The World Seen Through Social Media Isn’t Real

Following our practical post about escaping social media once and for all, a couple of people emailed to say they can’t quit social media because of reasons.

So don’t. I’m not telling you what to do, honestly. I’m inviting you to think about it and, if you want to, to gradually and calmly, piece by piece, extract yourself from the tangle in which you’ve found yourself. They kidnapped your time and attention gradually and calmly, piece by piece. That’s the way to leave too. You won’t regret it.

If you need extra strength to go against the grain, I find the following quote from Jaron Lanier very powerful. It’s almost like a mantra to me now. I carry it around in a backroom of my brain and I summon it whenever I idly think about re-joining social media to see how some kid from school looks like now or because there’s something for me to promote. Sorry, here’s Lanier:

You, you, you have the affirmative responsibility to invent and demonstrate ways to live without the crap that is destroying society.

I know it’s hard to swim against the tide when you have limited time and money and reach. But it’s important to do it anyway. The rich and powerful certainly manage it. In How to Do Nothing, Jenny Odell writes:

while seemingly every kid in a restaurant is watching bizarre, algorithmically determined children’s content on YouTube, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs both severely limited their children’s use of technology at home. As Paul Lewis reported for The Guardian, Justin Rosenstein, the Facebook engineer who created the “like” button, had a parental control feature set up on his phone by an assistant to keep him from downloading apps. Loren Brichter, the engineer who invented the “pull to refresh” feature of Twitter feeds regards his invention with penitence: “pull-to-refresh is addictive. Twitter is addictive. These are not good things. When I was working on them, it was not something I was mature enough to think about. In the meantime he has “put his design work on the back burner while he focusses on building a house in New Jersey.” Without personal assistants to commandeer our phones, the rest of us keep on pulling to refresh, while overworked single parents juggling work and sanity find it necessary to stick iPads in front of their kids’ faces.

And here’s an additional thought that’s been rolling around in my head lately: the world seen through social media isn’t real. Zuckerberg might not know it but the Metaverse has been here for ages.

I recently started listening to the second series of Jon Ronson’s Things Fell Apart. It’s a piece of investigative journalism concerning the so-called culture wars.

When I listened to the first series last year it was with genuine curiosity. I’d heard of, for example, “pizzagate” but I didn’t understand quite was was going on. I knew about the right-wing Christian aversion to abortion but I didn’t know why it was suddenly all the rage beyond the American south. Ronson’s show made sense of these things.

I wasn’t naturally interested in those topics per se, but thanks to comments I’d seen on social media they’d snagged my interest. What was real? Was any of this a threat to me? Would it change anything in my neighbourhood? Did I need to know something about this thing to understand culture today? I wasn’t consciously asking those questions, but my amygdala was.

They were zombie thoughts. Automated fretful horizon-scanning when I could have been looking at clouds.

Now that I’m off social media (did I mention that?), the second series of Jon Ronson’s thing is hard to listen to. It’s boring and unpleasant. I’m no longer interested in “making sense of the culture wars.” They’re not relevant to me.

Let’s face it. The culture wars are made up. Usually by right-wing newspapers and technology firms, paid for by billionaires and oligarchs with an interest in destabilising free will and non-Russian public institutions.

Not being able to listen to that radio show made me understand that the world seen through social media is horribly distorted. Everyone knows this already, but now I know it viscerally because, for the first time in 20 years, I’ve been spending time in the world without the distortion lens.

Life’s much better without the distortion lens.

You also heal surprisingly quickly, which gives me hope. Delete your accounts. Go back to real life.

You too, Jon Ronson. Get back out into the field and quit with the Twitter shit. It’s enough already.

There’s a bit in The Circle by Dave Eggers where the Last Man Standing (i.e. a character not on social media and spends his days making authentic clay pots or something) is hounded by drones until he drives his car off a bridge. It never really rang true to me. Here in the real world, I don’t feel hassled by “tech.” The people Jon Ronson shows being bullied on Facebook are, well, on Facebook. You really can switch it off and get on with your life.

I’m not curious about culture wars any more. More interesting to me are Momus’ thoughts about how the algorithm might influence the real world. And more interesting still, are the actual affairs of the real world: things like ant colonies (literally, not metaphorically) and new live comedy, and publishing real books, using digital technology to make real things happen instead of distracting from them, and simply hanging out.

Real life, folks. I’m telling you. It’s unbeatable. Until it is! I’d say there’s “no competition” but the emails I get from people who “can’t” re-join us on the outside strongly suggest otherwise.

Listen to me preach about this, eh? I’ve only been free of it for six months. But that’s how good it is. Listen! I’m a voice from the other side and you don’t even need a ouija board to hear it!


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Robert Wringham is the editor of New Escapologist. He also writes books and articles. Read more at

5 Responses to “The World Seen Through Social Media Isn’t Real”

  1. Fergie says:

    I couldn’t agree more, I stopped using all social media several years ago and I was a web developer until I recently escaped.
    I frequently find that I have no idea about a story that is on the Guardian or BBC homepages so I ask my daughter who will reply ‘it is just an internet thing, you don’t need to know about that’!
    There is still some great stuff online, none of it is social media.

  2. “it is just an internet thing, you don’t need to know about that” — brilliant!

  3. Andy says:

    I commented the other piece about quitting social media, and I’m happy to read this one as well.

    While doing so, it made me think of when I quit the prototype to social media — television. I stopped watching it in the 1980s, and except for having one to watch movies (only without commercials) I wouldn’t have one in the house.

    I made the parallel because I often have no idea what people are talking about when they’re discussing a show, actors, etc. (I have watched a few series but through paid means and always without commercials). I’ve missed most of pop culture during the past 30 years, including commercial radio. I may not know what people are talking about sometimes, but I’m convinced that’s not a negative thing.

  4. The 1980s is phenomenally early to get rid of TV. Nice going. I only gave up mine in 2008 (and, like you, I still watch properly good things, deliberately, online). I came across a phrase recently for one of the problems of TV and social media: “you are marinating yourself in conventional wisdom.” That’s basically what I say only more eloquently. Our FAQ says: “[Television] advocates popular opinion. Escapologists should seek to build muscles of resistance instead of accepting whatever is popular or conventional. [TV] also dictates where and when you pay attention; any technology that informs your actions or behaviour should be escaped.”

  5. HD says:

    So true! I have had some angst in the past about living in America, wistfully gazing over at the problemless utopia of Europe, but discovered that quitting Reddit was key to feeling better about my home.

    Turns out scrolling through the angry rants of teenagers (and maybe dissention-spreading Russian bots?? Is this a reddit rumor? We’ll never know) every day is not a way to see the glass half full. If I actually only take my real life experiences of the US as evidence, it’s mostly a lot of beautiful nature and nice, interesting people (even the southern ones!). Still too many cars, but that is how you get out to all the nature bits. Now I too, can slowly, blissfully forget what the word ‘Pizzagate’ means.

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