Why I Spent Six Harrowing Days Away From Facebook & Twitter…And How It Improved My Life

We’ve all sworn off social media at one point or another, but there often isn’t much action after the swearing. I’m guilty of this: promising myself that I’m done with social media only to go crawling back, often absentmindedly. Last weekend, I hit a point where I was suddenly willing to give it a shot with a realistic goal: six days without checking Twitter or Facebook, and I threw watching the news in the morning and evening for good measure.

Let me emphasize “checking” here. Spending time on Twitter and Facebook is part of my job, first of all, but more important are the notifications. I could still accomplish my goal without turning off email or iOS notifications, while still posting, while still responding to the people who mentioned me first. What I wanted to do is stop actively going to the sites and apps to check to see what was going on. No clicking the Facebook bookmark, no opening Tweetdeck, no watching the morning news.

There were two reasons why. One: to keep myself sane (well, relatively so). Yes, the internet as a whole is an avalanche of cognitive biases, but it was starting to get to me to see smart, nice people spouting off logical fallacies and direct contradictions (even on worthy issues!), intending it to be only a one-way sharing of opinions: no dissenting replies welcome. I hid, I unfollowed, I unfriended, but the shared insanity and self-righteous outrage were starting to get to me, and even worse, stay with me for days. It’s not just “bad news” or “politics”. It’s the angrily illogical justification of it by individuals, often individuals that I know.

The second reason is that social media can be like that inaudible TV on in the corner of a bar: you pay attention to it even when you have no reason to. I found myself absentmindedly looking at the columns of Tweetdeck and opening Facebook when I just had a few minutes before, only to — go figure — see exactly what I had just seen.

Both of these downsides to Twitter and Facebook were ones that I’ve known for a long time, but it always seemed worth it to use them to keep up with friends, get the latest news, and often-clever quips about the news. Suddenly, by some intangible trigger, it didn’t seem worth it. Even if I knew that I could never quit it entirely — or even for very long — I needed to get off for a short time, to see if it made a difference.

It did. First of all, in absolutely no surprise, it made me more productive and more focused. Holding off clicking that FB bookmark or switching over to Tweetdeck made me look for other things to do in that time in between tasks. And it felt great.

It helped a great deal with my sanity, too. I still got top articles from the people I follow on Twitter via Nuzzel, and the emails of popular articles saved to Pocket are a connection to the interesting shares of the day, so it’s not like I was completely out of touch. What I was spared from was moments of outrage from people I follow for other reason, and from articles and observations that stuck in my brain and kept me annoyed. In short: it kept me from thinking that my world was a dysfunctional as the whole world.

The biggest benefit, though, was something less tangible and more philosophical. Even when I was at my computer, I felt a little closer and more in touch with my space in the world. Yes, I’d given up on the things that kept me informed by the entire world and my entire life, but letting go of that for a few days made my immediate world — my city, neighbors, neighborhood, colleagues — just a little bit clearer.

The question is where to take it. I’ve gotten far more benefit than downside from Facebook and Twitter over the years, so I don’t want to quit them entirely. I just want to quiet them a little bit more. Try to check Facebook only at night? Sure, but then the people I hear from is even more in the hands of the infuriating Facebook algorithm. Turn off notifications from all but my most-read Tweetdeck columns? Sure, but what about that doubting voice that keeps saying what are you missing?

But it’s a start.