I’d love to say my reason for taking a break from social media was altruistic but really I was just trying to come to terms with a broken heart. Cliché as it may be I thought at the very least it was a healthier alternative to the ill-advised drastic hair change, or, worse, the post-breakup “Look at me, I’m doing just fine” selfie.
Initially I wanted to go full blown digital detox but I quickly scaled that back when I took stock of all the good I get from daily use of my device. For all the perils that come with being completely attached to our phones there are some perks that balance the scale and aren’t inherently harmful. For instance, I stay decently informed on everything from Bernie Sanders’ campaign announcement to by-the-minute updates in the Tristan Thompson-Kardashian saga thanks to Twitter and daily newsletters. And then there’s my hour-long commute, which is bearable when I spend it listening to music or a podcast.
Plus, seeing as this was a self-imposed experiment based on zero research or actual science, I decided that I can make my own rules about it, kay? So music, news and podcasts were my allowances and I would do away with Instagram and Facebook for the time being. (Full disclosure: My only other exception was Facebook Messenger since I work part-time in the service industry and I am always looking get shifts switched or covered. But other than begging someone to take my Saturday night shift I stayed off the platform).
I gave myself one last late night to pore over all these social channels including a Facebook deep dive wherein you fawn over how great your left forearm looked in that one picture from 2014, until I felt that familiar media glut, went to bed, then woke up ready to temporarily delete my virtual reality so to speak. In the first few days I certainly didn’t experience any instant calm; I was still very much an anxious over-thinker. I will admit however that there was a bit of a quiet thrill in leaving some messages or requests unanswered—a little Miranda Priestly-esque. Thank you, that’s all.
It only took a couple more days until I discovered I was pretty awful at this. I officially succumbed after about about a week in to check my notifications and found myself spending more time on Snapchat and other apps. Quick aside: One plus I will give Snapchat is that they aren’t even trying to hide their trashy click bait appeal. In a weird way I appreciate how me and Snapchat mutually agree that they’re selling me complete garbage and I’m somehow okay with buying into it. Case in point? Past headlines I’ve cringed at but still clicked on anyways: “Is Lady Gaga pregnant with a demon baby?”, “You will literally never look at [insert seemingly benign object] the same again after reading this”, “Five reasons why Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth will forever be couple goals.” I honestly don’t know if the last one was a real headline, but I’m thinking it probably was and I fully agree.
Anyways, for the purposes of my experiment I knew this wasn’t great and I was getting nowhere; I essentially just traded one social media vice for another. This led me to restart my Digi-Detox™ for another two weeks and, for the first time I really did stay off the big three (Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram) for fourteen days! The second time around was a lot better, too. I eventually got over the FOMO, and stopped low-key lurking a stranger’s Insta feed on the subway. Even my own Instagram account couldn’t believe this feat in so far as they sent multiple emails asking If was having trouble logging into my account and needed help. *self high five* Not saying I deserve a Nobel Peace Prize for this but nomination applications are here.
I did experience one of those humbling expectation versus reality moments when I logged on two weeks later. It’s not unlike when you leave your phone at home and you think, “Wow people are probably freaking out and trying to get a hold of me. I’m going to have so many missed calls and messages,” but really you come home 12 hours later with just a notification and its from Team Snapchat no less.
So other than that tiny knock to my own self-importance, which, admittedly, is probably a good thing, my social media cleanse was oddly satisfying, totally doable and somewhat insightful. What I learned may not be enlightening for people who have a “healthy relationship with social media” (lol what’s that like?) but I think I gleaned a thing or two from it—a reminder to be a little more present and patient, and a little less anxious. If you want to continue to read about my harrowing journey to overcome the most first world of first world problems these are my three takeaways:
Takeaway #1: So f***ing zen
Waiting used to drive me absolutely nuts. Like if I had to pick up a life-saving drug at the pharmacy and the line had more than three people in it I’d honestly question if I really needed the medicine. Okay maybe not quite. But I always found myself mindlessly and restlessly trying to fill this time, be it waiting in line at the grocery store, doctor’s office, in an elevator, or in front of the microwave, and those really are the longest and most trying seconds IMO. Social media is a frighteningly easy, accessible and deceiving implant for these empty moments, so when I was left with no pages to refresh and no apps to fiddle with, it was really jarring and I wondered why we even have this incessant need to fill it in the first place. If you can break through this impatience and find a weird level of content in these moments, I think it can be pretty powerful. Not every waking moment needs to be entertaining or productive, it’s totally fine to just take the time to notice things and feelings you don’t normally give attention. That isn’t to say it’s not useful to read a book, listen to music or whatever else you want to do, but self-discipline, patience and mindfulness can be great skills to keep in your back pocket for whenever you’re without or your go-to entertainment or just feel over-stimulated by it all.
