That One Time I Took a Month Off of Social Media....
"I want you all to know that I’ve quit social media, and my life has gotten so much better. Maybe you’re thinking of doing the same. I can’t recommend it enough. I mean, it’s only been 15 minutes, but I can already tell I’m a different person. Fifteen minutes ago, I stopped using Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Within seconds, I noticed I am happier, less irritable, more contemplative and balanced. I’m kinder to neighbors and pets. I’m spending more time on activities that matter."
That was something I recently read in this article about social media detoxes and while this is meant to be a parody- and meant be dramatic- I have found it an accurate description of my social media detox last month. Fifteen minutes in an all!
So last month I gave up insta and facebook- did you miss me? In all honestly you probably didn’t notice. It’s interesting how quitting social media for a month was a pretty big deal for me -personally. But I have noticed that when people I know or even follow take a social media break- I never notice it in real time. Usually I only notice it when they come back and announce that they had taken a break. So did you miss me? If the answer is no, then maybe that is more telling than we realize.
I decided to take a month long break from social media in September because, since my previously taken two week break from social media, I have found myself sliding back into the compulsions of checking facebook and instagram more often than I have felt comfortable with. A telling sign being my daughter bringing her fake cell phone around with her everywhere she went and yelling “My phone, my phone!” When she lost track of it. If this isn’t a mirror that was painful to look at at then I don't know what is.
I also realized that checking social media wasn’t really helping my mental health. I was definitely falling into the comparison trap (This lady has birthed FOUR babies and she is THAT tiny!) As well as just being effected by the many political charged and/or life rants among people I follow. Yes, every now and then I would find something to help my creativity or a good recommendation or cause, but for the most part, I found myself getting sucked into the instagram wormhole and coming away drained…scattered. Fragmented.
So I took a cue from my fave book of 2019 (Digital Minimalism) and quit it altogether, just for a month.
Here are some of the things I stumbled upon/ learned:
A woman I follow, ironically enough on social media and via her podcast, took a digital detox in July. It was interesting reading her thoughts from her detox in the midst of my own and two things from her post really resonated with me. She talked about how her digital detox allowed her to be more present and how its absence really helped her mental health. Both things I can definitely attest to after my month long hiatus. In her post she writes:
“Forgetting social media existed made time slow down for the month, not marked by other events happening far away. I’d be fully somewhere without thinking whether something was post-able — because who cares? The world doesn’t need my take on this lake, this tree, this taco.”
And it isn't that posting about a taco is, in itself, wrong, but in not posting about certain foods or events I was experiencing, I was able to be more in the moment rather than planning how to capture that moment and then missing the moment for the time spent posting it. (There is actually a name and theory about this called "continuous partial attention")
Another observation is a bit vulnerable for me to put out here- but I am.
During my social media fast I got a wonderful opportunity to go to Uluwatu Bali.
This place was beautiful.
I didn't have my kids with me and my 3 days were spent looking at rolling cliffs while reading, visiting beautiful beaches, taking an outdoor yoga class and eating delicious food.
And I wasn’t able to instagram any of this.
At one point I took a photo of our scenic hotel breakfast and told Tez “Here instagram this”. And in that moment I realized I wouldn’t necessarily be posting that picture to highlight the beauty or remember it. (Here I was experiencing it, distraction free, totally able to soak it into my memory in a way that only experiencing it can do.) But, no I wanted to take a photo and have my husband post it so that others could see the beauty I was experiencing… and be a bit envious… YIKES.
I mentioned this to Tezar that morning and he made a comment about how one of his mentors told him that “Envious people don’t want to be like the person they envy but they want to envied like the person they envy. DOUBLE YIKES
When I see people’s postings about being at the beach, yes, there is a part of me that does want to be on my own beach vacation. But really, if I’m honest, a big part of me wants other people to feel that same envy I feel towards others. I want my life to be worth envying. Because isn't an enviable life so much better than an ordinary one? Or so it seems on the gram.
This is super convicting for me. And not something I want to perpetuate in my posting or even my life.
If I’m honest last month was really great in terms of my presence. But I do remember at one point looking at my brand new Iphone (which was gifted to me on my birthday last June) and thinking “What the heck are you good for?!” My phone was just boring without being able to use it to immerse myself in photos and celebrity fashion and whatever rabbit trail I found myself on. I wasn't able to get a sort of excitement fix. Which is maybe why I spend so much time scrolling in the past. Multiple times throughout my month I wanted a hit. Something to think about instead of watching Daniel Tiger.
But because of my detox I couldn’t get that fix.
Instead I noticed people around me. I stared at my kids a little longer and mulled at their beauty. I sat in my own thoughts and feelings. I started experiencing what one articles calls “restorative boredom”.
In my boredom my mind would drift to one of the seven books- yes SEVEN books- I had time to read last month, recalling parts that were applicable to that day and time which didn’t hit me until that bored moment. My memory almost seemed to serve me better, maybe because I had more “white space”- more margin- in my life which in turn made me feel more calm and reflective. I’m not gonna lie. It was nice.
