Or: How I used social media to distract me from my real problems.
According to my iPhone, I spend at least two non-concurrent hours on social media everyday. Like most people, I jumped on the social media bandwagon fairly early on. I signed up for MySpace around 2006. I joined Twitter in 2009, Facebook in 2008, and Instagram in 2012. In those thirteen years I have never once taken a break that wasn’t forced either by sickness or travel. Even then, it wasn’t a long, methodical break. Even so, I am not a worst case social media user. I do not live and die by Twitter or post every thought I have. I’d call myself a moderate user.
In 2016, I started noticing that social media had become an increasing source of anxiety and stress in my life. I withdrew some, but it wasn’t helping. The everyday onslaught of negativity and political outrage was beginning to grate on me. It wasn’t just the photos of abused dogs or the videos of teenagers being shot in cold blood. It was the zombie-like “everything is fine” mentality of it’s users who treated puppy photos and memes as therapy. To be fair, I’m guilty of using social media to induce a serotonin response as well. And then the endless cycle of sameness. I love kitten videos as much as anyone (maybe more), but it was becoming monotonous. It was also the realization that most people do not check sources or verify information before they hit the share button. I began to wonder how much of what I was seeing was true. It turns out, you don’t have time to verify every claim your Aunt Agnes posts on Facebook and most people don’t care. Facebook began feeling like a garbage dump of instant emotions, political outrage, and fear-mongering. And we’re doing it to ourselves. That’s probably the worst part. Facebook is an entire universe of mindless chatter we impose on each other.
I signed up to Facebook to keep in touch with my friends and people I’d lost contact with. I honestly want to see how people are doing, what’s going on in their lives, and what they ate for breakfast. I enjoy reading about their jobs and kids. I didn’t sign up to feel guilty about my non-participation in the cause du jour or to receive a constant barrage of social awareness.
Lyme Disease pulls you out of society. Facebook and Instagram were my window to the world. For all its good, there is an unequal amount of bad. There is science that talks about the psychological impacts of viewing terrifying images and bad news. It creates sadness and anxiety – and if you already have sadness and anxiety it only exacerbates it. I do and it did.
Hence, the social media cleanse/detox/break/vacation. Full disclosure, I decided to do this break at the suggestion of Danica Mckellar from TV’s The Wonder Years who I follow on Instagram. Below, I took notes on what I was feeling and some of the things I managed to accomplish with all my extra time. Spoiler alert: This wasn’t a difficult experiment. It wasn’t like quitting smoking or trying not to call your ex after a break-up. The FOMO was hardest during the first few days, but it wasn’t monstrous. Within the first few days I began to feel the blood returning to my veins. I began to realize how much I rely on social media to entertain me when I’m bored or take my mind off my real problems or chores. Now free, that same boredom lead to a whole new slew of productivity. This experiment also coincides with my feeling slightly better. Chicken or the egg. Do I feel better because I’m off social media or am I off social media because I feel better? I’m not sure. I can say this, I got more than I expected from this experiment: Clarity of mind, I felt more relaxed, I was less stressed, and able to do more with my time. The truth is, I actually feel happier and can focus on the things that matter. My productivity levels are higher than they’ve been in three years – due in part to a modest recession of Lyme symptoms, but can also be attributed to the social media vacation.
Once the experiment is over, do I go back to social media? In this current stage of human development, Social media is unavoidable. Facebook has become the homebase for companies, bands, and grandmas. The information you would have found on a WWW homepage is now on social media. Articles link you to all the social media stations and news outlets acquire their headlines from Twitter. Obituaries come in the form of Tweet streams. Tumblr is an artist’s portfolio. Friends and relatives show you something funny that happened that day. Everyone else talks about social media every single day. Unless you lock yourself in a cave, you can’t fully escape – which is slightly disappointing.
Facebook is probably the most crucial site of the lot. We use it for more than posting our lunch. It’s also a way to get information and participate in groups of like-minded individuals. Twitter is basically useless unless you have something to sell. Instagram is too fun to give up. Tumblr is to images what the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is to the ocean. My final analysis is that social media is too entrenched in our daily lives to give up totally. For better or worse, we’re in too deep. We have to be more aware of its effects on our psyches, pull back, and take breaks. Our sanity depends on it.
Christmas Eve, 2018
- Had to break my fast to post on Reddit regarding an issue with Chrome.
- Spent some time deleting photos and organizing apps on my iPhone.
- Spent some time deleting old, irrelevant posts from my Facebook “business” page. Something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.
December 24th, 2018
- Had to break my fast to check Twitter for info about a terrible smell in my neighborhood. Smells like shit. Really awful. Felt like this was something I wanted to complain about on social media, but did not. I immediately felt guilty.
- Spent more time going through my Facebook business page to clean it up. By the time I got to 2012, FB was slow to respond. Quickly became a “why did I start this?” project. Why? Clear the clutter. Get rid of posts that don’t pertain to my current line of work. A bit like picking knits.
- Deleted all Instagram crossposts from Facebook.
I was able to get more done…
December 28th, 2018
Did not feel like I missed social media very much at all. Felt as though I was able to think clearer and get more stuff done. My overall mood seems improved. Still had little pangs of wanting to see what everyone else is doing based purely on habit.