Takeaway #2: Instagram’s BS
I think we’re too quick to accept these weird Instagram habits and rules we all fell into. Some Instagram rules can stay like no one looks good in the Kelvin filter. But things like having an obsession over likes, views, posts and comments is so draining and unnecessary, and anyone who says they don’t look at those stats, most definitely does. Even the Instafamous admit it’s a dangerous preoccupation and they’re the ones getting paid! Easier said than done, I know, but I’ve since tried flipping my view of the platform. Instead of an exclusively social tool, I think of it more as a photo archive. Pretty sure in 20 years I’m not going to look back on these photos and say, “See kids,157 likes. That was very good for a vacation shot in my day.” My new rule is to share things in which you truly find beauty, or make you proud, or happy, or nostalgic, or whatever. Not what you think others will like or will perform well online. Stop caring about what others think about you, especially online. Groundbreaking. Really glad I could get two The Devil Wears Prada references in this.
Takeaway #3: Being present AF
I mentioned a bit on learning patience already but I’ve also realized that you can’t become more patient without being more present. If that’s not already an ancient proverb then I’m trademarking it. Of course everyone aims to be present with their friends and family and it’s painfully obvious when someone isn’t (i.e. every mom when they got their first smartphone and discovered Bejeweled), but I also felt like my lack of presence due to media dependency was driving a wedge in my individual pastimes, too. My bar for being totally engrossed with a TV show or book was becoming increasingly high and it made it difficult to get more than an episode or chapter in without mindlessly picking up my phone. A series I would normally wholeheartedly enjoy was more or less just background noise to vacuous web browsing and Instagram scrolling. My recent fix: If I decide to start a new series, or watch a movie or read a book, I will try to truly give it my full attention. Because if Idris Elba doesn’t deserve my utmost attention then I really don’t know who does. Sorry Idris, P.S. answer my DMs xoxo.
So though my attempt was pretty tame compared to pious Mormonism or Vipassana meditation—which is basically a silent retreat with no tech, books, sex, music, writing, talking, exercising, dancing, singing or swearing for 10 days straight (Woo spring break 2019 anyone?)—I think I would do something like this again. I’m not sure how long I’ll retain this newfound and marginally healthier relationship to Instagram and the like, but at the very least I think I can now recognize when it begins to take a toll. Here’s a couple ideas I’ve since implemented, and will hopefully keep up with, in an attempt to dial down the social media dependency.
Opt Out of Notifications
As it stands I will only receive notifications to my phone for texts and calls. That’s it. And it’s a beautiful thing. I may slacken this rule in the future but for now I only check in on social once or twice a day. I also avoid logging on first thing in the morning, and, much to the delight of my retinas, stop browsing Instagram in the pitch black right before bed. Having minimal notifications is also really helpful for maintaining a better work-life balance. I check work emails on my desktop during my nine to five and routinely unsubscribe from retailers’ marketing emails that are getting on my last nerve. You know who you are.
A Case for Muting
Instagram’s “mute” setting. Oh my god, this setting on Instagram is a total gem and I think it’s way underused. For those who aren’t up to date, muting is a temporary setting that prevents all photos and/or stories of said muted individual from popping up on your feed without unfollowing the user or them knowing. Sounds savage but it’s really a saving grace and respite from exes, over-sharers and people who use Instagram borders. My therapist would probably tell me this is avoidance 101 but I see it as a boon if doing so provides a mini mental break and any help to your self-esteem.
You can try those digital wellness settings available on most smartphones, but I found them unnecessary—it’s futile to set parental controls when you are your own “parent”. I know I’d override any limits I tried to make anyways. I think being tuned into the way you’re feeling is a helpful measure: Some days you might be better equipped to handling more media and I don’t think time-stamping your usage is all that effective. Listen to yourself. If you unflinchingly stare at a funny meme and think “hilarious” without so much of a slight grin or chuckle, then yeah, maybe you’ve had your Instagram fill today.
For those of you who didn’t actually read anything and just scrolled to the bottom for me to get to the point: I’d honestly recommend taking a break from social media if you’re starting to feel a creeping dependency to social platforms like I did. It’s never a bad idea to take a pause and reassess your relationship to anything—be it friendships, relationships, career, self-image, and that counts for social media, too. Maybe time offline won’t make an ounce of a difference to your day-to-day, but perhaps you’ll be like me and learn to be a little more patient and present with yourself and others. I may not have found my holistic oneness like Gwyneth Paltrow, but I’m okay with the small insights I’ve made. And as for my tender little heart, I think it’ll bounce back. Just like my follow requests to Idris.
(Story by Contributing Editor, Sarah Dziedzic)