Ok, so we’ve got to start at the beginning. It was nearly two years ago now. I was alone in a hotel room, and it was approaching midnight the night before my wedding. And there I was, on my laptop, working.
I was a social media manager at the time and honestly, I feel like if there is any job that’s underrated, it’s a social media manager. So much skill is required for that role! But anyway back to that hotel room. Midnight. Laptop on. And I remember grabbing my phone for a little break to start scrolling and scrolling…..and I thought..what am I doing? This was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me.
I don’t think anyone is going to argue with the fact that social media is relentless. When you get to that point when you feel like you’ve figured out the algorithm, it changes. When you get to the point where you feel you’ve mastered a platform, a new feature comes out. Trends change so quickly, and so does user behaviour - how people like to consume content now is not going to be how they like to consume content in 2 years’ time. So for me trying to run a business, it was exhausting.
Being in social media and with a business to market, I’d found myself in this never-ending cycle of content creation, scrolling, showing up, on repeat. The whole be visible thing is exhausting, not just because it takes time, but it takes a lot of energy to put yourself out there in a way you’re happy with. Some people do it amazingly, effortlessly, but I was not one of those. And neither were most of my clients or people I was talking to.
But you get sucked in, it’s what every expert is telling you to do, and you want to be successful right, so you do it. And it honestly feels normal until you come up for air and realise it’s not normal. It’s a cycle we’re in that keeps us so busy that we don’t see that it’s not real life. People aren’t that aggressive in real life. People aren’t that perfect in real life. People aren’t that confident in real life. But when you’re in the thick of it, it’s hard to see that.
It made me rethink my career. To be honest, it made me rethink whether or not I was even in an ethical career!
Before social media, I had graduated with a degree in International Development. I had worked for national charities in the UK, and for NGOs in India. And without getting into the debate on ethics around a Westerner going abroad to do charity work, it felt like I was doing some good on a small level.
With this career however, I just wondered what I was contributing. I was helping my clients make money, build successful businesses, and I guess the knock-on effect from that was they got to live the life they wanted, financially secure, with freedom. But I just couldn’t stop thinking about the harm social media was doing, and how I was a part of that cog just churning out more content.
I’d been in the social media industry for just over 4 years at this point. Not only was I beginning to question the impact my career choice was having, but I was also just tired. I was overwhelmed with trying to keep up with the latest trends or algorithm changes. And I know some people absolutely thrive in this sort of non-stop, finger on the pulse environment. I am not one of those people. Kudos to you if you are, I respect that. That is a talent I just don’t have.
So, incase you can’t tell, I was over it all, over the relentless ‘show up’ narrative. I was sick of experts, sick of influencers, sick of repetitive content.
But being sick of social media is not the best place to be when you work in social media!
So this is when I started looking for other ways to do this - better, healthier ways for me to be in this world, to be online and market myself, my business, and help others do the same, but still stay sane.
And I came across this book called Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. And the tag line of this book is “on living better with less technology”. I thought perfect, let me soak it all up!
This book is a call for more meaningful interactions with people, to log off, shut down the noise and the distractions and focus on only what you value. It’s a call for more control over how we spend our time and attention. And it really spoke to me because I was that overwhelmed person with a million apps and a habit of carrying my phone everywhere, that was me. I’d wake up in the morning and the first thing I’d do was grab my phone. I’d told myself not to, but I did it anyway.
Digital Minimalism as Cal defines it is all about identifying your values and determining how to use technology to support them.
I thought “yes - this is it!”. This is what I’ve been looking for. Because as much as I am a history nerd, I love technology! I don’t want us to go back in time and not use it, I just want it to support what I value in life, as opposed to taking away what I value.
I’d highly recommend the book.
This is then where I went down a rabbit hole of watching Cal’s TEDtalk and some other interviews. On a personal level, maybe not a professional level because I still hadn’t figured out how this philosophy worked for businesses, but on a personal level, I was bought in.
