After careful consideration I’ve decided to opt out of participating in external social media sites. I no longer have active accounts with Twitter, Google+, Facebook, or YouTube. They’ve all been closed, deleted, or otherwise nuked.
Yesterday I had tens of thousands of followers on those services. Now I have zero.
To opt out even more fully, I’ve also removed all social media recommendation buttons from my website. This de-clutters the site a bit and helps some pages load faster.
This is something I’ve been thinking about doing for years and finally decided to take the plunge.
It’s not that I hate social media. But I do feel done with it and want to explore more interesting facets of life. I want to keep learning and growing in ways that matter to me, and social media doesn’t matter to me anymore.
Years ago I had a personal Facebook account maxed out at 5000 friends and a fan page with thousands more followers. I shut those down and stopped using Facebook at the end of 2010. In retrospect, it was definitely the right decision to drop it. I think that dropping Facebook helped make 2011 such a great year for me, including taking my first trip to Europe (ahhh… Paris!) and creating and delivering some new workshops.
Last summer, at the request of some friends, I created a new personal Facebook page to keep in touch with some people who really wanted an alternate way of staying in touch. I set the account to the maximum privacy settings and strictly limited the friends I had there. I didn’t link to that account from my blog or from any other sites. Even after 10 months and some word of mouth through my friends network, I only let it get up to 200-some friends.
At first it was okay, but eventually I realized that most of my original reasons for quitting Facebook were still valid. The earlier problems weren’t simply due to having a high-traffic account. Actually the problems stemmed from how the service was designed to work.
A few days ago I went back and re-read my 2011 post about quitting Facebook. I found myself nodding along as I recognized that the same patterns were still there. Re-reading that post made it obvious that I needed to fully opt out of Facebook. I gave some advance notice to my friends there and then deleted the account yesterday.
As I did this, I began considering that maybe I should drop Twitter and Google+ as well. I thought about it carefully and decided that I really didn’t want to spend any more years of my life sharing things on social media. I basically asked myself which scenario seemed best over the next 10 years — going social media-free vs. continuing to use it. It wasn’t really a difficult choice to see which alternative was best. The thought of investing another decade in those services made me cringe.
I feel that these services were interesting to try, especially in conjunction with my work, but I don’t expect that continuing to use them would be a serious growth experience for me. Even with all the new services that keep springing up and new features being added, the general idea of maintaining virtual social connections with people on these services feels pretty stale to me. There’s no way I can consciously say yes to doing that for another decade. And if it doesn’t make sense to do it for another decade, I don’t feel it makes sense to do it for another year… or another month… or even another day.
Reclaiming My Brain
I also dislike how social media conditions my brain to be very distraction prone. Too often I’d find myself engaged in some activity and impulsively checking accounts — much more often than I needed to. Have you ever experienced that?
How many times have you checked on some account or other in the past 24 hours? If every social media check was equivalent to a shot of alcohol, would you be considered an alcoholic?
Moderation works for some things, but that approach doesn’t work so well in certain areas, especially not after years of regular usage where the addictive patterns have already been trained.
If I try to spend less time on those services, it’s still going to reinforce the old patterns, and I’ll find myself getting sucked back into too much impulsivity again. So the real choice here is either to keep doing what I’ve been doing, or to go for a total opt-out.
A temporary opt-out, such as with a 30-day trial approach, can be helpful to regain some perspective and to make the long-term opt-out decision easier, but it’s generally not an effective strategy for down-regulating impulsive behaviors in the long run. I’ve seen people do 30-day social media opt-outs. They see great improvements in their lives during those 30 days. Then they return, and within a week or two, the old habits are fully restored.
Imagine a smoker who stops smoking for 30 days and then goes back to smoking afterwards, but with the intention of smoking less than before. That rarely works for anyone. The previously trained neural patterns will simply re-engage, sometimes within just a few days.
Your brain is trained by experience. Your brain even undergoes experience-based physical restructuring via the mechanism of neuroplasticity. If you’ve been using social media for years like I have, then your brain currently has significant clusters of neurons that are dedicated to maintaining your social media behavior patterns. With the proper equipment, we could even pinpoint the exact regions of your brain where those patterns are currently stored. You can fire off some of them just by thinking about social media.
