obvious is that these distractions diminish our ability to go into focused work states. They also change our relationship to attention. As for me, I was constantly thinking of how I can produce more content for someone’s feed. Do you notice the wording here? The kind of thinking these companies have introduced (particularly for members of the creative industry, because they produce the most beautiful pieces of content out there) is not only time-consuming and distraction-inducing, it‘s a downright affront on intellectual property rights. A lot of artists have a hard enough time already convincing people to pay for their work — illustrations, music, texts, videos, etc. All of this is worth something, it‘s someone‘s intellectual property. On social platforms you agree to produce an endless stream of content for free, making it even harder to convince people to pay for your work. Sure, there are also artists that get discovered or hired through social media, but the general direction we are moving in is that all of these things should be free. Of course the artists aren’t forced to do all this, they willingly join social media because they think it’s for their benefit. I think this is absurd.

After all I’ve read about these platforms and experienced myself, I don’t want to be a content creator for them, and you shouldn’t either. Since the rise of social media (remember 5-10 years back there weren’t any of these disruptive platforms?), a lot of businesses, but especially artists, have diminished themselves into the role of being someone who produces content every day for free for these social media companies, so that they will have something new in their feed. You can only consume all of this content by infinitely scrolling through a mass of posts, images and comments.

The problem with this content isn’t that it’s all bad or shallow, I have seen very thoughtful and interesting posts, but it’s that in the long run we can only treat it in a shallow way. All the content is part of a never-ending stream of messages (the feed) that we have to get through, so there’s never a lot of time to spend time with an individual message. Infinite scrolling demands that you go on. The post itself will only have attention for a maximum of a few hours, then it’s gone in a digital nirvana. It’s not that you can’t have meaningful exchanges on social networks, it’s that these companies make it quite hard to do so, and they make it a disruptive experience.

I think it’s not a very economical way to spend my time producing a stream of content that will only be seen for a second. I also think it’s not a very good thing to build someone else’s platform with your creative property. And lastly, I don’t buy the idea that social networks are the main channels through which artists are recognized and get opportunities these days. To me, these platforms are the new gatekeepers, and they make you jump through hoops to please their algorithms for a few likes.

More and more books and studies that have recently come out that show that social media (or whatever online distraction you can think of) makes people anxious and even depressed. It actually increases feelings of loneliness. These platforms can have a huge effect on your self-worth, as you can read in Sherry Turkle’s book Alone Together.

How I got back my autonomy

Back to my story: All of this made me think, so in 2018 I started to take breaks from social media, each longer in duration. I realized that social media was killing my creativity, and my autonomy as an artist. Without it, I finally had time for the things I really wanted to spend time with: my art, learning new things, reading books, going deep on one thing instead of being distracted by a daily search for dopamine hits in the middle of all-encompassing noise. I also blocked my access to news sites, and to other sites that I knew were time-sinks to me.

I know I’ve tried to build systems to use these platforms more consciously, I tried to block access at certain times and only came there to post and answer comments. For me this didn’t work so well, after a short while I was back into infinitely scrolling.

Do you know what was the worst about my social media use? It didn’t even feel good. It didn’t feel good to scroll through Instagram, or check Facebook 50 times a day. Instead, I felt like I wasn’t in control of these things. A lot of people describe similar behavior, and studies show this kind of social media use can actually be a form of low-level behavioral addiction. Behavior of users modified. For me the logical conclusion was to just delete my accounts. Not only because I don’t want to spend time on there. I don’t want to make other people spend more time on these platforms.

So for me the right decision was just to quit these services to make sure that I don’t spend all my day there. This might not be what works best for you, but it was a freeing experience for me that felt right.

I don‘t need to broadcast on every platform that‘s available – instead I can form bonds with my students (and clients) through my website and email list. It’s much more direct and allows me to connect with others in the way I prefer. Since I gravitate towards learning through long-form pieces of writing, or in-depth informational videos, that‘s what I want to give people, as opposed to the anemic, disorganized bites of knowledge that I could provide on social channels. I prefer to go deep with my thoughts and teaching, and I hope the people who read my blog appreciate this.

