My 3-Week Leave from Social Media

What I learned from a distraction-free lifestyle.

I believe it quite safe to assume, by this point, you have been inundated with the statistics, projections, data, research, and limitless quantity of articles on why large amounts of time spent on social media (and spent using immersive technology in general, for that measure) is detrimental to your mental health, productivity, and quality of life. To be sure, there’s nothing negative about these pieces. In fact, they have been incredibly beneficial to me in evaluating my own use of technology. However, I don’t aim to say what has already been said by those much more qualified and eloquent than myself. I simply want to give you an anecdotal synopsis of my brief time away from social media.

A little over three weeks ago, I decided to delete all social media apps from my phone. The time I spent on my phone chained to the endless feed of content from peers and those across the world consumed a great majority of my time. Not only that, but my motivations were quite shaped by social media. Just like we read so often, the social networks had rewired my brain to crave proverbial hits in the form of likes, posts, comments, et cetera.

Considering these things, I decided to make the jump to take an indefinite amount of time away from social media. This decision also entailed a goal to minimize the amount of time I spent on my smartphone. In a surge of will power, I deleted those notorious three apps from my smartphone — Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, namely. Deleting these apps greatly reduced my total time spent using technology in general, as the wide majority of my use of technology was for social media. In the brief time I have spent away from social media, I have come to realize a handful of key concepts.

  1. I have begun to fill my time with efforts to create and learn, rather than simple consumption.

My use of time immediately experienced a sizable shift, and I became acutely aware of time spent away from my phone. All of a sudden, a great deal of free time was opened up to me. In the first few days, I ended up not doing much of anything, because I had previously grown to know little other than filling every free moment with a device in my hand and a screen in front of my eyes.

However, I slowly became accustomed to the tranquility of my downtime and became more and more adept at filling this time with valuable activities. Free of the ever-present distraction of social apps, I began to consistently read for the first time in months, I started to more comprehensively understand the concepts presented in my school work, and I gained a growing hunger for learning and knowledge, to list a few. Shortly afterwards, I began to long to create, craving meaningful work in my life — a point I will return to briefly.

Previously, social media had barred me from developing myself. By this, I mean that social media, by filling my life with meaningless noise, had barred me from sharpening my skills, my mind, my knowledge, and propagating introspective growth as an individual. When our lives are consumed by this noise, it leaves little space for any meaningful personal growth. However, now that I have been living free from social media, I feel a compulsion and even desire to grow, and am liberated to do so.

2. I find myself much more present in the moment.

The phrase “present in the moment” gets thrown around quite a bit, often without much regard to what it means other than trendy connotation and mystical ambiguity. What I specifically mean by this phrase comes to this: I find myself engaged in the immediate surrounding I am in — engaged with the people, ideas, and environment in a given situation. I am completely immersed in my current surroundings. This concept doesn’t mean each moment I am in becomes completely magical, each corner filled with wonder and beauty. Often times, it may be just the opposite. My current situation may be utterly and mind-draggingly boring, and I am completely immersed in that reality as well. I am no longer given the choice of instant escape through social media.

But, we must realize not having an ever-present and instant escape from our reality is completely okay. Modern technology has done an incredible job at demonizing boredom. We squirm in our seats at the thought of having nothing to do. Our smartphones and devices have trained us to pull them out whenever an inkling of boredom is hinted at.

Contrary to what the culture of instant entertainment would have you think, boredom is your friend. As one progresses in life, he or she must learn to respect and be comfortable with boredom. Learning to be okay with boredom is an acquired taste — one that doesn’t come with filling every crack in our time with cheap entertainment.

Learning to be okay with boredom is an acquired taste — one that doesn’t come with filling every crack in our time with cheap entertainment.

On somewhat of a tangent of thought from this last concept, one implication of growing more and more comfortable with boredom is a growth in patience as I have found over the past few weeks. Most noticeably, my patience has grown in quite tedious and menial tasks. This follows as a natural consequence of the ideas concerning boredom above. As our comfort with boredom grows, so does our patience and perseverance in rudimentary work. We can see the natural benefit of this through the fact that few things of value come about without long hours of tedious, boring, unglamorous work.

Coming back to the original idea of presence in the moment, while one sees truly boring situations for what they really are, one will also experience the vast beauty in truly beautiful moments. This concept isn’t limited to visual awe, but it also extends to the simple beauty in a genuine conversation, being able to appreciate an undistracted connection with someone, grasping the tranquility and silence of a moment, taking in the awe and beauty of scenery and works of art, and so much more that is to be had apart from the cheap entertainment we resort to in our devices.

Being away from social media has allowed me to be present in each of my moments, making boring moments boring and beautiful moments beautiful. For all its worth, we must truly taste both to find the value in each high and low — something we can’t do distracted.

3. My work has become more meaningful, and my rest more intentional.

Returning to the idea that my absence from social media has created a desire for meaningful work in my life, I believe this concept is twofold. As stated above, my work and efforts have become concerted towards the goal of meaning and value, as well as my time of rest becoming more deliberate by moving away from a time of mindless consumption.

Before my brief leave from social media, I had little space to establish meaningful work for myself. In the weeks after making my departure, I felt a growing desire to create meaningfully, as mentioned before. To be precise, I mean to say that I now feel a growing desire to create and work on projects that have meaningful value in the world. This may not, and often doesn’t, manifest itself in an ambitious humanitarian cause. It may simply be a hunger to sharpen one’s mathematical skills, or to learn a new language. Meaningful value in the world may simply mean meaningful value in personal growth, though benevolent humanitarian efforts are noble and admirable as well. Put briefly, meaningful work, for myself at least, has become work that holds value, regardless of scale, whether individually for myself or for the whole of society.

On the converse, before my leave, the time set aside for rest was anything but restful as I turned immediately in my downtime to an unending wandering into timelines and notifications. By this point, I have learned to redeem that time set aside for rest and to do just that — rest. That means when I am tired from a long day’s work, I don’t zone-out in front of Netflix as I used to, but instead to take a break from the noise of the day. This may mean actually taking a nap (how novel of an idea is that), or it may mean sitting in silence and prayer for a time to recharge myself and to flush out the stress of the day.

If we make a habit of turning to technology for our rest, we will quickly find that, to start, we will have trouble resting without it, and secondly, our rest that we find in these devices won’t satisfy our need to pause. We aren’t built for a constant stream of stimulus every waking second; we must force ourselves to take a break from the stresses of our day. This is what I have learned in my own experience with the renewal of rest in the past three weeks.

Coming to an end, I believe these three weeks away from social media have been incredibly valuable to me. I would challenge you to try the same, even if its just for one week. You could even set aside one day each week that you don’t check socials at all. The benefits, for whatever period of time of absence, are well worth it. I am slowly learning to control my devices instead of my devices controlling me, and I hope we can all do the same. There is already so much great discussion over this subject, and I would encourage you to do lots of reading from knowledgable and competent authors — it may change your lifestyle and habits for the better.