I started this year with a challenge. I wanted to take a break from distractions to focus better on creating content myself. So I decided to quit social media for 30 days. That is, on my phone.
I still used Social Media on my laptop, with one rule: I didn’t want to spend more than half an hour a day on all platforms together. In the beginning, I actually set a timer or looked at the clock to make sure that I wouldn’t overdo it. But, as I continued down this path, I realized that this wasn’t even necessary. My interest in social media just naturally dwindled, and I was satisfied with just devoting a few minutes to social media every day.
Without further ado, here are the five things I learned:
(1) I noticed which platforms I really enjoy using
First off, I should note that I’m not really an active user. I post an update on Twitter every once in a while when I publish a new article, but sometimes I simply forget. I’m becoming more active on Reddit, though — once you’ve found your personal selection of Subreddits, it becomes fun to comment and post, and you find a lot of people who are interested in the same subjects as you are. Overall, I use these two networks to stay up to date about tech, a sort of AI-curated RSS feed reader, if you’d like.
Of course, I also use other social media platforms. I enjoy posting pictures on Instagram, but I don’t enjoy the aggressive self-marketing some people turn to on the platform. That’s why my feed is mostly filled with my friends and some of the more “artsy” photography focused accounts, but I found myself quitting Instagram altogether for this challenge. Uploading photos is just too tedious on desktop operating systems, and I have other means of connecting with friends.
I did check Facebook only a few times a week before the experiment, and I actually uninstalled the Facebook app itself long ago. It’s become a place to check what events are going on around me and whose birthdays are coming up. And what makes Facebook really unsympathetic is its highly aggressive approach to make you a Daily Active User. While I was actively using it, I never had as many notifications as today. Facebook is really trying to tell me that I’m missing out on stuff, which is not the case (okay, maybe I missed one or two birthdays — but I’m considering just copying the most important birthdays to the Contacts app on my phone).
(2) I have a twitch to scroll through my phone
Right after I uninstalled all my social media apps, I felt like there was a void in my phone. This really made me realize how, well, I dare say addictedI was to social media. Whenever I had any time at hands, or whenever I was waiting idle in a line, I would reach for my phone and just start scrolling through social media. As I said, I’m not one to post much, so it really was just scrolling and scrolling all over the place. Sometimes, something interesting would come up, but honestly, many things I read online outside of tech news just don’t stick in my head.
With checking social media only on my laptop, I found a new approach. I would save articles I found really interesting to Pocket, an app to save articles for later reference and offline reading. And thus, I became much more aware of what I was reading and chose my reading more selectively, and I could actually learn something from everything I read.
(3) I don’t feel like I’m really missing out on anything
I already glossed over this one, but I want to go more in depth. I noticed that I barely spent more than half an hour a day on social media on my laptop, without feeling that I’m really missing out on anything. This made me calmer as a person. I realized that I don’t really miss anything when I do want to disconnect, and instead really enjoyed getting genuinely new content every time I opened Reddit and Twitter on my laptop, which is something that doesn’t necessarily happen when you check every few hours or even minutes.
Sure, I noticed that I was somewhat late to some news, but as long as journalism isn’t my profession, I’m okay with that — and even when journalism does become my profession, this teaches me that I need to turn off social media while I’m not working.
(4) I prefer connecting with people I know via messenger apps, phone calls, and actual personal interactions
As I wrote above, I noticed that I just stopped using Instagram altogether for the while. However, this is the platform that I used to keep up with friends and see what they’re up to. So, I noticed a shift. I contacted people more directly, be it via messenger or through phone calls, or by actually meeting up. While social media is great to generally keep up with friends, intensively connecting to people is something else yet again.
On social media, much of the content people share is an idealized version of themselves and their lives — which is totally fine! I feel more comfortable sharing success and good news. But when you really take the time to meet and engage, you’ll get the more genuine version of anyone you’re talking to.
(5) I’m more focused
Just knowing that there isn’t a constantly refreshing stream of information available at my fingertips made me more focused. I would reach for my phone much less often than before. Studies show that any disruption in your workflow, be it a phone call or checking the phone for a notification, makes you lose track of what you’re doing and makes you feel more stressed. I experienced this disruption and the mere urge for disrupting my workflow way less.
This challenge made me reconsider my use of social media. While I’m going to reinstall Twitter and Reddit on my phone, I’m not going to use them the same way as I used to. I’ll use them as I used them on my laptop: I’ll find a dedicated time for social media and will leave the apps by themselves when I’m not ready to engage in their streams. After all, I noticed that I don’t even need to stay up to date every second of the day.
This will be different for every one of us. People working in and with social media can’t avoid using these services all day long. But they have a more professional relationship to these services and are hopefully able to keep work and recreation more separate — meaning that in an ideal world they should be the ones locking themselves out of Social Media during recreational time.
And I’m not trying to make out social media as something evil here, by no means. If we look at history, this is what always happens with any new media. Heck, even reading was seen as a lazy, unproductive pastime in Ancient Greek, where people would be encouraged to go outside and discuss. This is the same for social media. It’s a brand-new means of communication and we are just beginning to figure out how it fits within our lives and how we can develop a critical distance to it that should enable us to use it more efficiently.