Explore a better way to work – one that promises more calm, clarity, and creativity.

From Instagram to Insistent Goats: Another Life After Social Media Case Study

Not long ago, I received a note from a reader named Shandel who wanted to share her experience with social media. She began by noting that she used to “love” these services:

I loved meeting new people and adding them to my friends list. It was a thrill!…I joined a running group and felt super cool to be posting with them and to be tagged in their photos. I was proud of my life and wanted to show it off.”

Then, like many, she began to feel “some unrest.” She worried that she was looking at photos of her kids more than she looked at them in real life, and found herself adjusting her family like models to produce better posts. She started to feel creeped out that “friends” were commenting on these photos even though they’d never actually met.

A breaking point came when the family car got stuck in the snow. Shandel’s instinct was to jump out and begin filming her husband’s efforts to free the tires, as it seemed like a scene that could yield a good haul of likes. “Can you help me!?”, he finally called out in exasperation.

That was the final push: Shandel quit social media. When she wrote me, it had been six months since she made the decision.

“It’s okay. I’m okay. I don’t need to know everything that’s going on. My kids have stopped asking me to put down my phone. I am busier now than I’ve ever been, and I feel more peace in my heart about how I spend my time. I’m currently working full-time from home, raising my kids, raising my goat kids, and gardening.”

Shandel hasn’t abandoned using technology to stay connected, but now does so on her own terms. She still takes pictures of her kids, for example, but instead of posting them to Instagram, she texts them directly to her “actual friends and family.”

The thought of Shandel and her children out in their fields (she sent me a picture of their land: it’s bucolic), feeding the goats, tending the garden, looking toward the horizon and not a screen: made me happy.  It’s a nice reminder that although social media can offer diversion from a lot that’s tough in life, it disrupts what’s good as well, and that’s rarely a fair trade.

17 thoughts on “From Instagram to Insistent Goats: Another Life After Social Media Case Study”

  1. Hi Cal,

    I have just received a message from a top journal in my field, telling me my paper was accepted. It’s a major accomplishment for me, the one I’ve dreamt about for almost 20 years, but it’s just after reading your book “Deep Work” that I figured out what exactly I had to do.
    Besides celebrating, I thought I should let you know how much your work is life changing.

    To comment on your post: yes, one of the steps for me was also quitting social media. I took a long pause from FB two years ago and I saw I actually felt better. A month ago, I deleted my account for good.

    I should add perhaps that in my case, the reason why I stayed there was not getting “likes”, even if it came too. I think I spent endless hours on FB because of frustration at my job and the feeling of failure, so I was constantly looking for people to argue with (since when I feel frustrated I become aggressive and FB is like the perfect place to unleash aggressiveness). Which looks much like a vicious circle, right?

    However, to be entirely honest, I used to spend time on the Internet like this a lot of time BEFORE social media came out. I was addicted without knowing it, and social media finally made me aware of it, since they exploit addiction on an industrial level.

    Therefore, I really do think that the “deliberate practice” technique can be life changing because it conflicts with the “craving” for the Internet (or anything else).

    I cannot thank you enough for your work.

    Wish you plenty of success and happiness.



    • Sara, congratulations! That’s a true accomplishment–not just the paper, but all the hard work it took to get there.

      It’s frightening how quickly long-trod paths of practice can be disrupted by online services, especially social media. It’s good to see people waking up and reclaiming their lives.

  2. I have been reading your books and listening to your podcasts for a while, but just signed up for the newsletter. I can visualize the scene that Shandel described as her turning point! I’m insistent that I find a better way to intentionally use social media as a tool, instead of it being a default habit that distracts me from the many other things I can be doing. Currently, I’m off of Instagram for a bit. I get several prompts each week to go back to view one thing or another…but I’m getting through the temptation. Stories like this help.

    • >> I get several prompts each week…

      Hi Portia, if you’re truly serious, I’d encourage you to cut off these prompts from popping up in the first place. Disable phone notifications, or better yet uninstall the app from your phone to eliminate notifications. And don’t forget to unsubscribe from all Instagram emails that try to lure you back in when you open your email on a computer!

      It’s insulting to see how much these services try to lure you back in through all available channels.

