Retreat from “Social” Media

If the thought “I should probably take a break from social media” has ever arisen in your mind, you should take it very seriously. And I’m not just talking about putting the phone down or just closing the tab, but actually taking extended breaks for days, weeks, even months.

I knew that obsessive social media use was a problem, but I could not truly realize the benefits of abstinence and retreat until I actually went ahead and did it multiple times.

You won’t necessarily see any immediate results upon exiting, nor should you expect to. The changes are gradual, cumulative, and often invisible. Often they express themselves indirectly. For me, it was a general state of greater bodily and mental ease, having more time to just be present with my naked self, picking up new activities or continuing to pursue existing ones like reading, writing, creating and playing an instrument. Perhaps none of these things can be attributed to exit from social media as their sole cause, but it is undoubtable that exit was a supportive condition for them.

This doesn’t mean you should shut yourself off from the world either. I never had a huge problem with Instagram, so I kept that, and I found other sources for the news. I also kept Messenger to remain in touch with friends, and I made an alternative Facebook account purely to manage my philosophy study group. At this point the ludditism that advocates for a complete disassociation from social media (like the view of Jaron Lanier) is just not possible, especially the more social media becomes part of the very fabric of social life, which the COVID pandemic has only accelerated.

But you need space for yourself to be alone, to be entirely with your own thoughts and feelings. It’s hard to say exactly how, but social media seems to constantly call us to it, drawing us to it by some kind of occult force, only to then trap and entangle us in a thicket of algorithmically determined nonsense, and in many ways dictating our thoughts and feelings for us in the process. Social media is not just a distraction, it is often a coping mechanism too. In a destitute planet that is burning away, the responsibility to be responsible can feel overwhelming, so social media is like a Siren who momentarily takes our responsibility away from us, allowing us to drift in the blissful mindless ignorance of the infinite scroll where space disappears and time seems to stop ticking.

But eventually you come back to your senses, you realize that the moments that count your eventual passing away has become ever smaller in number, and the urge to be responsible remains and is even stronger and thus even more overwhelming than before. Now do you repeat the cyclical patterns of habit and go back to the infinite scroll until you fall asleep, or do you put the phone down and directly confront the finitude of your existence in order to awaken to the real conditions that make up your life?

I for one will be making it a regular practice to periodically take extended breaks from social media. I will always come back, because it seems like some people actually like some of my content enough to miss me when I’m gone. Like I said, engagement through social media is becoming increasingly unavoidable, so complete disengagement is not possible. But that doesn’t mean we can’t go on retreat, take refuge in what really matters, and learn to be content and fully present with the natural state of our basic being. Eventually you will find, as I am finding out, that each time you come back after exit, the power to say NO becomes ever more stronger, and no amount of algorithmically automated content, however sharp and precise, will be able to break down the resilience you have developed. You start to hear the Siren song clearly for what it really is: just another way to avoid what really matters.

The inner mind-body complex is the last frontier of colonization by techno-capitalist racial patriarchy. Don’t let it take you away. Cultivate your inner nature, empty of all distractions. Deactivate your virtual self and reactivate your true self.

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