Having deleted my Instagram account about a month ago, I am now essentially sober from social media. I still have an empty Facebook account to keep up with a few local event schedules and to facilitate the use of Facebook Marketplace, and still maintain a LinkedIn profile, but neither of those demand attention unless I want to give it.
This excision has resulted in immediate benefits: most clearly having significantly more time and capacity to engage with and enjoy reality. I went on vacation and took maybe 3 pictures — I shared them via text with my mom and best friend, I know no one else gave a shit.
The insidiousness of parasocial behavior online is the masquerade. It is supposed to feel like real social engagement — we think we’re doing a thing by posting all our shit online, but every bit of it is ersatz1.
Has this caused relationships to suffer? Not at all. The people I no longer “engage with” are the ones who weren’t real relationships, and the ones who wanted my phone number have kept in touch over the last month to alert me to things in their life worth knowing about. The outcome is clarity. I have a better connection with a chaos magician I’ve never met who lives in California than I do with people I’ve been going to shows with for the past decade.
You can recover from being terminally online. I listen to podcasts, I spend time on Spotify, I text, call, or make real world plans with people I want to spend time with. I don’t scroll for hours looking at content, or feel obligated to present a vision of myself, compete for attention, or “create content” of my own.
The language of online is the language of parasociality. “Engagement” and “Content Creation” and “Influencing” transactionalize (and monetize) the lived experience. It made me sick and I rid myself of it.
The Aristotelian view of friendship laid out in the Nicomachean Ethics outlines three different conceptions of why we like specific people:
- They are useful to us;
- They give us pleasure;
- They are virtuous.
The goal for Aristotle is that a real friendship is based on this goodness or virtue; while the other two categories are based on selfish usefulness. Part of what changed about me during the pandemic is a focus on this virtue. I’ll try to talk about that more in another post, but for now, the result is that I waste a lot less time than I used to on people or things that are not good, even if they may be useful or pleasurable.
- I recognize the irony of that statement since this will be posted online, but this weblog is 22 years old and has always been more diary than anything else. ↩︎