      • And what’s equally disturbing is how long it takes for your social media accounts to actually be deleted. I set my Facebook account to delete last summer and it took 30 days for it to happen. Thankfully, I can add myself to the list of Facebook and Instagram-free people.

  3. I used to enjoy Instagram. I logged out on Labor Day and I have not logged in since that day. All the racial unrest on Instagram was a real turn-off. In my opinion, social media is a waste of time. If people get out and live life, they will be happier and more productive.

  4. Wow her story is similar to mine. And I’m also on social media detox for 6 months now wuhooo!

    I was telling my fiancé that for next year I’m contemplating on getting rid of my smartphone. Which reminds me of something! Ok, well when we were in Sydney CBD 2 months ago I was busy taking photos and videos of our family using my iPhone and also, checking my email every now and then. I felt restless and irritated at the same time! I couldn’t enjoy the moments with my family. Then walking on our way home my phone fell from the baby pram. The back glass of my iPhone X broke and that got me irritated more. And then I saw a family in the other street walking who seem to be genuinely having a nice time with each other talking – and none of them were on their phone. At that very moment I felt so relieved my phone broke. Suddenly I started feeling light and happy while talking to my family. I don’t know where this story is going but I just wanted to share! By the way, my phone is still working but yes I’m thinking of getting rid of it next year so I can fully focus on raising my child and spending better quality time with my family.

  5. Yes! Thanks for posting this Cal. We do need to continue hearing about these examples of breaking out from digital distraction, since it’s continued addiction is strong and insidious.

  6. I have come across the article and comments, and some how i feel the same. Social media is really addicted platform. Once you open it, you keep scrolling and you stuck in scrolling loop. It makes you introvert. sometime it’s like when you meet someone personally you don’t have enough topic to discuss and you start scrolling your social media feed.

  7. Dear Mr. Cal,

    You had been the biggest inspiration for me during the pandemic on 2020. Being a Digital Minimalist has changed my life and gave me a whole new perspective for a better future.

    I’d like to share my journey:

    May 2020: I reduced my social media engagement times.

    June 2020: Deleted Instagram permanently and Facebook too.

    July 2020: Started reading books more than ever before and created a reading habit on my new Kindle. Also started writing journal as a part of mindfulness.

    August 2020: Finished reading the book “Digital Minimalism” by Cal Newport and as the final step of being a digital minimalist, I finally Quit my Smartphone and bought Nokia 2720 flip. It felt too good to be back on dumb phones, I’ve had my best memories on these phones. Kind of felt like I’m back to those distraction-free productive days again. I basically use my laptop to work on any online activities.

    So yeah, It took almost four months to create a new journey of mindfulness. The more days go by, The more I realize: “The less is more” . Keeping it simple is the key to everything.

    • What an inspiring revalation, Khurshida. My Facebook account is set for permanent deletion in two days, and I look forward to exploring the idea of ditching my smartphone as well.

    • When you say you feel like you’re back to those distraction-free productive days again, that reminds me of my life before I got a smartphone. I used to surprise myself with the volume of music I wrote. I’d just sit down at the guitar and piano and mess around, and after playing for a while, songs would suddenly come through me seemingly with no effort at all. As the years have gone on with my smartphone engaging and distracting me all day and night, and constantly listening to YouTube and podcasts at every waking moment I can manage, I hit a point long ago that the music doesn’t come through me anymore.

      Instead of buying a dumb phone, I decided to get a cellular Apple Watch for the same purpose. I feel free again. It fulfils everything a dumb phone used to: I can do phone calls and text messages. I turned off every other kind of notification. I just leave my phone at home now. While the watch offers none of the distractions a smartphone does, it does allow me to do some crucial things that you traditionally would need a smartphone for: paying for things with tap to pay, looking at the weather, maps and directions, alarms, stopwatch/timers, the ability to view lists I’ve made in Google Keep/Reminders/Notes, and the list goes on. I feel like I’ve found on a device that distills a lot of the genuine modern benefits of a smartphone without any of the drawbacks. The one luxury I allow myself on the watch is I’ve got Audible on there and I listen to audiobooks through my earphones sometimes when I’m out walking.

      Hopefully I can get back to those distraction-free productive days of my own. Thanks for the inspiration!


Leave a Comment