I feel a lot better since I took this step. I know how I want to spend my time, where I want my energy to go. I’m pretty sure it’s not social media. I can focus on my creativity and on the analog things in life, and that makes me calm and more centered. If I want, I can even be bored, and just stare into the sky while I‘m thinking, which is something I love to do. Maybe it’s something we should all try once in a while.

Resources for further reading

If you’re thinking about changing your social media habits, read these books and articles to form your own opinion:

Books:
Cal Newport – Digital Minimalism
Cal Newport – Deep Work
Jaron Lanier – Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now
Sherry Turkle – Alone Together
Nicholas Carr – The Shallows

Documentary
The Great Hack

Articles:
Paul Jarvis – On the Facebook Like button, and why it’s awful.
Social media is a threat to democracy: Carole Cadwalladr speaks at TED2019

I’d really like to know your opinion on this – you can send me an email or leave a comment on my blog. I appreciate each one of you taking the time to connect with me through this blog.

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Anna Mac

FB management runs that platform with an arrogance that would not be tolerated from other industries. The outright dishonesty and lack of transparency seems to be based on semi-accurate assumptions that their user base is too stupid to figure out how their material is used and too invested to protect themselves by dropping the service. Ultimately, FB has deliberately isolated half the U.S. population by muzzling political perspectives that don’t seek a global socialist regime, e.g., the UN or EU type unelected governance. It is a deeply offensive position. I write to my elected officials frequently seeking legislation that at least mitigates their censorship actions if not breaks up their monopolies. I dropped FB and affiliates and Twaddle a few years ago with no regrets whatsoever.

The arrogance comes from what I think is a kind of techno-religion that runs through these companies (“technology will save us all”). These people actually believe that they’re making the world a better place. That’s why people like Mark Zuckerberg regard fundamental problems within their company (as surfaced through the Cambridge Analytica incident) as PR mishaps, which only need some time to sink back into oblivion. And unfortunately they’ve had success until now.
It’s a good thing you regularly write to your elected officials. Breaking up these monopolies would be the right step.

Linda Weingärtner

Du hast vollkommen recht! Mir geht es ähnlich und ich habe facebook und instagram deutlich reduziert.

Steve F

I have now got my social media down to a very low level. It’s only there at all because the village and a few clubs use it as their main way to pass on news and events.
I went through all the settings and stopped as much outside interference from advertising and the like coming in as I could.
I don’t have any social media on my phone it’s just on my tablet and I probably only look at it a couple of times a week.
I really didn’t want to see any more pictures of people’s meals, dogs, babies and the general rubbish posted.
It’s a liberating experience.

Mairim Garrett

Thanks for this article Julia. I also closed my social media accounts, and feel as if a burden has gone! It’s great to have more time to focus on my work without the jangle of “Likes” etc.

Victoria

Hi Julia, thanks for this thoughtful article. It’s very interesting & thought provoking. I’d love to know what advice you have for new artists seeking to sell their work or find commissions and not wanting to use social media. Is it possible?

Linda

Yes! I have experienced so many of these same feelings. I estimate that I have now gotten Facebook viewing down to 1/2 hour a day tops. My deepest hole is utube art videos and artist’s links I follow from emails. On FB people always post the good and spectacular things in their lives and by comparison my life is boring. I know that this is unrealistic but, even so it makes you feel bad. I am retired and a caregiver and love seeing what other artists are doing. I went to college in the 70’s and had a double major, education and art. I felt the art was just for fun. Wow, how different things are today. Social media allows me to feel really immersed in the field. My eyes are open to all different media’s, styles and techniques. I can flutter around like a butterfly! I also belong to a few art only networks. It’s all like ice cream, I love it but it, but can’t overdue. I love the creativity sparks. Aside from the art and connecting with relatives on the other side of the world FB bores me. If I weren’t obligated to be home so much I would be exploring other ways to connect with artists. I have to say, I learned more about art from the internet than my 5 years in college. The good, the bad and the ugly for sure! I learned about your work through Sketchbook Revival, which was awesome! But, it was information overload. I wanted to try everything first. And then there is digital art. With the Procreate app you literally have every art supply every made in a fake sort of way. Too many choices. But, that’s a whole different discussion. At the end of the day, nothing beats… Read more »

There is nothing worse than Social Media. I have been off it for a long time.I never read or listen to any of it.
The peoples ideas are all negative thought patterns. Life is about choices. I choose the uplifting in my life.

