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Upon Deleting Social Media

There is a show on A&E called Hoarders that I used to watch. The show was about two basic issues I could identify with: getting rid of stuff and dealing with the pain of getting rid of stuff. I was impressed that they would air episodes where the hosts were ultimately unsuccessful in helping people deal with their hoarding.


Recently I deleted several social media accounts. The second account I deleted told me I hadn’t logged in for six years. Sporadic use punctuated by long droughts describes my general relationship with social media. Despite the six-year drought on the one account, I felt reservation that I was losing something important and irretrievable. It caused me to pause and rethink my decision to delete the account permanently.


Eventually, I deleted that account and several others. I had to click on several windows on all of them to delete the account. Some messages in these windows caused me to reconsider my choice and the possibility of future regret. Below are samples of those messages and my commentary about their meaning and purpose.


Do you want to archive your data?


This question suggests you spent considerable time curating and describing your day-to-day life and generally managing your account. Think of all of the memories here. Don’t you want to have at least some record of them if you want to reminisce? What if you forget something important?


The other side of this tells me that people might actually use social media as a primary or exclusive way to store autobiographical data or as a sort of journal for memories (i.e., a diary). So deleting the data on that platform might actually put a dent in their ability to recall certain experiences.


This is non-reversible; this cannot be undone.


Deleting your account might cause you avoidable regret. I will go further and say I am certain I will regret deleting my accounts. I currently have some regret for not keeping better track of my Nintendo after high school. Now I am faced with the ability to avoid future regret. Interestingly, there is an option to “deactivate” instead of deleting the account. It will stay there, on the company’s server, ready if you ever need to assuage regret and reactivate it. Or, just let it sit there forever and never look at it.


The account doesn’t take up any physical space, so what would you gain for getting rid of it? You can totally forget about the account, and it will continue to exist forever. On the off chance that you realize you need something from the account, it will be right here, waiting for you. Again, this is a message from the company about how foolish it is to make the company delete your data.


Deletion will take 30 days.


The company wants to protect you from regret within the limits of the law. Maybe, they think, you’re doing this impulsively. But, even if you know you’re not, could there even be a small chance you are? Thirty days is plenty of time to change your mind. The company cares about you. They want what’s best for you.


Plus, they get another 30 days to profit from your participation on their platform. And, you will likely intentionally or unintentionally log back in after your resolve has worn off, resetting the 30-day “cooling off” period. Thirty more days of your presence on the server being recorded. Thirty more days of advertising are sold.


Do you want to download your data?


Most of the useful data in your account are your property, so you can have it back if you want. Social media companies would not offer this option if they didn’t have to. So what advantage is it to them to let you have your data back? The only advantage is in the case they must give you back your data. The advantage would be compliance with the law and avoidance of lawsuits.


There is a possibility that seeing your data statically (not in the context of the platform) isn’t as satisfying as seeing it on the platform. I did not download any of my data (Wow, I have minor regret already!), so I don’t know what it looks like when it’s accessed off their platform, or even if the data can be accessed without their platform. I guess that the data are pretty boring and useless since it was posted on the platform in the context of a digital community and chronologically in real-time. Also, I think these platforms present your data (e.g., photos, text) very nicely. We dress up and display photos with picture frames. Take away the frame, and the photo usually goes in a box in the attic.


You will delete 17 photos and other data.


On one platform, I only had 17 photos. I would imagine some people have thousands or tens of thousands of images. For some people, presence on social media represents a lot of actual time spent interacting with the social media platform. The other day, I talked with a person who could measure how much time she spent playing a video game she loved by an actual whole-number percentage of her life. Are you on social media for a couple of hours per day? More? You might spend more time on social media than you spend eating, studying, reading books, or doing any other single activity in your life. For some of you considering deleting your social media accounts, you will have not only to consider the enormity of the data that will be lost but what you will do with yourself afterward.


If you delete your account, I think you should expect to feel regret at some point about your decision. Regret feels bad for sure, but it is not deadly. People also often fail to consider the positives that may have come from decisions that cause regret. For example, when I started college, I knew that I would fail out of college if I took my video games to college with me. I had limited control over my gaming at the time. It turns out that the next ten years were full and exciting, and I didn’t play another game at that time. I regret not having my Nintendo now, but I am so glad at what I could accomplish by putting it out of my mind. The other part is that I am certain that 15 minutes with my old Nintendo would be enough to feel like I could box it up for another 20 years. We tend to romanticize such things and overstate their significance. As much as you can plan for regret, you should plan for a more satisfying life without social media.

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