Finally, another part of Tsh’s post that really resonated with me was when she stated this:
“I’ve come to accept that I’m more sensitive to the pitfalls of social media than other people. Certain things that simply don’t bother my colleagues and friends affect me deeply, and I’m to the point now where I’m officially okay with saying, “Good for them, not for me” when it comes to certain parts of this weird online world….Instagram does funny things with my head."
And there was something about those lines which stirred up something my soul. Something I really didn't want to admit: That the things my friends and people I follow post really impact me. Hearing bad news from just one posting can literally stick in my head for days. I will mull over breaking news or emotionally fueled posts-it will interrupt my day. I get caught up. I'll even dream about it. And while I know how privileged it sounds to get to pick through bad news. I think I had to escape from it for a little while.
I needed time to not be bombarded emotionally.
The interesting thing is, I still managed to be kept up to date on news because of the things I subscribe to via email, the podcasts I subscribe to, and through conversations with friends. I was ok with the fact that I wasn’t always “in the know”- or even the first to know about a current event but it was as simple as asking questions and looking it up later. What I found in this detox was the news was less assaulting to me. And I was able to seek out information about things in a more constructive way. I’m still figuring this out but I really like the idea of not getting my news primarily from social media.
All this makes me recall the thoughts of St. Gregory the Great. In his book, The Book of Pastoral Rule he states:
“Often, when undertaking the care of supervision, the heart is divided through contrary concerns and is unable to handle single tasks because the mind is confused and divided by many things. This is why a certain wise man carefully warns, saying: “Son do not meddle on many things.” For clearly, the mind cannot focus well on one matter when it is divided by many concerns. And whenever it is distracted by insolent concerns, it is emptied of the wholeness of intimate fear. It becomes anxious arranging external matters and, ignoring only itself, it knows how to contemplate everything except itself. For when the mind involves itself more that is needful with external things, it is like [a man] who is so preoccupied on a long journey that he forgets where he is going. As a result, the mind is such a stranger to self-examination that it does not consider the damage that it suffers and is ignorant of the extent to which it errs."
Homeboy wrote this back in 590- before computers even existed and how much more do those words ring true in the 21st century?! Social media can distract me and make me feel fragmented, taking time away from what is important to me (reading books, writing), from my family, from adulting (I mean I finally turned in my taxes…A job that quite frankly took me 35 minutes to complete.. 5 months late). In many ways social media can keep me from thinking in general. And I think I'm finally getting to the point where I am not ok with this.
Cal Newport says in his book DEEP WORK that
“this state of fragmented attention cannot accommodate deep work, which requires long periods of uninterrupted thinking.”
Ok so long periods of thinking is basically a luxury for me (as a mom). But because I am a mom, a wife, and a mental health counselor I do need to get stuff done in a less fragmented way as possible. I need to make the most of the undistracted time I can have.
He also says
“There's increasing evidence that this shift toward the shallow is not a choice that can be easily reversed. Spend enough time in a state of frenetic shallowness and you permanently reduce your capacity to perform deep work. ‘What the net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation.’”
And after this last month I wholeheartedly agree and honestly I am scared for my children and the next generation’s future if they struggle with social media addiction.
So there it all is. My thoughts about my social media detox.
Now before you think this is a post that ends in me forsaking social media altogether I will tell you, it isn’t going to end like that. This is a post I wrote mostly to myself to remind myself about what I learned this past month and to process a few quotes I read that rang true. In all truthfulness there was a part of me that really missed social media. As an expat the ability to connect with my American friends is special but my fear is that I will fall back into the “shallows” and not get stuff done.
So, in an attempt to protect myself from this I have established some rules for this next month of August. They are pretty in depth and prescriptive and if I lax in any of these rules… I will reevaluate for next month. Potentially detox again…
So why the rules? Am I just a glutton for punishment? No. If you know anything about my personality you know that I HATE HATE HATE rules. It goes against my very nature to like rules. But I am starting to realize I can only find freedom from the pull of social media by these rules or else it will literally start to take over my time and my mind. This is not a fair trade off for me.
So this is me literally trying to control it.
For the record, I’m not really great at control.
Gretchen Wilson in her book Happier At Home writes about how there are two types of people in the world. Abstainers and Moderators. She writes:
“Samuel Johnson had supplied me with this insight into my own nature. When offered wine, Johnson declined, explaining, ‘Abstinence is as easy to me, as temperance would be difficult.’ That’s me! I’d realized. Johnson and I were “abstainers” who found it much easier to abstain that to indulge moderately. I’m not tempted by things I’ve decided are off-limits, but once I’ve started something, I have trouble stopping. If I never do something, it required no self-control for me; if I do something sometimes, it requires enormous self-control.
“Moderators” by contrast, do better when they act with moderation, because they feel trapped and rebellious at the thought of ‘never’ getting or doing something. Occasional indulgence heightens their pleasure and strengthens their resolve…. But there’s no one right way; different approaches work for different people.”
If I’m honest I am like Gretchen in that I typically lack self control for moderation. It is so much easier for me to simply abstain. But I’m not ready to give up social media… yet. And I do hope that these rules help in my moderate use of instagram.
"Time" will surely tell.
(***If you want to read up on taking a digital detox (which I strongly recommend everyone to do if you struggle with social media) throughout my post I linked some articles I found helpful as well as Cal Newport’s book Digital Minimalism.)