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Why is quitting social media so hard?

In a chat with Lewis Howes on the podcast The School of Greatness, Cal Newport of Georgetown University suggests that a social media detox is necessary yet insanely difficult for a lot of us. It comes down to three things: first that it’s an escape, second that we lack alternative offline leisure activities, and third that the algorithms are engineered to make going offline nearly impossible.

If you were born after 1986, you have not had an adult life pre-social media, so quitting social media even temporarily would be downright terrifying. Social media is not just a trivial way we waste our time, but also a distraction and safety blanket protecting us from the hard things we don’t want to deal with. Hard life questions like “what’s my purpose?”, “am I living up to my potential?”, and “am I really happy with the type of person that I am?” are able to go unaddressed. Social media and other digital input distracts us from having to confront those thoughts as adults and we actively turn to it for escape.

A lot of us also lack high-quality offline leisure options in our lives. For our own fulfillment, it’s really important to have activities we do in our free time that require skill, activities we can get better at, and/or activities that connect us to other people. These activities could be athletics, skilled hobbies, community or church groups, etc. The important thing is that we have things to do that give us a sense of purpose, connect us to our communities in more meaningful ways, and give us a chance and incentive to log-off. These consistent activities bring us value, we appreciate them intrinsically, and in times of hardship we can turn to them as alternative forms of escape and fulfillment. They become part of our identity and act as both a compass and cushion for our lives’ trajectories - shoes social media simply cannot fill for most of us.

Finally, the algorithms behind our favorite social media are actively working to keep us constantly tethered and engaged with our devices. Participating in the digital world so fervently has reduced us to data points. We’re being fed algorithmically-optimized content 24/7 and this content keeps us distracted, entertained, and addicted. It’s the fast food of input for our brains. It keeps us satiated, but in the long run we will lack satisfaction from social media alone.

Have you ever tried taking a step away from social media? What are some tips for logging-off, even for a short period of time? I’m looking forward to hearing what you guys think in the comments!


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