Getting My Brain Back

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I can’t do it anymore. This has been a summer of social media. I’ve used it endlessly, made plans on it, chatted, read it religiously, and watched countless friends and friends of friends go on vacation. I’ve played a game of whack-a-mole with LinkedIn invitations and I’ve streamlined my automatic Tweeting systems. I’ve watched the world buzz by 140 characters at a time. I’ve seen hundreds of beautiful photos of beaches and old castles and bars and beers and whiskeys and sandwiches and endless cats and I don’t want to see any more. I’m done.

I’m taking my brain back.

I’ve noticed a few things happening over the past few years. First, I noticed that I primarily use social media at night, in bed, staring at the iPad while my lady wife snores beside me. When I couldn’t sleep at 4am I turned on Twitter and sent messages to people I didn’t see during the day. I read Reddit more often than I read actual books and I didn’t mind it at all. Why? Because this endless stream of social garbage is apparently far more interesting than a carefully thought-out non-fiction thesis or tersely-plotted novel, let alone the kind attention of my soulmate.

We all know how social media works: it tickles the pleasure centers of the brain, encouraging us to return day after day to get that slight endorphin rush that comes with clicking a new link. For me that endorphin rush started with email and now there’s so much more data, so many more sources for distraction. And I know why social media is a good thing. It keeps me in touch with people I’ve known for decades. It allows me to spread the word about my projects. It’s spurred revolutions of all kinds. When it’s good, it’s great. When it’s bad, it’s exhausting. I thought I could take it all in, control my consumption, but now I can’t. I’m ready to declare social bankruptcy.

So I did a few things. I deleted Facebook and Reddit from my phone and iPad. I’ve also deleted LinkedIn. I kept Twitter because it’s more like a chatroom and I kept Facebook Messenger for chatting with my long list of Facebook friends. I still have Swarm, but that will probably go next. I might use Facebook now that Yelp is garbage for restaurant recommendations but everything else – Path, Color, Yo, Krablr – are gone. And it’s been great.

Anecdotally five or six of my peers have already followed suit. It’s been a weird summer. I remember years when everyone was into gin all summer or everyone was on the Atkins Diet. This year everyone is into social media fasts. One friend told me that after a nice week out in the woods he checked his Facebook feed on his phone at a gas station. His heart rate went up and he felt the blood in his head pounding. He deleted the app then and there. We don’t notice how social media ruins us until it’s gone.

Maybe I’ll reinstall some of these apps. Or maybe these social media makers will fix it so I only see the things I want to see. Or maybe they don’t care because for every social media celibate there are a million people who will Facebook all day long. But, I would argue, we’re not going to give these bastards our attention much longer. Teens are already revolting against Facebook and Google+ is a ghost town. Twitter is valueless when it comes to direct sales and is worthless as an advertising platform. In short, everything that was supposed to be good about social media – the connectedness, the reach, the ease-of-use, the fun – has been replaced by an endorphin rush.

So I’m taking my brain back. Facebook doesn’t pay me enough for my attention. LinkedIn hasn’t gotten me a single job. All the also-ran social networks offer little in the way of true value. In the end, I need to give my attention to my kids, my writing, and my reading. I don’t need to see your cat or your Candy Crush score. Come over and we’ll grab beers and you can tell me about your favorite movie. It will be far more rewarding and maybe, just maybe, I’ll convince you to unfriend social media.