One of snackdinner's main missions is to question parenting "givens," those things we assume all good parents always do or never do in order to raise happy children who survive into successful adulthood. Toward this end, I have treated each item in the baby manual as a question. Instead of Here's how you cover your outlets, I asked Do you have to? Should you? Instead of ranking the best thermometers, I wondered whether we need them, and why school attendance has been linked to specific temperature readings.
Like mold inside a Sophie, these parenting givens are hard to spot. Unlike mold inside a Sophie, these givens rarely go questioned or even noticed, generally because they tend not to cause harm. Even if you don’t have to burp a baby, doing so isn’t likely to hurt. Even if you can let your kids eat raw cookie dough, not eating raw dough isn’t likely to cause permanent damage.
But I would argue that these kinds of parenting givens do have tiny, nearly imperceptible effects, that, when combined with the tiny, nearly imperceptible effects of hundreds of givens, help to create the culture of panic and fear that keep parents from allowing their children the simple pleasure of a grape or twenty seconds of silent contemplation while dropping off prepaid packages.
One of the givens I've absorbed since starting snackdinner is that writers need social media to promote their work and find new readers. But do I have to use social media to be a successful blogger? Should I? What harms might it be causing? And what lessons might my own experience have for parents wondering if they’ve instagrammed too many photos of their child’s ten-week birthday? #headsup #yes
That snark is one of the many ways in which social media has made me meaner and less empathetic, which was reason enough to leave facebook and instagram even without the company’s abuses of both privacy and politics. But I held onto snackdinner’s accounts out of a sense that successful bloggers need social media.
Google “how to start a blog” and you’ll get a lot of social media advice. Before you even start your blog, you need to make sure your website name has social media availability. I mean, why even bother buying bestparentingblogever.com if someone else has already claimed the bestparentingblogever twitter handle? Once you actually start writing, you need to share your most recent work on social media, either directly through your blogging platform’s automated services or through third-party services that decide the best time of day to post things to social media.
You should then probably join social media sharing groups designed to boost everyone's traffic, whether it's an Instapod or a private facebook group. If you can spare the cash, you should boost your posts, meaning that you should pay social media companies to show your posts to more followers. If you’re too busy to do all this work, you can hire a virtual assistant to do your social media postings for you.
If you’re to believe your search results, you have to do all of these things, even if your immediate goal isn’t to make money (primarily by advertising to or, perhaps more subtly, influencing, that growing list of followers). Writers who hope to sell a book need to devote a full section of their book proposal to their "platform,” the substantial number of social media followers whose support is proof of a large built-in audience for the book.
All of this is, of course, absurd. People have made money for millennia without social media. Publishers have been selling books for centuries, so the vast majority of the world’s writers have sold their work without the aid of a stunning profile pic. And many of those writers are notorious recluses, or at the very least misanthropes who aren’t likely to comment on the butteriness of their or anyone else’s leggings.
Last summer, I started an informal experiment: stop posting to snackdinner’s social media accounts. I wanted to know what would happen. Would snackdinner see a dip in web traffic?
Obviously this is a terrible experiment for determining whether or not social media makes one more or less profitable, as there’s only an n of 1 and we know nothing about the unobserved counterfactual. But with those caveats, I can report that I’ve written more, and seen my daily traffic grow, since the start of snackdinner’s social media hiatus. I wrote longer, better-researched weekly pieces, one of which gave me the chance to taste test a lot of egg nog. I wrote a 40-week pregnancy calendar. I’ve submitted more pitches to more “reach” publications that I hope to share news about in 2019.
I’ve also seen an increase in snackdinner traffic. It’s almost as though, without all the time spent crafting witty one-liners and re-taking photos under better lighting, I focused more on my writing, and that difference in quality was noticeable to readers, who are coming more often and sticking around longer. My informal results encouraged me to make snackdinner facebook-free. Aside from the embarrassment of learning how often I semi-consciously type command + t + f, I have no regrets.
What if you’re not a blogger balancing your conscience against your need for exposure? What if you’re just wondering if you can use social media and still be a good person? Or if you’ll miss out on something important by taking a break from your accounts? I have three questions to guide you:
Does social media serve your mission? This is obviously a huge question, normally considered annually at about the same time as you publicly commit to weight loss targets. Here at snackdinner, my main goal is teaching. Does social media provide a useful platform for teaching? Do we generally come back from idle scrolling feeling that we have learned something new? Generally no. For now, I hope to reach people at the moment they ask a question. if they’re typing “is it safe” into a Google search, they are at least open to considering a question from different angles and learning something new. I don’t need social media accounts to help them. In fact, having social media accounts takes time away from answering those questions. So I deleted my accounts. Maybe your mission is to share beautiful photos of your kids. There are loads of other—maybe even more efficient—ways to do so that do not require social media. Set up private photo streaming with your family, or, I don’t know, actually print some photos and mail them to friends and family. I like Social Print Studio, because they make gorgeous prints on thick paper and because social’s right there in the name.
What would time not spent on social media allow you to do? Get one of those apps that tells you how much time you’re spending on social media. What could you do with that extra time each week? Write an extra article? Start a book project? Cook meals from scratch? Go on a date? Read a book? Learn a yarn-based art? Run 20 miles? If at least one of those activities is more valuable to you than scrolling past ads for bras and socks, maybe consider deleting facebook. If you miss the ads, you can always listen to podcasts.
What person do you want to be? It feels like there are only two types of people in the world: those who make elaborate first-day-of-school chalkboards to pose their children against and those who make fun of them. But you don’t have to be either of these people. You can make the elaborate sign. You can make no sign. You can let your kids make a less elaborate sign. You can be the person who makes actual photo albums for such memories, or who forgets to take a photo, or who just enjoys the moment without taking a photo. But you know who none of us should be? The person snarkily judging people celebrating a happy return to school. Getting off social media can help us all do that.
Ready to delete your accounts? Going facebook-free is kind of like quitting the bank, so check out this advice about how to extricate yourself.