It’s been a month since I’ve used any form of social media.
Back in late February, I knew that I wanted to give up social media for Lent, but I also knew that waiting until March 5th would zap me of my motivation and inspiration. And so, slowly unclenching my palms and releasing the apps and accounts and sites that had become such a staple to my life, I let it all go. I deactivated Facebook, deleted Twitter, deleted Instagram, logged out of LinkedIn, and deleted Tumblr. (Pssst... I knew I was going to keep Pinterest, since I don’t use it in a social way: I don’t follow many people I actually know, and I don’t use the comment features. I only use it as a creative outlet and source of inspiration.)
It’s been 30 days.
I sound like an addict, really. I sound like someone hugging their knees to their chest, rocking from side-to-side in fetal position, and making tally marks on the wall of how many days it’s been, incarcerated without social media. I sound like a junkie in remission.
My social media addiction wasn’t that bad, especially when I compare it to my peers. Now when I go to dinner parties or sorority events, I notice how everyone is hunched over their phones. Everyone will pose for a picture—trying to look carefree and happy, doing the fake-laugh smile—and then frown, cropping and editing and finessing said picture for the next ten minutes.
It’s all relative. I didn’t post on Instagram frequently; a lot of people posted every day. I didn’t utilize Facebook actively; a lot of people made statuses or uploaded pictures every hour/day/week. But I knew that I did have a problem. I had become unable to just sit—to sit and wait for a friend, to sit in the passenger seat of a car, to sit at my desk until class began.
The muscle memory was too deeply rooted, and the mental craving for a distraction/notification/confidence boost was too strong. Sitting and waiting meant pulling out my phone, my thumbs mindlessly jumping from Instagram to Facebook to Twitter to texting, all in cyclical progression. If there were no notifications on one app, I’d move to the next, and so on, until I was back to social media site #1, and the cycle began again.
Introspective as I am, and a lover of systems, I decided I wanted to be more actively in control over my thumbs, my thoughts, and what I fed to my brain. I wanted a system. I wanted a set of steps and rules to follow that would instantly transform my life. I love systems. But I didn’t want to let go. I loved social media too much and used it too often to even imagine life without it. Without social media, what would I do? How could I show everyone my quinoa breakfast bowl or my quintessential California beach sunset shot?
I thought back to a quote I posted awhile back:
“We can’t jump off of bridges anymore because our iPhones will get ruined. We can’t take skinny dips in the ocean, because there’s no service on the beach, and adventures aren’t real unless they’re on Instagram. Technology has doomed the spontaneity of adventure, and we’re helping destroy it every time we Google, check in, and hashtag.” | Jeremy Glass
Why couldn’t I let go of social media? Why did I like it? Seeing that my acquaintance got 300 likes on the picture she posted of her coffee (a made-up scenario, but still relevant) wasn’t doing anything for me. What was I gaining? Bruised self-esteem? Jealousy? Comparison is the thief of joy, but also the thief of productivity, self-love, and confidence. So it was good-bye, Instagram. I needed to learn how to enjoy the sunset or breakfast without counting whether sixty, seventy, or eighty people also thought it was neat.
Although I didn’t use Facebook actively to make statuses or upload pictures, I did post my blog links, respond to friend requests or comments or messages, check people’s birthdays and RSVP for events. I didn’t necessarily like Facebook, but I loved the little red notifications. They made me feel important and worthy and cool. And so, it was good-bye to Facebook. I needed to learn how to feel important and worthy and cool on my own, outside of the computer screen.
Social media makes us hyper-connected. As Millennials (and other generations), we have a handful of accounts and sites. We have Twitters and Tumblrs. We have Facebooks and Flickrs and Instagrams. We have GroupMe and Google+, YouTube channels and LinkedIn pages. We have every avenue for every type of interaction possible, and more often than not, we utilize them all.
This hyper-connectedness leaves us hyper-available.
School doesn’t end when class ends—not when your teacher can email you at all hours of the day and change the directions for the project, add more pages to the reading, or assign something completely new. Work no longer lives within the parameters of 9am-5pm—not when the boss can request that chart or that document at any time of morning or night (or when the boss’ boss can ask if you could, by chance, get this totally impossible task done by morning.). Social time never ends. We don’t have alone time when we’re connected to 2,000 of our closest friends through a screen, with the ability to message any of them with one click of a button and a few taps on the keys. We read on our iPads but don’t get very far, distracted by the little seducing notifications swooping down from the top of the page. (A new friend request? Who could it be? I better check right now, or I will probably shrivel up and die.)
The hardest part for me, once accounts were gone and the apps deleted, was figuring out how to fill my time. Part of me was in mourning—rest in peace, social life—because I knew that I would probably miss out on more without all of the avenues for connectivity. The other part of me—the sassy, independent part—reminded me that if someone really really wanted to hangout, they could call me on the phone. It’s not like I fell off the planet and into the inky darkness of the galaxies. I was still very much present without my sites. I was more present without my sites.
I made a list (I told you, I love systems) of activities to do when I get bored (although my homework load this semester has kindly made sure that I don’t get bored often):
- Host a game night
- Call someone to talk
- Do yoga
- Write out prayers
- Go on a walk
- Drink a glass of water
- Play guitar/piano
- Explore a new neighborhood
- Stretch gently
- Plan a trip—a real, physical, plausible, actually-will-happen trip
- Floss (I have a weird teeth obsession, and it really frightens me to think how many people don’t floss)
- Watch an old/foreign film (La Vita E Bellais my favorite. I weep everytime I watch it, and it’s not even in English! Thank you, God, for wonderful Italian films with subtitles.)
- Read outside
- Make treats for someone
- Read the Bible
- Do supplementary research on something I’m curious about
- Write letters
30 days later, and I have not missed social media at all.
Oddly enough, my fear of missing out became non-existent. My productivity levels skyrocketed (last week: two presentations, two midterms, and a 10-paged original fiction work). My conversations got deeper. My flighty, unfocused mind was mellower without such an extreme information overload. (I struggle with Inattentive ADHD).I read articles from the newspaper that my mom would send via snail mail. I read multiple books.
I’m not sure what I’ll do when Lent is over, because I am so much happier without social media. I miss being able to show my pictures online, but I think I really just miss the likes on my pictures. It’s been so refreshing to live life without the siren call of notifications and the sinking feeling of being left out of plans. Letting go of social media gave me more control over my life, my mind, and time.
You may have zero problems with social media. You may be so much better at moderation than I am. But if you do find yourself sheepishly looking down at your toes right now, I challenge you. Give. It. Up. Maybe just for one day, maybe for two months. When you let go of being hyper-connected and hyper-available, you may just find that that is where life happens.