A few weeks ago, I deleted my Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok accounts. “FITT,” their initials spell, and fitter I feel indeed.
The main idea behind minimalism isn’t to save money or time. It is to save mental energy, which physical items take up, even if they’re sitting quietly in your attic. Somewhere in your subconscious, you know the broken volleyball net is up there. Even if it only makes it to the top of your mind on occasion, you’ll feel a burden being lifted once you chuck it in the trash.
Digital minimalism works the same: You can stop using your social media, but the accounts will still be there. So will all the connections. All the posts you’ve created will still harbor the energy you put into them. The weight of sunk costs will be palpable.
“I wonder what Marcus from my year abroad is doing.” That thought hits different when you can check up on Marcus vs. when you can’t – and the latter is not necessarily a bad thing.
We tend to be kinder to people when we keep them only in our memory. Plus, when you can’t see Marcus’ new house, you won’t feel bad about yourself from the inevitable comparison that follows. When Marcus only visits your attention once a leap year, your natural reaction is to wish him well, then be on your way. For many relationships in our lives, this is the way they’re supposed to go. We’re not wired to maintain distant yet infinite contact with thousands of people.
When it comes to Facebook, I had logged in to the platform less than five times a year for the last four years or so. I kept it like an address book of people I used to know but never talked to. But you know what? Those people won’t disappear if my Facebook account does. They’ll still be there. I’m sure I can find them should I need to. I told one high school friend to keep me posted about any potential reunions, then pulled the plug.
Instagram was more of the same, except shinier, which only meant more reasons to feel bad about one’s life. I tried using it “for business” for a while, but I could never get my writing-related posts there to take off. Clearly, my time was better spent elsewhere.
Twitter I tried twice with the same intentions: Improve, prune, and spread my writing. In reality, the time I spent crafting lines for Twitter only moved energy from one output to another. I need all my writing juice in the books and articles that matter, not some algorithm-dictated like-olympics. So down the waste chute it went.
TikTok was just…fun. It really was. What a great outlet for pandemic frustration. I see why so many people hit their stride there and found success. On TikTok, I actually enjoyed being “a consumer.” For once, I wasn’t thinking about how to win on a platform. I was just browsing – but the mind grows weak faced with extended temptation, and so I kept pulling the slot machine lever more and more. Maybe I should have combined my tokking with a new hobby, like cooking or gardening. After all, input should go somewhere eventually. Still, I had only been on TikTok for a bit, and so it was the easiest to let go.
I kept my LinkedIn in lieu of updating my actual resumé, and for the one time I log in there each month or so, I’ve been getting one or two great business opportunities every year. I “80/20-ed” it well enough to not worry about it. More like “95/5-ed” it, actually.
My use of LinkedIn is laissez-faire, but it serves a purpose. That’s the part the others were missing. Casual user or not? That doesn’t matter. What matters is that you feel good not just about the time you spend on social media but also the consequences that arise from that habit. If it makes you feel bad and yields little to show for, then what are you doing? You’re living for instead of living. That’s the scenario to avoid.
My life hasn’t changed much since deleting my social media. It’s not always the grand transformation some make it out to be. I do feel lighter, however. There are a few items less “on my mind.” I feel great about picking about a book. Less guilty. The pull of all the social media actions I could be taking used to seem like enough of a justification to take them. With that pull gone, I can do what I want more so than what I think I should, and that’s worth a lot.
I won’t tell you to delete all social media or which platforms should go for what reasons. The truth is that for each service you choose to be on, it depends on why you signed up.
Is Instagram part of your master plan to become a fashion icon? I’ll be the last one to get in the way. Do you enjoy TikTok painters’ crazy ways of spreading color on a canvas? If you can keep that pocket of joy from swallowing you whole by reining in its addictive prompts, by all means, splash away!
What I don’t want for you is to feel at the mercy of the tools meant to serve you. You are the agent, but the mind is a tricky cockpit. Sometimes, we must lock certain levers in place, put bright red signs next to the emergency buttons, or break a knob off on purpose.
“Where people saw, there will be sawdust,” we say in Germany. Your social media workarounds may sometimes feel like crutches, but that’s part of living! It is only practical to be practical, and with limited time, we better do the best we can with what we have. And when those crutches break? You make new ones! You delete your account again, try a new screen time schedule, or change the notification settings.
Manage your social media in a way that prevents them from managing you. As long as you do that, regardless of what platforms you’re using and for which reasons, you’ll always be social media fit.