Why I Quit Social Media

For the past decade I’ve been building my online business under the assumption that I needed to be on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram in order to succeed.

I’m now testing that assumption.

Earlier this week I deleted each of those three accounts, without notice, and I’d like to explain why.

First, a bit of context.

I run an education business where I teach a skill called sketchnoting, which helps you tap into the visual processing power of your brain when taking notes and sharing ideas with others.

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Sketchnoting merges hand-sketched images and diagrams with brief phrases to succinctly capture an idea.

The primary places where I share ideas about sketchnoting are on my website, Verbal to Visual, and on my YouTube channel with the same name.

Video has been my go-to media format since the early days of Verbal to Visual, starting with index cards and an iPhone propped in between a stack of books, and then growing in complexity and quality over time.

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My first recording studio.

Because of my emphasis on video, most of what I posted to social media were screen captures of the latest upload, with a short caption sharing the gist of the video that I hoped followers would then go watch.

Rarely did I use the unique strengths of any of those platforms. I never got into documenting my day with Instagram stories. I didn’t tweet any individual thoughts that weren’t connected to a video or blog post that I wanted followers to click through to. And I avoided Facebook as much as possible (it has long been my least favorite of the three).

One of the reasons that I felt justified in leaving those platforms, then, is that I wasn’t doing anything original there. I was just repurposing work that lived elsewhere in the hopes that some of the people who followed me would eventually make it to my website, where the real material (and products) live.

But that’s not the only reason I was primed to hit all of those “Delete Account” buttons.

The current featured video on my YouTube channel is called Less Consumption, More Creation.

Within that video I make the case for scaling back the amount of information you consume, and doing more with what you choose to take in.

Sketchnoting increases the quality of your attention when learning something new.

The more creation that I’m encouraging starts with sketchnoting.

Though some complain that taking notes in a visual way isn’t worth the extra time, I’d argue that the time you spend chasing new ideas would be better spent working with and implementing the ones you’ve already come across.

That’s what giving ideas a visual form helps you to do — work with and implement ideas — by tapping into the full processing power of your brain.

My decision to quit social media falls under a similar ethos. Though I genuinely enjoyed scrolling through Twitter to see the latest news, memes, and hot takes, I would often leave those sessions either in a pit of despair because of the state of the world, or with a cluttered mind that had become oversaturated with short-form media.

Social media does not value depth. Though there are many individuals on social media sharing important ideas and perspectives that are enriching local, national, and global conversations, the platforms themselves just want you to keep scrolling so that you can be served more ads.

I want to prioritize time spent with long-form content. I want to spend more time with fewer ideas so that I have the space to integrate those ideas into my understanding of the world.

There’s another angle on that concept of depth that’s important to me.

Within the book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert (with the help of Seamus Heaney) talks about how it takes persistent exploration to reach deep enough to hit your truest work and self:

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Social media adds unwanted kinks into that chain.

Though I’ve recorded enough videos to be somewhat comfortable on camera, I still don’t feel like I’m able to be my truest self in that format.

Even less so on social media. I was always nervous to share my opinion, and nervous to talk about anything other than sketchnoting.

Compared to the cool and interesting people I was following, what did I have to say?

What I’ve recognized is that instead of sitting in the cafeteria, one table over from the cool kids, trying to listen in on their conversation, I’d rather spend my time off in the library.

I know that’s not every introvert’s experience of social media, but I think it sums up mine.

So rather than wasting time wishing I were cooler, I’ll spend my time in what David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried call, in their book Rework, the alone zone.

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Your alone zone is only as good as the boundaries that protect it.

I’ll enter the alone zone of my home office in the basement, I will block out even the possibility of noise from social media, and I will shut up and get to work, lowering my bucket a few times each day without worrying about what others think of me.

This next point is fairly obvious but often overlooked: choosing to say “yes” to social media means choosing to say “no” to many other things.

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Over the past decade I’ve become increasingly comfortable saying no.

Greg McKeown made that balance clear in his book Essentialism, which makes the case for the disciplined pursuit of less.

My “no” to social media means more time for the “yes” I’ve said to YouTube, to course creation, and to community building.

It’s also creating space for a new “yes”, one that I’ve been circling for years.

For that, I’ll have to take you back to before I had even launched Verbal to Visual, when I was blogging about my own visual thinking skill development at The Graphic Recorder.

One of the earliest (and roughest) sketchnotes that I shared there focused on the book On Writing Well by William Zinsser:

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Sketchnotes need not be pretty to be helpful.

In the written reflection that accompanied those visual notes, I wrote the following:

Sketches coupled with words and short phrases (such as the ones that I have been posting) serve a particular purpose — they enhance understanding and make it easier to recall information. But well-crafted prose is a joy to read. I would like to become proficient in both crafts — that of the writer, and that of the visual note taker.

I’ve spent most of the last eight years focusing on the craft of sketchnoting.

That focus isn’t going away, but I’d like to bring writing back to the forefront of my attention as well.

Quitting social media creates the space for that.

That’s why I’m here writing instead of scrolling Twitter.

And I plan to stay.

Written by

A sketchnoter who writes. www.verbaltovisual.com

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