Saskatchewan

Point of View | 'I put down my phone and picked up my life': Quitting social media liberated me

On February 1, 2019, I logged out of all social media and quietly, without any pomp or pageantry, deactivated my accounts.
Cam Houle owns and operates a dairy farm near Osler, Sask. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

On Feb. 1, 2019, I logged out of all social media and quietly, without any pomp or pageantry, deactivated my accounts.

It was not a rash, emotional decision or a response to any one thing in particular. I was tired of the perpetual repetition of it. I was tired of the seeming immaculate forgery of human contact. I was fatigued by the never-ending cycle of competition, bragging, pity-partying and inhuman mistreatment of each other.

I was tired of the beast known as social media.

I was never a celebrity, nor really even a big deal. I did have more than the average typical following, and I was recognized within my own echo chamber, but the importance of one's following is ridiculously overstated.

I believe I had just over 10,000 followers from Facebook and Twitter combined. I was a small fish swimming in a tiny pond that was connected to an ocean.

I saw first hand the horrible things that strangers say to people they disagree with.- Cam Houle

I have always loved the attention and connection afforded me by the internet. I can share a picture or funny thought without leaving my work or even stopping whatever it is that I am doing and get positive feedback and attention from around the globe. I was actually pretty good at it.

I found it addictive.

I also found it useful. As a small business owner just starting on my way, I had a wealth of experience and knowledge at my fingertips 24 hours a day. I am proud to say that I leaned on that heavily, especially a few years ago.

There were times when the people on my Twitter feed kept me going, whether it was moral support, sage advice or a sound, well-deserved tongue-lashing. I have doubts about whether or not I would still be in business if not for my social media friends' help.

Then, this last winter, it got to be too much. I lost my enjoyment of it all.

In the depths of two months of  –40 C temperatures, with my business running hard financially and the day-to-day stress that everyone knows, I no longer found solace and comfort on Facebook or Twitter.

I focused on the negatives; the way people treat each other, the lack of constructive dialogue, the lack of humanity.

I lost touch with the good of social media and was swarmed by the bad. All I could see was some people competing for who's winning at life and others competing for who has it worse.

I saw first hand the horrible things that strangers say to people they disagree with, or the intentional lack of comprehension or compassion when discussing important topics.

I saw the constant embarrassing circus surrounding U.S. politics: bipartisan war zones where one side was always perfect and right and the other side was always disastrous and wrong. I also see it happening in Canada to a lesser — but still unacceptable — degree.

What's the point of that mindset? What will anyone ever gain from locking their brain into that sort of thinking? We all lose when we think and behave this way.

In the gloom of that wintry unhappiness I deactivated my accounts. Then a strange thing happened. I came around both mentally and spiritually.

Cam Houle says getting off social media allowed him to focus on his family and his dairy farm. (Cam Houle)

I forgot about the world's problems and focused on fixing my own. I put down my phone and picked up my life.

I let go of the need to share every success and failure with the world. I watched my screen time drop by 20 to 30 per cent a week for consecutive weeks. I forgot about NAFTA2, Trump, vegans, Trudeau and the weather across the continent. I woke up to the weather on my farm and set about dealing with my own problems.

It was liberating as hell.

For me, leaving social media was the best thing I've done in a while.- Cam Houle

Perhaps my favourite side effect is the phone conversations I can now have with my mother. She actually tells me things I don't already know.

We discuss our lives. We can share things with each other that we didn't already see a tweet about. We talk about our family and their lives. I learn things from her about the people that are important to me, and vice versa.

Instead of me saying, "Yeah Mom, I saw it on her Facebook page," I am delighted to listen to her talk about my sister's children who, I guess, are now playing hockey.

These conversations have become real and meaningful. I am not inundated with so much information about peoples' lives that I grow a thick, membranous layer of disinterest. What a different feeling that is for me.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I did eventually reactivate my Twitter account. I don't participate in the social media shenanigans anymore, but I couldn't stand by and let my domain name become available for the masses to just take and use as their own. Certain vegans and vegan groups would have too much fun with that.

For now it sits dormant. Perhaps one day I'll become active again, but that's to be decided. For now I am enjoying the relative silence and focusing on myself, my family and my farm.

I think stories like mine — of disconnecting from social media — are becoming more prevalent. I am confident that people will continue to leave the pervasive, repetitive, voyeuristic trap that grabs and holds us mercilessly.

For me, leaving social media was the best thing I've done in a while. I bet there's others out there that feel the same but are scared of making the move.

What do you have to lose? I can tell you what you have to gain.


This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ

About the Author

Cam is a dairy farmer from Osler, Sask., along with his partner, Jaime, and their children. They milk 42 Holstein dairy cows.

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