Go check your Facebook account. Right now. You know you want to. You can’t help it. In your mind’s eye, you can picture that little globe with the number on it. What’s the number? You see it, don’t you? Someone commented on your last status update. What did you post? Can you see the commentary? You can feel it too, can’t you? That little globe nags at you. You must clear that number.
Did you perceive any extra neural activity when you read that — images, feelings, urges, etc?
Did you actually go so far as to check? And if you did check, did you check anything else while you were gone — like your feed, other accounts, etc?
If I can distract you with a tiny bit of text like that, even if I only caused you to feel a little something in your mind that you didn’t act on, then what power do those other sites have over your ongoing mental conditioning? Is this how you want to keep training your brain — for an easily triggered impulsive addiction?
Check Facebook again. Right now. You know you want to. You’re curious. You must. You have to obey. No choice. Go check.
In situations where there have been years of accumulated neural conditioning, a lifetime opt-out may be difficult, but it’s the smarter choice in the long run. Once that commitment is made, the challenge gets easier.
Once deprived of ongoing experience, the social media behavioral circuitry in your brain will eventually be repurposed for something else, such as real life socializing or more interesting creative work.
With respect to this conditioning that I’ve allowed into my own brain, I’m consciously choosing to rebalance my neural resource allocation. The neurons in my brain that have been previously assigned to social media behaviors are being reassigned. I’m letting those skills degrade, so I can increase other skills that matter much more to me.
It’s Not Me, Social Media. It’s You.
As I’ve looked into this more and more, I’ve been discovering that these social media services are engineered for deliberate addiction. They reinforce and reward simple behavior patterns, such as clicking on a status indicator that lights up each time you log in, giving you some simple actions to take immediately. They use patterns of irregular positive reinforcement, which keeps your dopamine levels high and practically ensures addiction.
The next time you use such a service, pause and pay attention to the actions you’re taking. Are these intelligent action steps that arise from your conscious choice? Or are you merely acting out of conditioned habit at this point? How do you think those habits got conditioned? Your behavior is by design, but it’s someone else’s design for you. Are these behaviors serving your best interests? What results or benefits have you experienced from these services over the past year? What might you have accomplished without these services distracting you so much?
I don’t want to be conditioned for repetitive, addictive behavior. When I find myself doing something impulsively too long and not by conscious choice, I know it’s best to do a total opt-out. I’ll repurpose and retrain my neurons for more interesting and worthwhile pursuits.
Overall I don’t find virtual socializing to be such a bad thing, but so much money is being thrown into these mega-services now that they’re just getting creepier with each passing year.
The privacy issues are bad enough, and I’m not even particularly worried about that aspect like some people are. I’m used to putting so much of my life out there via blogging and speaking. But when we keep hearing about new steps that would make cigarette companies proud, such as Facebook’s experiments in feed manipulation to see how they can alter how you feel and what you share, well… maybe it’s time to unfriend them. I think it’s only going to get worse for the people who stick with such services.
Won’t This Decision Hurt My Web Traffic?
For years I’ve been getting thousands of hits each month from social media sites, but relatively speaking, they aren’t significant sources of traffic for StevePavlina.com. Last month the traffic from Twitter, Google+, and Facebook combined was less than 0.1% of my total traffic. And this includes traffic from other people’s accounts and shares on those services, not just from my accounts.
I recognize that there may be some ripple effects from quitting these services, but the numbers are too small for me to lose sleep over them. Most of my traffic these days is very decentralized. And with the decision to uncopyright my work in 2010, access to my content is even more decentralized, with lots of people reading my material on other sites and in other languages. Much of my work is even being translated into Chinese now, which is wonderful to see.
My ex-wife Erin did a similar check on her stats, and while her social media traffic percentage was much higher than mine, it was still a fairly insignificant percentage of the whole, barely more than 1% of her total traffic.
One shift I’ve been seeing is that these services are becoming increasingly stingy with sending traffic off-site. People have been reporting declining clicks when they share links on Facebook, for instance. Outside links seem to be given less natural promotion in people’s feeds than sharing status updates that keep people on those services. This shouldn’t be too surprising since there’s an obvious financial incentive for these services to keep you there as much as possible and to send you off site as little as possible.
