Time Well Spent//

What I Learned When I Eliminated Social Media from My Life

And how my newfound awareness will help me manage my usage in the future.

Back in mid-October, I quit social media, cold turkey. I had been thinking about it for a while, was waiting for the right time, then finally, on a random Thursday, mustered the strength to deactivate – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn. I deactivated EVERYTHING. Why would I do such a thing?

Well, even though I don’t post too frequently, I was downright addicted to the mindless scroll. And I knew it.

I often found myself logged into Facebook without knowing how I got there. Somehow, my fingers automatically typed in my name and password, and I was scrolling through my newsfeed before my brain caught up to what I was doing. I felt that I had absolutely no control, and I needed to make a change. All social media platforms had to go.

I’m not going to lie – having no access to social media for the past 6 weeks has been AMAZING. My mind has been on a beautiful, hashtag-free vacation ever since, and I’m not ready for it to end.

Below I’ve listed some of the positive and negative effects I experienced from being off of social media. And believe it or not, I discovered that at times, social media can actually be good for us. Although I could ride this wave of glorious freedom from facebook for much longer, I do feel that I have experienced a solid social media reset, and that I have developed stronger awareness to help me manage my usage in the future.

Positive Outcomes From Eliminating Social Media

1. No more mindless scrolling.

Before Cancelling (B.C.) my social media accounts, every night before bed, I would spend a solid hour, minimum, mindlessly scrolling on facebook or instagram. The automatic movement of my thumb sliding up and down my phone screen started to provide the same kind of comfort as a bedtime story.

I tried to make promises to myself, that I would “read for 30 minutes before bed.” But my phone would always win over the book on my nightstand. After Deactivation (A.D.), I actually did read before bed, and I finished an entire book – something that has become more challenging for me over the past couple of years, due to my increase in technology usage.

2. I slowly stopped thinking in hashtags and captions.

Am I the only one who does this? It’s embarrassing to admit, but sometimes I would think about hashtags for posts that haven’t even happened yet, or I would spend way too much time trying to come up with a witty caption for a picture.

Maybe it’s just me, but regardless, I have found that I don’t think in posts anymore. I think in… just… thoughts. And I would like for my brain to stay that way.

3. I waste less time.

When I deactivated my accounts, I started playing the banjo more consistently, and have taught myself two songs. I also began to exercise at least 4 times each week. And, I found an office space, built my own web site, and officially opened up my own private practice.

My intention here is not to brag about all of my accomplishments from the past few months. It is to acknowledge that there has been a definite shift in my productivity. And I have more time to dedicate to my creative hobbies, which bring much more joy to my life than my online social networks.

4. I started comparing myself to myself.

Thanks to social media, we are connected to almost anyone and everyone we have met in our lives, which means that we are also comparing ourselves to almost anyone and everyone we have met in our lives. In reality, we are comparing our own carefully curated content to other people’s carefully curated content. And even though most people are aware of this, knowing it logically does not change the fact that we are still impacted emotionally when we see how much fun other people are having on vacation, or how successful they are, or how happy their relationship looks, etc., etc.

I would be lying if I said that getting off of social media has magically resolved all of my insecurities and doubts; it hasn’t. But it has helped me to control the subtle messages I receive that build up over time and make me question whether or not I’m normal if I haven’t gotten married, moved to the suburbs, been promoted, bought a house, and had 2.5 kids by the age of thirty. It has given me more time and space to focus on what I’m doing with my own life, instead of wasting time focusing on what other people are doing with theirs.

5. I live in the present moment.

When out with friends and loved ones, I’m checking my phone less and I’m paying closer attention to conversations that are happening in real time. It’s easier for me to immerse myself in experiences as they occur, and I now enjoy moments without trying to capture them through snapchat. I’m not saying I never check my phone when I’m out anymore (I’m not perfect, let’s be real), but there is less reason to look at it, which means less reason to reach for it.

Negative Outcomes From Eliminating Social Media

1. I miss my friends (and I miss seeing pictures of their adorable kids).

I have friends and family members that live in other states, that I talk to less frequently. Since deleting social media, I have had less contact with these people, and I don’t know what is going on in their lives. Yes, I could very easily pick up the phone and call these friends, which is something that I have done and that I do feel is more valuable than getting updates from their instagram feed.

Nonetheless, I’ve realized that seeing pictures of loved ones that don’t live nearby gives me a small glimpse into their lives and actually helps me feel like there is less distance between us. And, seeing images of my friends’ kids truly makes me happy. I’ve missed getting updates on a regular basis – something that is so easily accomplished through social media.

2. I’ve experienced general feelings of disconnection.

When the shooting happened a couple of months ago in Downtown Manhattan, I got quite a few texts asking if I was okay because I did not have a Facebook account to check into. I also no longer get my news from social media, so need to seek it out through other venues.

My grandmother is 92-years-old and uses facebook; she told me that she spends hours on it every day so she can see what her loved ones have been up to. Facebook provides pure joy to her life because it connects her to the outside world, and I do see the value in that.

3. I missed some important birthdays.

I forgot that my stepsister’s birthday was on November 13. And that my stepdad’s birthday was on November 16. But those dates will now be implanted in my memory forever!

4. I’ve missed events and opportunities to build connections.

I was invited to a friend’s birthday party, but was not on social media, so didn’t receive the details. And someone sent me a job opportunity that she thought would be a good fit for me, but I didn’t see it because I no longer have facebook messenger. I attended a coaching course, and decided to reactivate my LinkedIn there on the spot so that I could connect with a person I met and could possibly collaborate with in the future.

When you aren’t on social media, connecting with others feels a bit clunkier and requires everyone to work a bit harder.

5. I’ve missed opportunities to give.

While doing research on ways to use social media intentionally, I came across some very wise words from Business Coach, Whitney English. She asks “What do you hope to get out of social media? And more importantly, what do you hope to give through it?”

There are ways to give to others through social media, and help make the world a better place. I’ve seen friends post about hardships or difficult experiences, and when others chime in to offer comfort or encouragement, it can truly help a person feel supported, heard, and validated. And even though these connections are happening through a computer, they can still be powerful, and they can still be effective. 

What Did I Learn?

Although being on social media can sometimes make us feel left out, insecure, or like we are wasting hours at a time, it can also be used to remind us that we are not alone in this world; we are cared about, and we are loved. For many people, social media can make the process of reaching out to others less scary, and more accessible.

It could take a lifetime of research to understand the positive and negative consequences that social media is having on our wellbeing and on society as a whole. There are many contradictions and complexities that arise. At the end of the day, social media is not going anywhere. The impact that social media has on our lives depends on our own individual thoughts, behaviors, and intentions that surround our usage. What may feel like hours of mindless scrolling to one person (me) may feel like hours of catching up with old friends to another (my grandma).

My intention is to form authentic connections with the people I interact with, to instill hope, and to provide support so that individuals are able to navigate challenges and make positive changes in their lives. I also want to inspire people to be kind to others and kind to themselves. Much of this can be accomplished, to some extent, through social media.

So I’m getting back on. Wish me luck! And although I will continue to be mindful of the consequences that routine social media usage can have on one’s productivity levels, wellbeing, and sense of self, I am also choosing to acknowledge the many ways that it can be used to make our lives feel richer, and more connected. 

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