Alice Rohman

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. So much of what you say applies to me, but you have expressed it so concisely. I could go on, but just THANK YOU.

Deb Ehrhardt

After being on vacation in an area with no service my teens were able to relax and take in the world. Once back in to an area with service, I saw an obvious change in their behavior where it became more agitated and short fused. It was a situation where I wasn’t looking for the difference…it was such an obvious change. ….Loved that your opinion/decision is based on research!!

Barb

Very very helpful and insightful, inspirational. Working on this. I realized recently that I was zapped of creative flow and wondered about this. Thank you!

SusanA

Julia, I am a fairly new subscriber and a first-time commenter here. This is one of the most thoughtful pieces about social media that I’ve ever read. “The problem with this content isn’t that it’s all bad or shallow, I have seen very thoughtful and interesting posts, but it’s that in the long run we can only treat it in a shallow way. All the content is part of a never-ending stream of messages (the feed ) that we have to get through, so there’s never a lot of time to spend time with an individual message. Infinite scrolling demands that you go on.” YES! I resisted social media for a long time but finally joined FB because I wanted to take a couple of online art classes, and FB was where the class materials were posted and where the classes met. At first, I looked forward to being an active part of an online creative community. I contributed to discussions and offered encouragement to my classmates. I tried to connect in meaningful ways. But it didn’t take long to discover that I, as an individual, didn’t matter much. Support was often not reciprocated. And if I missed a lesson or didn’t post my homework right away, no one cared, no one reached out to see if I was having a problem or needed help. And why would they, when there were 100 or 1,000 or 10,000 other students to fill the gap? The classes, and the feeds, marched inexorably onward, just as you describe in the quote. So any sense of community could only be realized in a dissatisfyingly superficial way. “Belonging” became an oddly lonely experience. Also, I began to resent feeling like a lab rat programed to crave notification dings that would release dopamine hits. I do… Read more »

Wendy

“The problem with this content isn’t that it’s all bad or shallow, I have seen very thoughtful and interesting posts, but it’s that in the long run we can only treat it in a shallow way. All the content is part of a never-ending stream of messages (the feed ) that we have to get through, so there’s never a lot of time to spend time with an individual message. Infinite scrolling demands that you go on. “ I found this a thoughtful point as well.

I’ve been a member of Facebook for a long time but I mostly use it for private groups rather than socialising. I think social media tends to invite a particular type of interaction, much of which is the equivalent of f2f “small-talk”, something which will suit some people’s communication style more than others. (It’s something I’ve never been particularly adept at).

I don’t really wish to spend a huge amount of time on social media or to have to invest in it further in order to be an artist or tutor.

Like SusanA, I’ve noticed that a certain style has developed in some online art courses; students are provided with a space like fb where they can interact with each other and the “tutors” may make some initial lead posts, however there can be minimal actual tutor support. There may be no follow-through on posts or individual support. This is not all tutors but it does seem to be a trend. Even worse, some courses are really just eresources. As someone who has been involved in online learning myself for a long time, I find it so frustrating to see this development.

I want to say that I do appreciate the way technology has made somethings more accessible, particularly as I have some physical disabilities.

Lin

Very thoughtful and interesting post.

This is one of the best articles I have read in a long time. It truly touched my heart with a truth that I needed to hear. Staring at the sky…thinking ..I have to get back to this.

Aneta

I just deleted my IG account for good. Thank you, Julia, for being an inspiration in so many ways and for your help. This feels so good I wanna cry.

Thanks for taking this stand publicly. I have been moving slowly in that direction. Scattering your presence over multiple social media sites dilutes your influence. In this re-do/reformation of the on-line me, I will focus on my website [forthcoming] and Behance and Pinterest. And the last two will be used on my terms. All the social media platforms want you to add this, add that, and spend. I want to eliminate the noise. Sorry, YouTube, but you have cost me too many hours that might have been much better spent.

Ann Pot-Staton

Excellent observations.