This reminds me of what Amazon did with its affiliate program over time. Many years ago their affiliate program used to be decent. But gradually they gutted it by reducing payout percentages, disqualifying large product categories, etc. They used affiliates to help them grow their business in the early years and then basically said, “Thanks for that… we don’t need you anymore.” Similarly, now that some social media services have so much traffic, attention is shifting to locking you in and keeping you from leaving. Observing this shift over the past few years is one of the things that motivated me to opt out completely. I have no desire to be treated like a pawn in some other company’s battle for social media dominance, especially when the payouts for doing so seem to be decreasing.
If you have an online business and think that social media is important for traffic building, I’d encourage you to take a peek at your stats. See if the numbers align with your expectations. What changes, if any, have you seen over the past year?
If you keep using social media for business reasons in the years ahead, stay alert for the pattern of diminishing returns like we saw with Amazon’s affiliate program. I think that’s a very real risk as these services compete to lock in their visitors as much as possible.
I could recruit someone else to manage my social media accounts for me, as some have suggested, but I’m not interested in doing that. It doesn’t seem right to hire someone and put it on their shoulders to deal with the increasing creepiness there. At this point I don’t think it makes sense to encourage other people to invest more time and attention in those services, even if it means potentially more people connecting with my content.
That not-so-fresh feeling I have about these social media sites is one of the reasons I dropped their recommendation buttons from my website. It doesn’t feel right to me to keep encouraging other people to use those services if I don’t feel good about using them myself.
I also like that when I look at my website now, I don’t see any post popularity counters anymore, such as how many Tweets, Likes, Stumbles, or +1′s a post got. I like that. After nearly 10 years of blogging, I write because I like to write. I share what I feel is worth sharing. I don’t need or want to fuss over external validation like how much attention one of my articles gets. If one of my posts gets a surge of social media attention now, I probably won’t even notice.
If other people want to keep sharing my stuff on social media, they’re free to do so of course.
Why I Dropped YouTube
I would have been okay with keeping my YouTube channel so people could continue to play and share my existing videos there. That channel was very low maintenance. I only used it for hosting my videos in a broadcast-only manner. I kept comments on my channel disabled, mainly because the YouTube comments I saw on other people’s channels made me fear for humanity’s future. Suffice it to say, I saw zero value to anyone in enabling comments there.
As it turns out, deleting a Google+ profile also silences the associated YouTube channel. It causes the YouTube channel and all its videos to be set to private, so no one else can watch them. I went through the Google support docs to be sure about this. Apparently this is how Google wants it to be. They won’t let me make the channel or its videos public again unless I create a new Google+ profile or restore the old profile. This requirement to have a Google+ profile in order to continue sharing videos on YouTube actually serves to convince me that it would be wiser to opt out of the whole scenario. Sorry, Google, but I do not wish to be assimilated, even if it means sharing free videos with more people.
Since I’d still like for people to be able to enjoy the small amount of video content I created, I took those few videos and uploaded them to my own website. WordPress has a built-in video player, so anyone can still play the videos directly from the associated blog post, namely the one about Creating Abundance. I still have tons of unused bandwidth on my hosting account, so this self-hosting solution should work okay for now. If it becomes an issue, I can find another place to host the videos.
YouTube’s streaming is probably better than using WordPress since YouTube is a dedicated streaming service, but this approach gets the job done.
Keep in mind that those videos are uncopyrighted too (like my articles and podcasts), so anyone else is free to re-share them on their own YouTube channels if they wish. People have already done that, so the actual content is still on YouTube, even if I no longer have a usable channel there. That’s one nice thing about uncopyrighting — it creates extra content redundancy and increases accessibility.
So Google offers a take-it-or-leave-it Hobson’s choice. I choose to go with the no horse option — as in no Google+ profile and no YouTube channel.
I feel fortunate that for me, this wasn’t such a big decision since I only had a few videos on my YouTube channel, and they were created way back in 2009. Most of the more recent videos you’ll find of me on YouTube, such as recordings of some speeches, were shared by other people on their own channels, so all of those are still in place. This would have been a much tougher choice if I had hundreds of videos on my channel there. I’m not sure what I’d have done in that case. Maybe I’d have encouraged other people to simply loot the channel and repost whatever they wanted to their own channels, so at least the content could still be found there in some fashion. Not being attached to ownership of my content gives me more options than fussing over copyrights, so if you’re a stickler for copyright protection, your decision may be more difficult.
