Six years ago, I quit social media for one reason. I quit because I was bad at it. Like most people, I don’t enjoy participating in activities I’m bad at. And when I say I was bad at it, I WAS REALLY BAD AT IT.
Just like doing a cost breakdown, breaking down why you are not good at something takes looking at it from multiple angles. Sometimes you uncover several unenjoyable details.
Some details are in your control. Some are not. In this series of posts, I’ll take you through my complicated relationship with social media as an artist and expose you to an underrated person in history that inadvertently helped me.
Let’s Go Back in Time...
...to the social media experience of my early 20s:
I was a musician prompted to build an online presence in order to promote my music (this made perfect sense). I joined Facebook and even started a newfangled Twitter account. (The Twitter account basically lay dormant and only recycled what was posted on the FB page.)
When I moved away from the Midwest to Austin, TX, I accepted all friend requests on FB (from my great aunt to my grade school friend’s dad to multiple acquaintances not even interested in my music).
Instead of confidently using social media as a tool for promoting my work and connecting with others, I proceeded to…
-Snoop around on old high school classmates pages (and feel kind of lame while doing it).
-Learn about one of my shy and beautiful cousin’s unexpected love for hunting and guns.
-Learn too much about the political views of acquaintances I enjoyed in person (but didn’t enjoy when they shouted through a screen).
-Internally catalog someone’s social media behavior to confirm the narcissistic personality disorder I suspected while encountering them in person.
-Oh… and be eternally confused about why people wanted to see pictures of my dog more than videos of my band.
My brain reached full social capacity and busted.
Did using social media in the above ways cause unnecessary internal discord? Yes.
Was this a waste of precious time? Yes. Yes, it was. So I quit.
BIG TAKE AWAY NUMBER 1: Don’t use a private social media account to advertise your artistic work. This video says it well.
The Tangle: Quitting Social Media Led to Quitting Music
When I deleted my FB account, I didn’t only quit social media. I quit the larger life-long vision of doing creative work. I figured if I couldn’t withstand the promotional aspect, I must not be cut out to be a writer or musician. It’s hard to tell how all of this became so entangled looking back, but it probably had something to do with rigid thinking (a problem I was trying to solve with creativity in the first place).
Around the time I quit, I believed in “Freedom Unlimited” money in reverse. As in, I was going to get an awesome day job and no one could stop me.
Whatever it’s called, I didn’t want freedom. I was scared of it. In fact, working on whatever I wanted each day as I steered my own business had become an overwhelming burden. No one could force me to ever promote myself or be on social media to make money from music again! Money from music wasn’t worth the social confusion or the in-person isolation exasperated by social media.
The above thoughts rang true in my head (along with the compounding factor of not wanting to tour). So I quit. Problem solved… except my creative self kind of shriveled up and died for a few years.
(I’d like to note, I didn’t quit with a big announcement or anything. There were plenty of nice people online who really supported my music and probably can’t find me now. Not reaching out to them before leaving was a lame move.)
BIG TAKE AWAY NUMBER 2: Let your true fans “follow” you wherever you go (even if it’s only to a private email list).
Quick Thoughts About Being Off Social Media For Six Years
Unicorns. Rainbows with pots of gold. Natural highs. I’m not going to lie. They’re real.
Being free of social media was nothing short of amazing for me personally, socially, and creatively (even if there wasn’t a large audience for what I went on to create).
Both Mad Fientist and Paula Pant had Cal Newport on recently to discuss Digital Minimalism. My personal experience aligned with a lot of what he said. I highly suggest both of these episodes if you are interested in this topic.
Am I the Sane One or the Insane One?
After I quit, I set out with the plan to have a stable job and abandon all entrepreneurial pursuits acting as bait to get me online. (Cal Newport discussed this concept tactfully. Some of these big social media companies hook people with the “gateway idea” of family, connection, or a business.)
While a lot of people seemed to be enjoying social media (and I thought I had something worthwhile to sell but still couldn’t bring myself to engage on it), I wondered if something was terribly wrong with me or terribly right with me. The pendulum swung and I couldn’t decide.
While doing research for a song I was writing, I read a story about the first ham radios. Suddenly social media made sense to me (especially the hashtags).
What Do Ham Radios Have to Do With Anything?
Quite a lot.
If you are on social media right now because of a narrow interest in a certain topic or passion, you might want to thank Hugo Gernsback way back in the 1920s for pioneering this trend. He smashed together science fiction and radio geeks in a way never seen before, using his role as a publisher of all things nerdy to cross-pollinate contributions to radio broadcasting. He is considered by some to be the father of modern social media.
He brought together people from all over the world (who were once on the fringes of society) and helped them gain a sense of belonging by giving them a platform for their narrow interests. Through the use of ham radios, these people could chat, dork it up, and most importantly THRIVE (even with people they may never meet in person).
He was formulaic in his ability to organize people and connect with them, while at the same time so hypersensitive to physical stimuli that he invented a suit called the Isolator to wear in public (it looked like scuba gear). He said blocking out all noise, changes in temperature, and bad lighting could help people focus better.
He knew what to block out in order to go deep. (But he was extremely naive in thinking this would apply to everyone. His suit was a massive marketing failure). He was friends with Nikola Tesla (big surprise). I can’t wait to record the songs I wrote about these two friends.
BIG TAKE AWAY NUMBER 3: Use social media like Hugo Gernsback would have.
In Part 2, I will talk about Routh Soukup's idea of The Outcast personality along with reasons why this personality needs to collaborate more in order to reach its potential. Also, I will discuss how to make deep processing work for you - not against you - and where to go after reaching "full social capacity."