Berta

Thanks for writing this. As i always keep telling my kids who are 7 and 9 everything is ok if it is done just in the right measure. But of course somethings are designed to be addictive, and I am the first to lose control sometimes of my social media and my addiction to my phone (news, txt, etc…) in general. After reading this I am going to be more mindful of my relation with the phone and try to limit distractions to set times during the day. I don’t think I want to completely quit just yet (i discovered you via instagram for example) but I am going to try to limit my online time (social media/news) to maybe 30 min per day.
Now the question is how do I teach my kids this too, as I still recall a time when I didn’t have a phone in my pocket all the time and how that felt, but they don’t know any better….

Maggie

what an interesting post! Thanks also for sharing your time and talents with us about art.

David Hyder

I’ve heard most of your arguments before and frankly I pretty much agree with them. I began posting my work so my friends and family could see what I am doing. I also really like a couple of groups. So I continue to give my work away free with the only expectation being that a few people see it and like it. I try to avoid the excessive negativity that many wallow in. One day I expect I will just stop posting the downside is to big. So far though I’m not there.

valOrie paladinO

Julia, thank you so much for this critically important conversation. I wholeheartedly agree with you. I deleted my FB account last year for the last/final time & my 4 mo old Instagram account today without any remorse whatsoever. I resented being used & it breaks my heart knowing others are being manipulated likewise. I see these so-called social media mega corporations as perpetrators of psychological abuse. I hope they will be revealed as the danger they are. It’s extremely unfortunate that so many institutions, businesses, & innocuous organisations have been sucked into using FB, often, as their only means of communicating with their members. It makes it difficult sometimes to be in touch with some groups without FB but, I always tell them that I don’t condone FB’s use & insist on another means to communicate.
Thank you again!

Barb

This is such a good read, Julia! Thank you very much for sharing your struggle with ditching social media. I have seriously thought to do the same, but it’s hard to stop any addiction. I’ve read your post several times, and am re-inspired and hope an alternative to social media suits my needs to, at the very least, minimize at least my Facebook accounts. Again, thank you for such a thoughtful,piece!

shelle

yes! I too have an aversion to social media. I scrolled thru Instagram today (for the first time in months) and then remembered this was another Facebook company. Yikes. I have a twitter account that I never use. But then again I didn’t grow up with this stuff. I do love YouTube though. My one big exception.
Good for you. Great post

Nancy Scarzello

Thank you Julia! My thoughts and experiences exactly and so wonderful to hear this from you, how it has impacted your creative and artistic process. I am so grateful that you are offering your presence and teachings here on this format. I love the “Painting Clouds” I purchased through this newsletter/email ~ NOT on social media! And am going off now to paint, sketch, draw, meditate and be present with the clouds 🙂

Angela Cox

Thank you for your post, it’s so refreshing to read . My social media use is at a very low level, ie keeping in touch with family and friends but even that can sometimes be a distraction I don’t want.
Good luck with all that you do

Sarah Brown

Julia I absolutely agree with you. I was obliged to open a Facebook account recently as it was the only way to subscribe to a painting group. Whilst I think it has its uses keeping in touch with friends and family I was shocked at how intrusive the platform is. I think social media has had a negative effect on human interaction everyone is plugged into their own private bubble and it concerns me greatly the amount of information and ultimately control these companies have on the individual.

Patti

This is really an important step in taking back ourselves. Social Media runs everything and I myself am tired of hearing what I “have to do in order to be successful” on Social Media Platforms. Thank you for writing about it and referring us to more reading.

Joanna Zygiert- Kan

Hello Julia, thank you for your article. I started using Instagram relatively recently but I already realised how distracting it can be. I don’t think I am ready to give it up completely but I am not looking at my account as often as I used to 2 months ago. I must admit the connections I have made that are positive and sustainable are in small percentage to the overall input and I totally agree that it is creating content for someone else. Hence, I started looking into setting up my own website and blog. I really enjoy your articles and I took few of your Skillshare classes, I really enjoy your style of nature sketching and your style of teaching. It’s great to see your process.
So fear not I’m here to stay and I look forward to reading your articles that come to my email.

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