Social Media and Internet Retreat: Measures and Effects

This is something I wrote over the course of the last weekend. I thought I might share it with you through the platform of this blog and talk you through what I have been changing (for some part also at least trying to) in the past months. Hope you enjoy it and maybe you can even relate to some of the issues discussed.


It all feels like yesterday, but it has been around 1.5 months ago that I decided to change the way I use social media and the internet generally in a more dramatic way. Before that I also tried to limit my usage, but sometimes it needs harder measures for certain things to succeed. I’ve read and heard about a few people that decided to go the route of unfollowing everyone on social media. I decided to give it a shot, among other measures that were implemented at the beginning and throughout the process that began earlier this year. And no, you don't start living in a cave all of a sudden, I promise!

Here is a short overview of what I did in summary:

  • Unfollowing everyone on Instagram
  • Sorting through YouTube subscriptions and bookmarking the subscriptions page and not the YouTube home page (no recommended videos there)
  • Delete Snapchat
  • Remove social media apps from the home screen (harder accessibility equals less app opens)
  • Unsubscribe from any unnecessary newsletters
  • Changed the way I reply to emails and messages, i.e. leaving less room for long discussion that could be solved in fewer messages
  • No personal Facebook account (since a couple of years now) 
  • Leaving the phone at home / switching it completely of for certain time periods / enabling the flight mode or setting the phone to silent mode
  • Disable notifications for certain apps
  • No TV (sold mine), no series, no YouTube binge watching (only very selective and careful selection of videos and on demand movies)
  • Dedicated time frames when the internet is disconnected

Again, it may seem dramatic at first and some people will also even be offended in some kind of way (by unfollowing them on social media). Some start to think you’re not interested in them and ultimately what it is they do and are up to anymore (all it takes is a quick explanation). Nevertheless, regarding catching up with everyone I have experienced quite the opposite. When you’re sending individual texts and images it all gets more intimate. They and you know that it's only between them and you and it isn't this public thing everyone can glance at. Also you start to meet people more often in person and you’re less distracted from and more involved into the conversation due to the lack of possibility. Leaving the phone at home, enabling flight mode or switching it off completely are different examples of possibilities. 

Besides all of this retreat, for example my actual Instagram content output rate even increased. In summary it all went towards an approach that is more about creating than consuming. When I open the Instagram app, I don't do it to consume but to create and publish things. I also found myself in a deeper state of concentration, less distracted and therefore more productive. My mind remains clearer and doesn’t feel so cluttered up.

A point I often hear when it comes to consuming content on social media is that it is necessary for the purpose of inspiration, finding out about new people and consuming good photography. All of which I now actually believe quite the opposite. Do you really want to consume art on a small screen, in an uncurated form with all of the other unrelated news and images popping up besides it, or wouldn’t you prefer to take the time and sit down with a photography book? In contrast to social media the book is fully curated, you see the images exactly how they are intended to be viewed and you have a distraction free environment. Doesn't this sound more fruitful? Don’t we all have a stack of unread and unstudied books waiting to be carefully read? Why use our time to look at a tiny screen of endless images? If you start taking this idea further you will start noticing that a lot of positive things we naturally associate as positive with social media aren't even that great in reality. Honestly I seldom was more inspired and the quality and thoughtfulness of what I do has never been better. 

Am I happier now? Yes.

But this is just the beginning of the journey, I am starting to realize in which ways I could expand this and therefore end up with a life more focussed on creation than consumption. I do still consume, but I try to be very mindful what and when to consume and not to consume for the pure sake of consumption. A few weeks ago I stumbled across the book “Deep Work“ by Cal Newport and it provided me with many more ideas to develop this further (highly recommended read), while still remaining somewhat accessible and up to date. The internet in the end provides the foundation of a lot of things I do.

All of this doesn't mean that the Internet, social media and so on are bad things per se. The way we treat it and consume often without a thought is the challenging part. All of these platforms are basically wanting us to spend more time on them, because they want to generate more ad revenue and we tend to get addicted quickly. It all provides instant satisfaction. That's often it. One moment of easy satisfaction and we want more of it and more intensely. Indeed, that very much sounds like doing drugs, because it functions among the same principles. At first it can be very strange to for example wait at the pedestrian light signal and not to pull out the phone to kill the next few seconds. Accept and appreciate the resulting short moments of boredom and you will start to discover a new world and won't stop yourself from entering a deeper concentrated state of mind. Fragmented attention has a very present effect on our ability to concentrate and to enter a deeper state of mind.

You will reward yourself by finding yourself in a more concentrated state of mind. Cal Newport coins it “deep work“, in his previously mentioned book, which stands in contrast to “shallow work“. Easily replaceable and mentally unchallenging tasks, often invaluable to your greater goal. Shallow work is necessary and not bad per se again, it's also very needed in our economy. Your mind only has a set mental strength each and every day to work in a deep state. It is exhausting and you need to recharge your batteries. Oftentimes I struggle with two things: never being able to shut my mind off after a day and also to always feel like having to work each and every day for extensive hours. I start to sense that I am able to better say that I have done my assigned work for the day, shut off the phone and enter a new and much needed disconnected state. Cal Newport suggests a shut down routine to check and finish tasks one last time and then to have a defined way to end your working day. Considering the second point, working less hours and achieving similar or better output is the goal. By eliminating unfruitful tasks and focussing on what really is relevant, you start to achieve more and better results in shorter time.

The moment you don't have an infinite feed you will start to feel relieved in a strange kind of way. You stop looking at other people’s life through this perfectly curated and polished image they try to convey on the internet. Anxiety, the feeling of missing out, comparing yourself to others and the worst but at the same time hardest to battle thing: feeling bad about your own life when there really is not a single reason. The list could go on forever. By unfollowing everyone all of these effects dramatically reduce and you are left with a happier and more dedicated life. You don't feel as inadequate about yourself and don't even let these things come to your mind, because you are simply not exposed to them anymore (or not on such a frequent basis).

Of course there are still many things to battle, to try out and and a lot of ground to cover. But we all have to start from somewhere and only from experimentation we find out what suits us best. There is a lot of theoretical advice out there, but it's most important to find a way that fits your daily needs and works for you. One that really can be adopted to your individual needs. Personally I am am able to perform and output better work, tackle the big tasks, read more and write every single day. A life focussed more on creation than consumption will equal a happier more dedicated life. Also remember that we’re capable of doing much more than we tend to believe. Our mind and brain has great unused capacities and gets refreshed not from simply doing nothing, expect while sleeping, but from changing what we do and giving it new and different tasks to work on.

Here is a random note related to all of this that I stumbled across recently, which was written around one year ago: In reality the most important moments will never find their way to social media. They will happen right in front of you and the only one that will remember these moments will be you. Those are the moments that are most meaningful. Those are the moments I care about. Don't miss them by looking at your phone, rather be there in the moment and look up to discover the true beauty that surrounds us all.


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