Why I left social media

Social media is largely about perspective generation and very little about truth seeking and truth telling. It is, for the most part, an electronic replacement for the erstwhile village gossip.  And like the old construct, this new modern version, that carries with it a tinge of sophistication, flourishes among those who have time to spare and views to broadcast with little consideration for virtue and fact. Plainly put, social media, like its counterpart of old, the vulgar and vagrant preoccupations of busybodies, is for the most part simply gossip.

And because it is simply gossip and perspective generation, the most popular social media platforms do not have strict qualifying standards. Anyone can participate and opine on anything under the sun with little or no consequence. People also operate on this new platform in groups, fiercely peddling their own positions with no regard for ethical and professional standards in the pursuit of fact. Fact often isn’t what is being considered at all. Personal agendas are what is foremost.

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Opinions made on social media, even when done with the best of intent, are to a large extent far from reality. Public policy, lifestyles, ideologies, and other overarching subjects with a contemporary affect get vigorously scrutinized and often scathingly commented on. Yet in spite of the passion and effort, much of what went into the making of a policy, lifestyle, or ideology and its expression in society remains unknown to the volumes written on it by stargazers on social media. These can and do sometimes have dangerous effects as the world observed recently when the Capitol buildings in the U.S. came under mob attacks and when stock investments in the U.S. came under the influence of shady advisors on social media.

If this is what social media is, should we then consume ourselves through a deep investment of our time in it?  The time we have isn’t in endless supply. And the more sensible and educated one is, the more purpose one has in one’s life, the less time one feels one has to do all the important things that must be done before the curtains fall. As the clock keeps ticking, we waste away and will soon be dead. The investment of our time hence is crucial to the making of our lives and the lives of those we love and the things we consider important.  

I spent a good portion of my time in 2020 sitting at the desk with my MacBook and trying to save the world through social media. In the bargain I put on weight, had high blood pressure because of my emotional surges and dives into volatile environments, irregular heartbeats, cramps in my left arm, fainted twice and was rushed twice to emergency at UHNBC, very high blood sugar (constantly between 9 and 16 on a scale on which my sugar should have been maximum 7), and above all the lost time with my wife and children. 

Joshua is in the second year of an engineering degree and will leave for another city in a matter of months to continue his studies. Life will most probably never again bring him back home as a little boy dependent on his father. Jemima too will leave home in a year or two either to pursue medicine or a masters in molecular biology and biochemistry. She will marry and make her home and cannot be expected to return to my care as a child. 

Amita has been by my side for 29 years and we both are aging and recognize that our days are numbered.  The next few decades if we are lucky will pass like the wind. If I do not make conscious effort to spend more time with her and the children now, it will all be gone before I realize it. Social media can wait or even be gone for good from my life. But these relationships are vital and most lovely. There’s no comparison between spending time with them and spending time on social media.

Social media is like being married to the mob. You don’t know who relates with you with what intentions and when things will bommerang. The slightest error of judgment could have horrendous consequences for you. Being deeply involved in social media exposes one to the world, and this world that’s full of all kinds of people can easily get into the nooks and crannies of your life and your private spaces. The result could be awful – a web of perennial discomfort.

As you relate to the mob on social media, your tolerance levels gradually drop and your sensitivity to provocation rises. Prolonged engagement with others on social media can alter character and make one angry, impatient, upset, depressed, and of a negative mindset. To succeed with social media, one must constantly ride the wave and be a winner, which means that there is a good possibility that one would be a loner at the top provoking others to jealousies and hatred. That’s not the best way to live.  

Social media is an arena in which millions are looking for some fun at others’ expense. Too much engagement with social media could easily put you on the slippery road of becoming the despicable other. Jealousies, competition, hatred, bickering, leud behavior, and all kinds of uncomely expressions are rife on social media.  It is a very high price to pay for no gain at all.

It is often impossible to choose one’s group on social media. One is likely to be in the company of those who do not share the same culture, ideas, learning, beliefs, values, and behaviors. But one is likely not to know till they find out the hard way when things go wrong.  

Social media isn’t one’s day job. But it can easily compete hard in a person’s mind to replace their day job. And that could soon turn into a nightmare adversely affecting primary responsibilities, relationships, and livelihood. It is simply not worth it.

Those who uncontrollably seek life-satisfaction through social media look for happiness in the distance. This usually happens because life in such people’s immediate vicinity isn’t that inspiring. Social media however isn’t reality. It is a virtual reality that creates an imagined hype in the participant’s mind.  It is a hype that quietly pinches out of the participant a valuable price for which in return it provides imagined and shallow satisfaction which in the long run leaves for one a hollow and empty space with no tangible benefits. Social media is a drug for those who have a deep sense of dissatisfaction with their sitz-im-leben(life situation).

A productive and fulfilled individual is intrinsically motivated. Such an individual is fully aware of their life-situation and because self-preservation is a fundamental trait of human persuasions, they will always keep their interests in mind and work to achieve their goals. While occasionally extrinsic motivation can be helpful and does inspire one to consider tasks and achieve them, a slavish dependence on extrinsic motivation makes one emotionally reliant on factors on the outside which cannot be controlled and are highly unreliable.

Those who operate well only because of external stimulus tend not to be at peace with themselves and might suffer from poor self-esteem. Living a quiet life; being mindful of one’s immediate duties and responsibilities; loving and serving one’s near and dear ones instead of reaching out to the unknown and trying to create a huge impression in the distance is the right way to live. Social media often unfortunately feeds the insatiable hunger of those who crave for attention from a distant world. It isn’t indicative of healthy minds at work.

Social media however has brought the world unimaginably closer. Childhood friendships have blossomed once again and long forgotten and distant relatives have come close. What happens in one part of the world gets transmitted within seconds all over enabling mindboggling scrutiny and the possibility of greater accountability from people in positions of power. Good information and relevant knowledge to seekers comes effortlessly because of algorithmic arrangements the deep dark web has make of every individual mind’s preferences. There are still some good reasons for keeping one’s ties with social media to a qualified minimum.

- Reuben Louis Gabriel, PhD, is an instructor in philosophy and history at the College of New Caledonia.

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