The apartment is quiet, except for the creeks and moans of an old house settling in for the night. I’m comfortably under covers finding my groove, but my mind does not drift into deep sleep and long awaited dreams. Instead I’m scrolling, caught in an endless loop of memes and photos, feeling no warmth from the glow of my cell phone in the darkness. This had become my evening routine, closing out my day not in reflection or gratitude, but in vast empty spaces, lost and in constant comparison to others I do not know, advertisers tracking my every move to sell to me come morning.
I can’t remember the exact moment when social media began to cause more harm than good in my life. I had found myself questioning appropriate social media etiquette and not quite sure if some of the friends I connected with online would recognize me and say hello if we were strolling down the produce isle of the same grocery store. How important was it for me to dive into this world of strangers? Were we not all hiding behind the comfort of keyboards and the hum of computer screens, over-editing and carefully curating the best and worst versions of ourselves? Who were these people, and why did I care what they ate, what they wore, what they did? Why was I constantly checking to see who liked my posts? At some point social media became a major player in my daily routine and it was addictive. It had become commonplace to wake up in the morning and reach first for my phone. I wanted–and desperately needed–a break.
“There is nobody else I’d rather lie in bed and look at my phone next to.” – greeting card by Emily McDowell
Disconnecting to Connect
I decided to take a month off from the constant stream of consciousness, from the words typed by the hands of millions of minds around the world, in an attempt to declutter my psyche and find peace within the stillness I had foolishly traded away. What this looked like for me was completely deleting the Facebook app from my phone. No more dings and pop up notices about likes. No more wondering if a person had seen my post and liked it, or if I need to like a comment or comment on a comment because seriously what are the rules there? I never knew what was considered enough.
I also made it a point to not pull it up on my web browser, incredibly difficult as it’s typed in absentmindedly most times while I should be researching something else. I didn’t want to see what everyone was doing. I wanted to be more intentional about what I was doing. I wanted to make conscious decisions and put forth the effort to be present, to be fully in the moments of my life both big and small.
In disconnecting I found a lot of free time, and I also found the nervous tick I developed in reaching for my phone. My phone also left the bedroom in favor of a good ol’ fashion battery operated alarm clock, and the book light for reading. In disconnecting I found space, silence, and more of a connection to myself and how I was experiencing the world around me.
Unplugging from the Matrix
I was standing on the platform at an above-ground metro station in Washington DC. On the grassy hill right next to the station, two deer ran across the lawn, chasing each other playfully until they disappeared from view. “Oh my goodness,” I said out loud to myself, wide eyed and excited at the scene that unfolded before me. Moments like this you know you’ll never capture on camera. I looked around for some other stranger to connect with, to say “hey did you see that?”… but everyone had their faces down, lost in a sea of cell phones. In my month away from social media, this was a scene I encountered all to frequently.
In the midst of being disconnected, the most common comment I received in conversation with others was, “Oh, I posted it on Facebook, didn’t you see it?” I had to remind people that I wasn’t on Facebook and hey why don’t we just talk in real time instead of in memes and photos and highlights? I also noticed more that when being with someone in real time, sometimes they would still find their way back to their phone, and in a sense disappear from view.
I also became less inclined to respond immediately to text messages and other app alerts, my phone like a child begging “look at me! look at me!” and me, my focus elsewhere. This was no easy feat, and with each accidental reach for my phone, I realized I should instead be reaching for more of the here and now. Who is available to actually go out to see a film with me tonight, instead of commenting and sharing and posting online? I started to long for more time with friends offline, and I naturally started reaching out and creating opportunities for us to get together. This also meant reconnecting with friends who were further away; instead of sending a quick text, I began picking up the phone and making time for them.
What I Missed
My one month absence eventually became the whole summer and I felt like I was on a roll. I have met many good people while traveling, and I missed seeing their lives. These fellow adventurers and free spirits, I wanted to know what they were up to… not everyday, but I didn’t want to sever access to them, losing touch in between the thousands of miles in between. I also know people who have courageous stories of triumph of adversity; their truth cries out through everything they touch. There is value and inspiration in those stories and I yearned for them. I wanted those words and points of view in my life. Similarly, I enjoy sharing the scenic photos I take while traveling, and my stories of new people and experiences. I missed sharing those in the spirit of just putting the vibes out there, not necessarily to spark a conversation or commentary.
I am now back on Facebook as a conscious decision and not a filler for space. I will never return to it in the mindless way I was before. Instead of social media being the thing I do to fill time when riding the subway, when waiting in line at the post office, when grabbing a cup of coffee by myself, and everything else in between, I found balance in creating boundaries for the beast.
Facebook is now a scheduled block on my calendar. I use it for planning out the publishing calendar for my business, for promoting the community events I organize, and the occasional sharing of photos and stories from recent travel adventures. In this time I also check in on a few friends, and click on a few links from good news sources. And that’s it. I already use my calendar for several aspects of my life, blocking time for going out with friends, calls with clients, meetings, writing. Why not this too, to get things done that need to be done on social media; to check it off the list and keep it moving?
Social media has changed forever the way that we interact with people and our world, but it is up to us to decide in what capacity we will use it and what role it will play in our lives. My friends who know me and want to spend time together, they know where to find me… in the real world.