- I signed up for some online classes.
- Scrubbed and deleted my Reddit account.
- Got rid of some miscellaneous social media accounts I don’t use anymore.
December 29th, 2018
- Am starting to feel like I have more hours in the day. Have also managed to stay away from Lyme Message boards – which are often triggering. I’m starting to feel like I’m free.
- Organized bookmarks on Chrome using Bookmarks Cleanupand Sprucemarks – Something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.
- Worked on cleaning up my Google search results. A long process that requires frequent monitoring.
- Found time to study French.
- Listened to a chapter of an audiobook.
December 30th, 2018
- Still thinking in terms of social media – what to post, how to phrase things, how photographable things are. Fewer moments where I feel compelled to check FB, Twitter, and Insta.
- Am reading more news – which is probably not good since I gave up news about a year ago.
December 31st, 2018
- Organized laptop files and Google Drive files.
- Started work on organizing desktop Mac.
- Went for a walk to local coffee house – three blocks out and three more back. First long walk in three years. Felt like I REALLY wanted to post on InstaStories and share the triumph and the heartache. Ultimately decided not to.
- Cleaned out my Pinterest account – made all my boards secret, deleted boards I no longer need.
- Attempting to get into old MySpace account so that I can delete it. Sent email to MySpace.
- Deleted my Google+ account.
- Deleted News app from iPhone.
January 2nd, 2019
- Made Twitter profile private – blocked a bunch of junk followers. Have not decided if I want to continue having a Twitter account.
- Have done some major email cleaning over the last week – deleting, tagging, archiving, foldering. My email feels sane again. I have time to read all those interesting newsletters I’m subscribed to.
January 3rd, 2019
- Definitely feeling like I wish I could complain about things on social media – having to stop myself and remember how much I hate doing that anyway. Social media definitely provides an outlet for the normal, run of the mill daily annoyances. Barista was a jerk, can’t find my keys, my kids are too loud, mama needs a glass of wine, etc. That said, it should not be, but as a society, we do not have proper outlets for our minor perturbances. We are not trained to deal with them so we tend to bottle them up – which is unhealthy. Looking for a new outlet. Journaling? I hear that’s good. I just don’t like the written record/reminder of the little things that get on my nerves. Knowing that social media
is also forever remindsme that either way I’m not dealing with it. I’m really pondering the accumulation of little annoyances and thinking about how to process them properly.
- Not quite sure why, but the “what’s everyone up to?” feeling is really hitting me today. I’ve got a cold, but am not sick enough to be in bed all day. I have some things to do that I don’t feel like doing. Not sure I’m fiending for social media, but definitely bored.
- Spent some time formatting this blog post.
- Checking my email about 20 times a day now.
- Besides this post, I have not done any serious writing in about a week. I’ve been uber focused on organizing my online life and various computers, phone, and iPad. Plus, the holidays and having company for two weeks straight.
January 4th, 2019
- Turns out, if you ever posted anything on Google+, it archives your photos in an album – even if you’ve deleted your Google+ account. If you have a Google+ account see: aboutme.google.com – I deleted all that.
- I’m working sporadically on beta reading a fellow writer’s novel. Slowly picking my way through it as time allows.
- Have decided I’m doing too much and need to slow down a bit. Need a real rest after the holidays. Might take some time to reevaluate everything going on and really think about the things ahead.
- Broke my fast to check a Facebook Lyme group regarding a question I had concerning one of the supplements. I did not find the answer I was looking for and did not feel it necessary to post about it. Have now broken fast three times in eleven days.
January 13th, 2019
- Took two weeks, but I finally heard from MySpace. No questions asked, they updated my new email and gave me a new password. As I suspected, there is actually no reason to ever visit MySpace again. There is almost nothing there from the old version – none of my posts, photos, or friendships (other than bands I already follow on Facebook). I understand MySpace has become music oriented, but it’s probably the worst social outlet on the web. The design is downright punishing. I can’t understand how it’s still alive. Once I figure out how to delete the account, I’ll do it. It feels like the end of an era.
- Have been spending most of my time studying and some writing for an online class I’m taking.
- Have also learned it’s nearly impossible to avoid social media altogether. People show you things, links in articles take you to Twitter or Facebook. It’s wholly unavoidable. And now, with some people and companies using FB as their home base, if you need information that would usually be on a website, it’s on Facebook. I have had to unlock my site blocker more than a dozen times just to get basic info.
- Last week I was reminded that I have a digital subscription to both Publisher’s Weekly and The New Yorker. Taking the time to read those more.
- I’ve been catching up on podcasts.
January 14th, 2019
- End of the road. I’m sort of feeling bummed that it’s over. Going forward, I will continue to block both Twitter and Facebook and use them on an as needed basis. I hope I can keep that up. Social media is great when you don’t want to do your homework. Have come to the conclusion that social media is a “can’t live with it, can’t live without it” type of thing. It has good points, but can also weigh you down. The trick is self-moderation – which most of us suck at. This experiment has made me more aware of my habits. I’m hoping that I will be able to stick to a moderate level of grazing.
- Deleted MySpace account. Feels kind of sad. I guess you never forget your first.