So I wanted to hear more, and this is where I felt a bit on the fence. In his TEDtalk Cal Newport argues that we should say no to social media completely. Just don’t be on it. That’s it. And, this comes from a guy who’s never had a social media channel in his life. And I mean…that got me a little skeptical. It’s hard to preach about something you’ve never experienced. I know he had all the data and research behind him, but still, it felt a little ehh.
And his message of let’s all stop using social media, I just couldn’t help but think that this 39-year-old guy (yes I googled his age) is out of touch. It’s not that I disagreed with his arguments, I totally get what he’s saying about why it is really harmful to us. But it’s just not realistic.
We’ve all seen The Social Dilemma, it shocked and horrified us all, did you quit social media because of it? We all joined the #deletefacebook hashtag when we found out how our data was being sold, did we all leave social media? This is not a judgement on who did or who didn’t, it’s just a fact of the society and culture we’ve built and live in. Social media usage is increasing. We’re not all logging off for good.
But maybe we should be?
Even before my business, as a user when I’d just use social media for pleasure, I knew about the harm it did. As much as everyone else did, or does.
But after my little existential crisis, I started reading more and more into what social media and the internet is doing to our lives, to society. And the more I read the more I understood about the way social channels are set up to keep us addicted, how no one who founded these platforms actually let their children use them, how we’ve allowed a culture where online bullying and harassment is somehow ok, how algorithms can radicalize people by showing them one side of the narrative on repeat until that person feels they are so informed on the topic that they’re answer is the right answer. But it’s not, it’s not the algorithm showing them a topic they like, it’s the algorithm showing them the side of the argument they like. Over and over.
I read about imposter syndrome, body dysmorphia, and anxiety all being linked to our social media usage. I read about a chronic lack of focus, curiosity, and impatience in young people linked to a never-ending stream of content being bombarded every second, with not enough hours in the day to consume it.
I read about how we’re raising a generation of phone addicts, unable to even watch a whole movie anymore, and I thought fuck - what job am I in?
That despair led me desperately to look for solutions. Not only for myself personally, but for the business I’d built too. Everywhere I looked people were burning out. My clients and fellow business owners were tired of the never-ending content machine. They’d feel guilty for not showing up, pressure to look good that day to hop on stories, and comparison for not achieving what she’s achieving.
But other than log-off, all I kept seeing was ‘turn off your notifications’ or ‘have a digital detox’ as an answer. And I thought it - that’s not a solution, that’s just a bloody plaster. It’s like having a really crappy work culture, never fixing it, just using your holidays to recharge before coming back for more! It’s madness right!
But don’t worry, this is going to get less depressing.
I started talking to people, my husband, friends I’d met who also run businesses online, and as they tried to shake me out of my absolute pit of despair, where I was questioning my whole career, they started sharing the good bits.
I’d found people talking about how much they absolutely love creating content because it’s their creative outlet.
How free they felt at being able to run their business online. Or privileged to be able to turn their passion into a job.
How many wonderful people they had met through social media.
It was the connections, the careers, the fulfillment, and the freedom it had given them.
I spoke to people with disabilities who ran amazing, successful businesses online and market them for free on social media. That’s the power of the internet. It is accessible.
I spoke to people who said social media pulled them out of serious loneliness and depression, giving them the opportunity to connect with people like them and find communities that they would never have met given where they live.
These stories were inspiring, so I began to experiment with using a form of digital minimalism to help people be on social media in a more intentional, balanced, and healthy way. That felt like I was making an impact. A framework grounded in reality - social media is here to stay - but with a degree of control as to how we show up, and why we choose to use these little apps.
It’s so interesting that by and large, the narrative out there is that social media is bad, like really bad. And it is. But what I’ve also found is that it can also be really good. And I hadn’t even realised that it had given me personally a business where I was able to have total freedom and flexibility, a business with no glass ceiling, and the ability to work with some truly special people.
So a part of me wishes it were as easy as ‘let’s all just stop using social media’, but it’s not. Clearly, we’re all still using it. There is good, and there is bad, and I want to talk about that. And if it’s here to stay, how can we use it better.
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