Another side effect of closing my Google+ profile is that I can’t use Google+ hangouts anymore since that service requires a Google+ profile too. I wasn’t a heavy user of this service, but I was using it occasionally for group video calls for a team project. Another Hobson’s choice… and again, I opt for no horse rather than the one being offered. I’ll adapt.
Virtual Socializing vs. Real Socializing
I like being social, and I love connecting with people, but today’s iteration of social media is just too repetitive, unproductive, and increasingly creepy for me to continue participating.
I have no doubt that my social life — the real world one, not the virtual one — will improve markedly as a result of moving on from virtual socializing. That’s already started to happen, just from having made the decision.
Deleting each account actually felt really good. I smiled as I thought about the long-term consequences of each new account closing.
Imagine… no more tweets. No more random updates from random friends at random times about trivial things. No more impulse checking or posting.
Instead I’m thinking about all the great books I’ll read instead… the new trips I’ll take… the new real friends I’ll connect with in person.
Last week I read two new personal development books and learned a lot from them, partly by reinvesting the time and mental bandwidth I gained from semi-withdrawing from social media. I also spent more time than usual connecting with my 14-year old daughter on the weekend. I even spent a few hours teaching her about how the brain works and doing some neural games with her. She really seemed to enjoy that. I enjoyed it too.
Last night, shortly after nuking my Facebook account, I started reading Walden by Henry David Thoreau. It’s uncopyrighted and available to read as an ebook, so feel free to download a copy for yourself if it interests you. This is one of the books I’ve been wanting to read for years but never got around to. It seems like such a timely book to read now, considering that it’s about opting out of questionable social practices and reconnecting with a more natural way of living. I wonder what Thoreau would say about Facebook today. Are you living a life of quiet desperation?
While I was enjoying a morning run earlier today, I reflected on this opt-out decision. I pondered some of the delightful things I might do with the extra time and mental bandwidth, like finally reading Walden. That put a smile on my face and gave me a newfound sense of optimism. While you could say that I’m soured on social media, emotionally I’m much more excited by new learning and growth experiences that will replace that part of my reality. By making the decision to de-simulate social media in my reality, I feel like I have excess capacity to simulate something much more interesting.
If you’re someone who enjoyed connecting with me in a virtual way through social media, and you’re disappointed that I’m dumping your outlet for doing that, well… on the one hand, I love you too. But on the other hand, maybe think about getting a life.
Of course I’m really pointing the finger at myself here. I want to pull back from the virtual life in the cloud B.S. and explore other aspects of life. If you want to lean further into the virtual socializing space, be my guest. Just don’t invite me to join you. However, if you want to share a cup of tea offline and have a nice chat about Thoreau, count me in.
If the thought of cuddling up with Henry David doesn’t quite inspire you to follow my lead, I totally understand. But for whatever reason, this calls to me right now. It’s my path with a heart, and I’m going to honor it.
I encourage you to at least entertain the possibility of doing something similar.
Imagine permanently deleting your accounts for all your social media services. Think about how your life might change as a result. What might you do with that time instead? Roll those thoughts around in your consciousness for a bit.
See how this suggestion sits with you. Put your own spin on it. Maybe download some Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Stay in Touch
Henceforth, please be aware that if you see someone sharing my material on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, YouTube, or other popular social media sites, I’m not the one posting it. I’m perfectly fine with other people sharing my stuff freely. Just be aware that if you comment on my material on those other sites, I won’t see it.
I’m not disappearing from the world, so if you still want to stay in the loop regarding my personal development work, then I invite you to sign up for my free newsletter. I only send it sparingly, so it’s a good way to get occasional reminders to check in.
If you want to delve deeper into my work, it would probably take you months just to digest all the free content on this website. Give this site a meaningful investment of your time with a nice cup of Earl Grey, and you’ll be glad you did. People typically report getting a lot more value from spending a few hours reading through the archives here than they do from spending hours on social media sites. Likewise I’m sure I’ll receive far more value from reading Walden than I would from investing in social media.