I quit social media. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Photo by Redd Angelo on Unsplash

Step with me, if you will, into a tragically familiar scenario. Bored out of your mind (or rather, procrastinating), your thumb taps to the comforting icon, opening your world to a gallery worth scrolling galore. Just a few minutes, you say.

But then, you look at the clock. Where did all the time go? And why do I feel so crummy?

If this scenario’s unfamiliar to you then please, teach me your tricks. But if it does hit close to home, step into my judgment-free zone.

Confessions of a social mediaholic

What once was intended to connect us to friends, suddenly looked to divide us. Don’t believe me? The next time you go to a restaurant, observe how many people are staring into their phones.

“You can’t even sing, you too busy taping.” Beyoncé encourages a fan to live in the moment, not through a screen.

Really, I’m no better. Eager to avoid my dad’s incessant rambling, I’d take to incessant Instagram scrolling. Or, tired after a long day, I’d jump on Facebook before sitting face-to-face with the man who moved to build a life with me.

But it got even worse when I found my way home. I’d flop in bed and open my apps, watching the clock tick-tock past 12 o’clock.

The average internet user is now on social media and messaging services for over 2 hours per day.

Two hours per day. That’s 14 hours a week, 60-plus hours a month, and 730 hours sucked into social media apps per year.

But is it worth it?

Social media ROI: is it really worth it?

So many people use social media to connect to old friends; boost their business; share their creations, and the list goes on. But I’m not “so many people”.

I had to answer that question for myself: whether my social media usage was worth all the time I had spent. Social media, to me, is a valuable tool for business — invaluable for networking, inspiration, and as fodder for conversation.

At least, that’s what I told myself.

I run four accounts: two on Instagram; two on Facebook for my personal brand, as well as for my passion project, Spread Joy SD. And so, I made up this equation to determine if the return on investment for using social media was worth it:

Was my ROI on social media worth worthwhile? The equation reads: time spent scrolling, divided by whatever I was getting out of it.

As a copywriter and strategist for global and local brands, I’d use a similar equation to prove if their ad spend was producing: likes; engagement; conversion, whatever.

The positive results from my social media ROI equation

After listing off the benefits of getting online, I realized they were mostly qualitative, not the quantitative results I’d tried to prove. “Social media gets me new leads!” I’d claim. “I’m getting great projects from networking online!”

Now let me repeat—this is not an anti-social media campaign. Several brands, personal and business, churn out profitable results. The problem was, however, that I really wasn’t using social media for that purpose.

The losses from my social media ROI equation

Sure, I was building the Spread Joy SD brand and attracting new people through our social accounts. But that’s not where I spent the bulk of my time. Rather, I’d be scrolling my responsibilities away, scared to face my fears that day.

Fears like being stuck in transition, unsure of what is next.

Fears of not being where I thought I’d be at my age, while everyone around me seems to be raising children or getting raises at their steady jobs.

Fears of never getting the “dream job” I’d so hoped for after killing it as a copywriter in LA, and then making the hard decision to put my career on pause for something greater.

Fears that I was choosing not to face, but to bury, losing my mind instead to distraction.

“Staying busy was the only way I could cope with the stress and anxiety” Top 10 YouTuber Michelle Phan reflects what I, and so many others online, feel.

The results didn’t lie. I was losing valuable time.

Even though the outcome of my habits were more qualitative than quantitative, my losses still outweighed my gains. And, really—nothing is more valuable than time.

U.S. consumers now spend 5 hours per day on mobile devices.

By using more memory on my phone, I was losing memories of my own. Our brains were not wired to sift through so much information, and with so much to focus on, I wasn’t retaining much of anything.

I’d get impatient in conversations, or in everyday situations. Surely traffic and time spent with friends was not designed to move like the latest iOS, or Amazon Prime Air.

“Cell phones are addictive in the same way slot machines are addictive. The immediacy of response, gratification, and excitation combine to make the user want more and more now.” -Medical Daily

Paying more attention to my phone than to the people around me sent the message: you are not as important as the world at my fingertips. This is detrimental to relationships long-term—especially for young kids.

Compared to children who spent time on a mobile device, children at camp scored much higher at recognizing non-verbal emotional cues.

And finally, I needed to face my fears. The frustrations of not knowing what was next were building up so much, I’d feel the physiological effects.

I needed to cut myself off from this addiction; this drug, that was leaving me… empty.

Getting off social media: where I am today

When I announced I was getting off Facebook and Instagram, friends and acquaintances posted comments of celebration. Could it be that my decision is one so many long for?

Well, I’m halfway into my month-long fast, and it’s going much better than I expected. Here’s what I’m experiencing today:

  1. Confidence in my journey. Social media is a highlight reel; rarely do we see the grimy stuff behind it. Without anyone to compare myself to, and the incessant nags of business ‘gurus’ telling me they’ve figured out life, I’ve been able to settle into my transitory phase.
  2. Better connection—to my faith, and to myself. On days when I feel tempted to hide behind the social media scroll, I press into prayer instead. I face my fears head on, and ask God why I am where I am in life. He’s always given me an answer, and in receiving so, I feel so much more at peace.
  3. Time to do other things. Holy crepe, I didn’t realize how much time I actually have when it’s not being sucked away by my screen. ‘Not having time’ is not a legitimate excuse; rather, we choose what we funnel our time into. Now, I get to spend this time doing things that actually fill me up, such as reading; meditating; listening to music; noticing the colors of the sky, and oh! Completing this 100 Days of Writing Challenge to stretch my skills.
  4. Freedom to be myself. I’m a writer, not a photographer. On Instagram, the “likes” led me to unify my feed with a light palette, and tons of white space. But this is not who I am. I’m VIBRANT, ECLECTIC, and TONS of fun.
  5. Permission to live in the moment. Whenever I’d go out each day, I’d search for things, or moments, to capture. I’d get semi-stressed trying to get the “perfect” shot, then spend the next half hour editing the image and posting it, appropriate caption and link in tow. Now that I don’t have to think about posting anything, I get to fully live it up with my phone, down.
  6. Truly connecting with friends. One of my biggest excuses for being on social media was to keep in touch with my friends. But I realize that the truest friends will make time to connect with you, and not just through a post. Not knowing what my friends are up to gives me even more reason to chat them up and see how they’re really doing.
  7. Moments worth soaking up with loved ones. Wandering into the imagination of my niece. Gazing at the sky from a blanket with my beloved. Taking in a play with my mom on a rare date. These are the moments I get to enjoy and savor thanks to prioritizing our time in-person over my screen. These are the moments worth living for.

It’s time to take back time

Our phones are like a time machine, transporting us into the future without any memory of what happened in between. But why would you want to miss out on those moments?

The best times of my life were so because I was too consumed in the moment to do anything but live it. Like the semester I spent wandering through cobblestone streets in Spain, France, and Greece, sipping café in small shops, or dancing the night away. Or those six months spent in Kona, India, and Thailand, crying as the kids whose hands I held realized they were worth more than they believed.

At the end of my life, it’s the times I’ve spent laughing with family, smiling and crying with friends, and leaping into all-consuming adventure that I’ll cherish to remember.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I can tell you this: it’s time to take back time. Tomorrow’s never promised, and there’s too much to savor to scroll past today.

Hey there! I’m Cheryl Elizaga, but you can call me “Ché”. I’m living in the in-between but choosing joy each day. This post is part of my #100DaysofWriting Challenge, because words are my weapon but consistency, my Achilles’ heel. So join me on this bumpy ride; let’s laugh, let’s talk, and maybe cry… thank you for sticking with me.