If I were to suggest deleting your social media accounts completely — not just deactivating or detoxing, but permanently deleting them — what would your first defence be? I bet I can guess a few. Keeping in touch with family members or promoting your small business… Maybe sharing blog posts or keeping up with current events? There are plenty of advantages to using social media — but how about the downsides? How often do we acknowledge the harm it is doing alongside the benefits, and dare to weigh up the balance?
For a long time, I cherished the same reasons for keeping my social media platforms alive, particularly Instagram, my platform of choice. My reasons focused around promoting my books and illustration work, keeping in touch with other creatives, and finding ‘inspiration’ through online connections. I got a kick out of sharing new work and gaining new followers (back when Instagram was functional), and over the years I have made genuine connections and — dare I say it — friendships that have transcended into real life.
All of these reasons have kept me at the beck and call of social media for years, despite a growing and inescapable realisation that it was also damaging my mind. I kept using it because I had to, of course. Except, I didn’t have to at all — and it wasn’t until I read a chapter in Cal Newport’s book Deep Work that I realised these reasons were skewing my ability to recognise what was really bringing true value into my personal and working life.
In Cal’s book, he introduces the idea of the ‘any benefit’ fallacy. This is a mindset that allows us to justify our use of a network tool (like social media) so long as we can identify any possible benefit to its use, or anything we might possibly miss out on if we don’t use it. Instead of balancing out the pros and cons of this tool, we mistakenly assume any benefit (no matter how small) outweighs any of the downsides (no matter how big).
It reveals the addictive nature of social media that we are so willing to do this online when we would rarely do it in many other scenarios. For example, if you were taking medication that helped alleviate mild stomach pain, but it gave you intense migraines and nausea as a side-effect, most people would stop taking that medication and look for an alternative. The negatives would outweigh the positives, and the medication would not improve your life overall.
With social media, many of us feel at least some aversion to the technology, yet we continue to use it despite knowing that, for many of us, the negatives must outweigh the positives. In my own life, I held onto the idea that an active Instagram account was essential for promoting my creative work — ignoring the fact that social media drained me of creativity, made me procrastinate, pulled my focus away from real work with likes, follows and statistics, and generally made me a less happy and satisfied person. Yes, I had a few thousand followers who engaged with my work, but I realised this was no longer enough to justify the fact that social media felt like a mild poison seeping into my brain whenever I picked up my phone. Just like unsuitable medication, I needed to seek an alternative — a revamped newsletter, a membership on my website, and a chance to take back control of my digital existence from the Metaverse overlords.
If you click on any article, blog or YouTube video about deleting social media, the comments are often flooded with empathetic people who, nonetheless, insist their use of social media is justified. And it certainly could be, because everyone’s situation is different. But I can guarantee there are plenty of us out there still hanging onto the ‘any benefit’ fallacy, because at the end of the day, this technology is designed to be addictive, and it takes strength to let it go.