Remember the people who used to brag about not having cable or, better yet, not owning a television?
You know the ones (if you were alive back in the early 2000s). They were the kind of friend who showed up to trivia claiming to “know nothing about pop culture.” They always thought the book was better than the movie, even when it wasn’t. They bragged about not owning a television even though you saw them binge a dozen Netflix DVDs at a time.
Fast forward a dozen or so years and this figure has re-emerged, just in a slightly different form. Instead of bragging about throwing out their television, they’re posting about how quitting [fill-in-the-blank] social platform has immeasurably improved their lives. While the rest of the world is rotting their brains online, they’ve done the impossible. They’ve gone offline.
And they can’t wait to tell you about it.
“Being offline” is trendy in a way “being online” once was. Gross.
I know the “offline humblebragger,” because I have been this person. I have been the coworker who goes on vacation, deletes Twitter from their phone for a week, and brags to the office about how much better they feel. Never mind that I immediately re-downloaded it upon landing and consumed as much poisonous viral Michael Avenatti-related content as my brain could handle before imploding. That’s because I accomplished what I set out to accomplish: I earned compliments.
There are plenty of others just like me.
“I am also that person,” Brian W. direct messaged Mashable, adding that deleting Twitter had still improved his mental health.
“Deleting Twitter from my phone has definitely been a good thing for my brain,” Alison B. also confided to Mashable in a direct message. “And I lerv to talk about it.”
Lately, it seems that there’s a whole content industry dedicated to helping online people (people who spend a disproportionate amount of their lives on the internet) who dream of becoming offline people (people who spend more time “in the real world”).
If you’re an “online” person, you’re likely to come across a story like this at least once a day: “Why quitting social media is the best decision I ever made in my life,” or “How quitting social media changed my life for good, forever,” or “Why Facebook is destroying all of your relationships,” or maybe even “100 reasons you should delete Twitter/Facebook/Instagram RIGHT NOW.”
Heck, Mashable has even written their fair share of digital detox stories (though I’d like to think we do so with far less absolutism and a heavier dose of humility).
The stories follow a relatively familiar formula: The subject expresses some sort of addiction to/unhealthy obsession with a social platform. They decide, on a whim, to quit a platform. Delete everything. Remove their digital footprint. Then, like magic, their life transforms. Their relationships improve. They suddenly enjoy the world around them. They see flowers. They feel so free.
They belong to a different world — the offline community. Us online people — well, we’re just lost.
Listen, it’s reasonable to fantasize about living off the digital grid. Internet addiction is a . Negative social media interactions can severely impact mood. In a , researchers found that people who used seven or more social media platforms experienced higher levels of anxiety. No wonder people romanticize the offline life.
It’s the absolutism and the occasional accompanying snobbery that’s the issue. There’s been considerable amounts of research pointing to the opposite effect: Some people do experience as a result of using platforms like Twitter. Not all of us can afford to go offline, and not all of us want to, either.
We all don’t want to move to your fantastical offline utopia.
“So I’ve found a sub of people bragging online about spending time offline?” user writes. “Am I the only [one] that feels like I’m missing something here? Wouldn’t it make more sense for you guys to not have an entire subreddit if you’re planning on being offline? Like mostly based on the fact that if you guys are offline, then your sub will be dead, and if you’re on the sub posting and commenting, you’re ruining your own aim??”
Harmacist raises a good question, but it’s not even going offline that’s the real problem. It’s the formula this technological bildungsroman always has to follow.
Going “offline” may not give you spiritual peace
Read any of the digital detoxification narratives published in the past 24 hours, and you’ll find the same plot points. Life before detox before was hell, life post-detox is Eden.
The writer has become a good listener
The writer can live a life without distractions
They don’t procrastinate
They found a job
They found their life’s purpose
The writer has found inner peace
But how often do we hear people — either in the stories we see published or the conversations we have on the regular — express ambivalence about their time away from social media?
When was the last time you saw a “I quit social media and I regret it” story published? How often do you hear someone say, “I deleted Facebook and frankly I’m very neutral about it,” or “I have ambivalent feelings about digital detoxification.”
By insisting that “online living” is a kind of viral illness and going offline its absolute cure, we set ourselves up for failure. For one, people who need to stay online – whether for work, family, or personal reasons — are made to feel guilty about it.
“I hate Facebook and am a very inactive user,” A.V. told Mashable over direct message. “But it’s the only easy way to keep in touch with my very large and global family.”
“Some people have been hurt, confused, and annoyed by my constant ‘I’m back/I’m leaving’ activity where Facebook is concerned,” Maria M. told Mashable over email. “That bothers me, because I don’t want anyone to be affected negatively by my struggles with social media.”
We need to have reasonable expectations about offline life. I’ve taken breaks from social media before and my experiences were largely “meh to above meh.” I missed sharing my corny vacation highlights with my friends on Instagram. I wanted to hear every single update about the byzantine Mueller investigation. Reading a shitty book was not much better than reading a shitty article I found on Twitter. My relationships didn’t markedly improve after I quit social media, and though I got more sleep, it wasn’t a dramatic increase.
I even missed Gritty.
But because I felt pressure to complete the “I’m quitting social media for good” cultural narrative, I hyped up the success of my detox in conversations with my friends. “Taking a break from social media was the best decision I ever made,” I told them, even though I desperately missed every dumb meme while I was away.
Privately, I felt bad about falling short. I didn’t really want to delete every platform. I couldn’t. I love Facebook rants too much. I love Otter Twitter. I had failed at what should have been the easiest job of them all: quitting.
It doesn’t have to be this way for me or for others. We can have a better digital balance.
Please. Being “extremely offline” isn’t any better than being “extremely online.”
There was a point in time when “extremely online” people were culturally in vogue. Now we’ve reached a historical moment when “extremely offline” people are trending.
What we need to do is to admit a core truth: Neither group of people is inherently cool.
Who cares where you spend your time? Online people: You’re not in any way smarter or funnier for dunking on Eric Garland on Twitter. No one cares that you think Gritty is an anarchist-syndicalist. Similarly, just because you’re an offline person who reads books instead of articles on Twitter doesn’t make you any more educated. Neither world has the moral authority. Everyone is equally dumb. We all need to stop dreaming of greener digital pastures.
Now excuse me while I go tweet about this.