IMAGEwrites: In the middle of lockdown, I quit all social media (even Instagram)

Facebook was the first Eoin Higgins gave the chop to, then Twitter, and finally Instagram ... here he discusses lockdown life without social.


First went Facebook. It was around the time that its former exec, Chamath Palihapitiya, began speaking out about the harm the social media platform was doing to civil society.

I had been feeling unhappy about where I found myself after a Facebook binge. And let’s make no mistake: they are binges. Those hours you donate, for free, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling ... ? Bona fide soul-sapping, digital benders.

I started to feel, or realise, that the binges – like all binges – came with a hangover. Palihapitiya's contrition made me think seriously about whether I was getting something from Facebook, or if the whole thing was rigged to commodify its users.

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So I pulled the plug, after several failed attempts ... one day at a time ...

The Facebook hangover was like trying to get to grips with having witnessed thinly-veiled bullying by someone you previously respected. Or maybe that feeling of emptiness was simply the dopamine wearing off.

I pulled the plug – after several failed attempts – eventually managing to personally disembark from the platform, for good. I have never looked back, nor have I missed it.

Propaganda

Next up, Twitter. What started out as a pleasurable way to 'connect' with 'famous people' and 'friends' you admired enough to have public banter with, soon turned into a social media platform that often exalted the most mutually-poisonous arguments imaginable. We’ve all witnessed them, sometimes we've even taken part – cringe.

When tolerant, historically liberally-minded people, out of nowhere, begin sharing hate-filled propaganda against some marginalised group, it's time to leave the party. So I left Twitter.

Social media is rife with bad actors; micro-targeted ads, shadowy astroturfing groups, bot accounts, paid trolls. All are employed (and often paid) to wreak havoc online, polarising society in the process. And while we are all entitled to our opinions, not every opinion deserves to see the light of day.

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Instagram was most difficult

Deleting my Instagram account brought the most trauma. And regret. I pulled the plug very recently. The decision to consciously uncouple may, or may not, have been spurred on by Dutch courage ... I had to get through yet another unsocial weekend spent at home alone somehow, you'll likely understand.

Perhaps this was precisely the wrong time to isolate myself ever further from social media-chanelled human contact, but snip the Instagram chord I did, some sherries into a Saturday evening.

More than 4,500 thoughtfully chosen and edited (in my opinion) images, curated over ... years ... gone. I felt ill.

The following morning I realised the enormity (that's how it felt then, at least) of what I had done. I lolloped, bleary-eyed from my bed to the sofa and swung open the laptop to discover, after some frantic attempts, that once you delete an Instagram account, it is never coming back to you.

More than 4,500 thoughtfully chosen and edited (in my opinion) images, curated over ... years ... gone. I felt ill. For a while. What soon dawned on me, however, was surprising.

I've taken something back

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Remorse subsided and a sense of relief came over me, eventually, and it wasn’t just the sherry exiting my liver. I realised that I had finally untied myself from the last of my digital addictions.

And besides, the images weren’t entirely gone. Every photograph I have ever taken I still have stored on a hard drive, perhaps not as edited as my Instagram account was, but at least I still had all of the images, and in their original, unenhanced form.

And now they were mine, again, exclusively. While my creative labour most certainly still exists on a social media server somewhere, it no longer exists publicly for Facebook to garner yet more impressions of yours and my time –at least so far as we know. Certainly, no longer does it hang in cyberspace, as free content, to make the obscenely powerful, monopolistic and wealthy, even more obscenely powerful, monopolistic and wealthy.

In my very minuscule way I feel like I have taken something back from the omniscient social media machine, and that feels somewhat empowering.

Content

'So, how is life in social isolation with no social media, Eoin?', you may vaguely interestedly ask.

It’s good. It's bad. It's ... life. It feels isolated at times without social media, sure, but who doesn't feel isolated these days? My isolation issues are peppercorn though, compared to the current concerns of many, many others, both near and far.

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I feel content. I no longer feed content to social media.

Having three, or more, happiness-sapping social media accounts to consume/feed daily would probably not make much difference to my experience of the Unprecedented and Terrifying Emergency on Planet Earth that we are all currently enduring.

I feel content. I no longer feed content to social media. Or at least not for free. Meanwhile, when I do speak to people on the phone, or via text (how quaint) or – sweet Father in Heaven, deliver us – Zoom, I get the suspicion that I am feeling a little more social than some of those who are still feeding their lives into the social media meat grinder.

Some of my acquaintances seem a little stressed, a tad entrenched in their opinions, whereas others are just ... angry? Maybe not, maybe I'm just experiencing a little confirmation-bias; perhaps they're simply stressed out by all the contradictory social media messages they’ve been consuming, or a little preoccupied with the Unprecedented and Terrifying Emergency on Planet Earth ... or maybe they've just been listening to the radio.

Illustration by Laura Kenny


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