Why I Deleted My Social Media Apps
Recently I had brunch with three friends, all fellow musicians. We were catching up and pondering what it means to succeed in music. One friend expressed that she’d been feeling creatively uninspired and paralyzed by self-criticism, and she felt that her use of social media was partly to blame.
“Big surprise,” you might say, “the dang millennials are all addicted to social media, which is a vapid, miserable void that is responsible for every bad feeling they have.”
When people say things like this, I know there’s plenty of truth in it, but it sometimes feels like someone has just made fun of my sibling. You can make fun of your own sibling because you’ve known and loved them for a lifetime, but you’ll come for anyone else who makes the same joke.
What I mean is that it’s very easy for people who became adults before social media existed to criticize it, and their criticisms may be true, but they often come coupled with a misunderstanding of social media’s role in our lives. My generation started using social media at the same time that we started learning to become ourselves and connect with others. Social media is like the air that we breathe – it’s all around us and so ingrained in our minute-to-minute lives that we barely notice it. For musicians and other creatives in particular, it’s become a compulsory part of building and growing our careers.
At its best, social media is an incredibly powerful tool for expression and connection. It can bring together people who are isolated, provide new ways of thinking and expressing oneself, serve as a free and democratic point of access for art and ideas to make their way to people who will find them meaningful, and even facilitate powerful social change. But, yes, at the same time, social media can quickly turn to the dark side and create isolation, low self-esteem, and a value system of surface over substance. Its addictive qualities are well-documented. Most of all, for me, it’s a black hole of wasted time. (And it’s not actually that democratic anymore, but more on that in a minute.) I’ve never heard of a better use for the phrase “double-edged sword.” For musicians, both edges of the sword are even sharper.
When I Googled “musicians and social media,” I found nothing but listicles (a format designed for our ever-shortening attention spans) with titles like “12 Essential Social Media Tips For Musicians” and “8 Ways To Build Your Band’s Social Media Brand.” I had to click past literally hundreds of these before I found a single article implying that musicians’ relationship with social media was anything but positive and necessary. Its necessity is difficult to dispute – social media now plays a central role in artists’ efforts to get their music out to the world. But this often comes at a cost to our mental health.
In the “old days,” when everything was done with physical newsletters and print media and posters, no one expected to hear from their favorite artists every day. But now that we’re all consuming and creating an endless stream of media at light speed, the industry expects artists to be active on multiple platforms, multiple times a day to maintain a “brand,” while somehow also finding time to book gigs, write songs, practice our instruments, and do all of the other administrative work necessary to maintain and grow a music career. I sometimes feel like my “music career” consists mostly of things other than actually playing music (Quadrant 3, for those who read my article on productivity).
It’s easy to cave to the pressure to stay in constant contact with your audience, especially for independent artists early in their careers. Social media sometimes feels like a competition taking place every second against every other artist for a shred of your followers’ limited attention. This also breeds negative comparisons to others. During our daily endless scroll, we have our peers’ gigs at cool venues and exciting collaborations and record deals staring us in the face, and it’s easy to sink into despondency. We know the full context of our successes amidst our many daily setbacks – the things we don’t post about – but we often forget that we don’t have that context for other people. Learning not to compare oneself to others has always been a noble species-wide struggle, but social media certainly hasn’t made that struggle any easier.
An active social presence does, in theory, have tangible benefits for musicians: Venues and festivals pay attention to how many likes or followers a band has. This does make sense, because it’s a quick and easy way to determine what kind of audience a band has. Facebook events, too, are a quick and easy way to get the word out about upcoming gigs. For the first decade or so, these avenues allowed independent and DIY musicians to get their careers going without becoming beholden to publicists, agents, and traditional media, who might have more rigid ideas about making “marketable” art. It allowed artists to create on their own terms.
In practice, though, these things are quickly ceding ground to that great root of all evil, money. More specifically, the dreadful “sponsored posts” and the truly baffling services that allow social media users to pay for likes and followers. On Facebook in particular, if musicians want their events and updates to be seen by more than a handful of their own followers, they must pay to “boost” the posts, i.e., turn them into ads. This, of course, will only show up for users who aren’t using ad-blocking software. I’m getting mad just writing about it. It’s undemocratic capitalist nonsense. I feel dirty every time I click “boost post,” but I’ve seen it get results.
So what to do? Personally, I’ve become a big fan of the newsletter format. It creates the connective tissue that we social-media users crave, but without the emphasis on racking up likes and followers like arcade points. My friend Aurora Birch recently started writing newsletters in a truly heroic attempt to circumvent the social-media promotional rat race, and her first letter was nothing short of delightful. A letter, even a digital one, feels more intentional and less image-conscious. I’ve noticed a triumphant return of the newsletter in the last couple of years, and it seems to me partly driven by our growing frustration with social media.
Over the aforementioned brunch, my friends and I discussed all of these ideas, and then the four of us made a pact to take a break from social media. Before we left the café, I had already deleted Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram from my phone. I didn’t imagine that I’d feel better instantly, but I did. And I got a lot done that day. (Several hours after The Big Delete, I remembered that I am responsible for posting from No Depression’s Instagram account, so I re-downloaded Instagram. But I didn’t log in to my personal account, and I moved the app from my “Social” folder to my “Work” folder. So it still counts.)
Social media is often referred to as an echo chamber, but I think it’s sometimes more like a megaphone. It amplifies humanity’s best and worst impulses. Facebook has been around for 14 years, Twitter for 11, and early social-networking sites (Myspace, Friendster) launched right after the turn of the millennium. Some of the trends I’m seeing point toward the idea that we’re starting to come out of an adolescent phase of excess with social media. I’m trying to remain optimistic that that’s true, and I do believe that this particular pendulum can swing back, if we push it back. There’s a balance to be found, somehow. Newsletters for everyone!