When I started Mortise & Tenon in 2015, I knew I needed to find a way to reach woodworkers beyond my local community. And so, after some research I decided I’d replace my “dumb” phone with a shiny new smartphone and learn how to use Instagram.
This platform felt invaluable to me, because it was helping me to make connections with so many other people who have similar interests. I made new acquaintances and learned so much from their daily postings. As M&T’s reach grew over the next few years, my involvement in social media grew along with it. I spent more and more time posting and commenting on others’ photos. And even when I wasn’t on the app, I found my mind wandering back to it. “I wonder who’s commented since I last checked?” I thought. Even my family time was affected. I specifically recall a hiking trip with my wife and kids, with the littlest one riding up on my shoulders. After the first couple miles into the woods, I came to the realization that I had spent the whole time completely checked out, mulling over comments left on my social media accounts. I was disturbed that I had let this thing get such a hold on my thought life.
So I vowed to back off. I set guidelines for myself. I installed a usage-monitoring app on my phone, restricted myself to using it only during work hours (not at evening family time), and vowed to never check my phone in public. These measures largely worked, but I still felt the pull even after all those precautions.
I eventually got myself down to 15 minutes per day of social media usage: enough for one post and a few responses. It felt so good. I was regaining my life back. In the meantime, however, I noticed Facebook and Instagram moving toward greater and greater control of their users' experiences. It’s no secret that these companies design their platforms to be as addictive as possible. Even many stable and well-balanced people, who are otherwise quite resilient individuals, find themselves sucked into the social media vortex. The hasty skimming and instantaneous reactions that these platforms foster leave no room for reflection within the apps themselves. If you don’t respond instantly, the post will fade away into your feed, likely never to be seen again. Despite the fact that, as of this writing, it is still possible to manually search for that inspiring photo on the author’s page, how often do we do this? In reality, 99 percent of the time we experience the app as it was designed to be experienced: as endless scrolling, feeding emotion-driven gut reactions.
But what about the back-and-forth exchanges with other people? Aren’t they valuable? When I started using social media I was keenly aware of this benefit, but the vital thing I failed to understand is that the media platform through which we communicate affects the way we receive the communication. In the case of Instagram, rather than taking time to reflect on what the author has written, we skip down to the comments to see what others have said about it. This is tempting because, if we want the “right” answer – that is, if we want to know how we should think about a given idea – we will find countless thought templates provided by others. This groupthink effect impedes deep reflection and meaningful connection and has allowed polarization and partisanship to fester.
As each year passed, my concerns about these platforms were mounting; I watched them become less about connecting people to their loved ones and more about data collection and monetization of users’ activity. Eventually, the majority of my feeds became laced with obnoxious advertising, unabashed narcissism, and “us vs. them” posturing. It breaks my heart every time I see it, and you may have noticed that, beginning last year, I began reducing my posts to these platforms – it’s been at least six months since I've become functionally disconnected from them. And after a long season of prayer, reflection, and thorough discussion, Grace, Mike, and I have decided to have M&T bow out of social media completely. For good. Life is too rich and full of too many opportunities to be spent staring at our glowing screens.
Freedom is not found in following the crowd; freedom is the ability to say, “No, thank you” to unhealthy allurements, regardless of what others think. If your heart has resonated with this description of my struggle, and yet you find yourself unable to walk away, consider the possibility that you too may be under the power of this addiction. It’s like the smoker who’s determined to limit himself to half a pack a day, but finds that somehow he finishes the whole pack before dinner – addiction in all forms is antithetical to human flourishing.
A couple years ago when I expressed concern about social media, one of our readers told me they sympathized with my concerns but added that it still has worthwhile content. They said, “Your account is the only reason I’m still on there.” I’ve never been able to get that comment out of my head. I do not want to be even a part of the reason anyone spends time on social media.
Mike, Grace, and I see the future of M&T as continuing to create and distribute physical, tangible products in the real world. We also plan to supplement that with regular blogging, podcasting, and emails, all of which we have control over and you can opt into or out of at any time.
So, what do these changes mean? A few things:
- We are abandoning our Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter pages starting today. We will leave our previous posts for your future reference, but we will not be returning to respond to new comments or direct messages or to post any new content there. If you’d like to reach us, you can email us at email@example.com.
- If you’re in the habit of being notified of our new blog posts through Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, please note that this will no longer work for you. If you would like to be made aware of our new blog posts, you should sign up for the blog notification mailing list on our blog’s sidebar. We don’t ever share any email addresses with anyone – the list is just a free, automatically generated email of the day’s new blog post. There are no ads, and you can unsubscribe at any time. As an alternative to signing up for the blog notification email list, you can add our RSS Feed to your aggregator/reader. (It’s at the top of our blog feed: https://www.mortiseandtenonmag.com/blogs/blog.atom).
- We are beginning to publish more blog posts, podcasts, and email campaigns. All our energy we’ve previously put into social media is now going to these three areas. We started our new blogging schedule a few weeks ago, and a new podcast episode was released on Saturday.
- We will begin to stock some of our favorite books in the M&T store. You’ve heard many of these authors referenced over the years in the magazine and in blog posts, and soon you’ll be able to purchase some of these hard-to-find titles in our store. We feel that this is a great way to get compelling, timeless content into the hands of our readers and to foster constructive reflection on the work of their hands.
So, today we’re walking out. Out into the big, beautiful world of looming trees, crunchy snow, and beaming sunshine. Into the workshop with crispy shavings, sharp steel, and the pungent aroma of pine. Into a community of smiling faces, and sweaty brows, and embodied human camaraderie. Into the real world.
If you too have felt the desire to flee to reality, perhaps this is your time as well. Let us know if you want to exit with us. Drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. We all need the support of others. Let’s keep it real, folks.