Learning to Just Be a Person
Fixing my broken habits
I hit a point a few months ago when I realized I needed to reset my relationship with “social media.” I had no interest in leaving any of the networks I currently use, but I did need to change their level of importance in my life. I continuously get meaningful value from these products, and some of my closest relationships are the result of them. This isn’t about deleting accounts, this is about reprioritizing, about figuring out how much importance I assign to these services and how I access them.
Somewhere along the way, my use of social media became so obsessive and inefficient that I grew anxious when I was unable to check it. I’ve been using most of these services since high school, so these habits were deeply ingrained in my way of thinking. I deemed the amount of engagement received on a post the most important thing of all. I would quickly delete photos and Tweets when they didn’t “do well,” feeling like I had somehow failed at entertaining others or appearing cool.
All this is deeply embarrassing to admit, but it was a very real feeling for me and is more common than you’d think.
I realized that I needed to be comfortable existing in a moment, in my own skin, alone with my thoughts. Louis C.K. has this great bit about just being a person. I remember seeing this and thinking, “damn, I can’t remember the last time I was just a person.”
In an effort to fix my habits, I have significantly changed the way I use these services, and I’ve felt better the past few months because of this shift. Here’s what helped me….
Pull, not Push
I changed my entire consumption strategy to pull instead of push. I now have push notifications and badges turned off for all social apps, and most other apps too. The reality is that every time I open one of these things there are going to be notifications and messages, so the actual number displayed in a tiny red dot cancels itself out.
There’s no need to respond the second someone mentions or DMs me. If you really need me, you have my phone number (and if you don’t, my email address is listed on my website). I left on push notifications for only three apps on both iOS and Mac: Messages, Basecamp, and Fantastical.
Changing My Homescreen
It sounds minor, but it’s not. What’s on your phone’s homescreen has a huge impact on what you open most and what you prioritize. I used to have all the social apps I use front and center, with all notifications and badges turned on for them. Every time I glanced at my phone something beckoned. In an effort to curtail my usage, I left only my two most used social apps on my homescreen: Tweetbot and Instagram.
I also shifted my Twitter usage entirely over to Tweetbot for both iOS and Mac. I like how it feels optimized for home timeline viewing, rather than exploration. It’s classic Twitter, simple and to the point.
I had to get comfortable with the idea that I might miss things. I might be a few hours or days behind on a meme. I might not know the second a news item breaks or what Kim and Kanye did that day. I had to just chill out and and be okay with not knowing everything immediately. It turns out I haven’t fallen behind on pop culture or current events. I learn about things just a few hours later when I decide to open Tweetbot and catch up. I’ll read a bunch of news items and Tweets a few times a day. This feels better, more concentrated, and less distracting.
Ditching the Persona
I got caught up in this persona. I felt like all my Tweets had to be witty one liners. Like all my Instagrams had to provide hilarious visual commentary. And like all my Snaps had to be just the right combination of face filters and proof that I had left my home that day.
I was thirsty for engagement and I would admit this thirst publicly. As if an admission, a confession, would somehow diffuse it. Like this would validate my behavior in the social sphere I was screaming into.
Me trying to “own the thirst” through self-deprecation:
I’d stop myself from Tweeting happy anecdotes and quickly turn every thought into a sardonic joke. Jokes were, and still are, my comfort zone.
But then I decided to try something new, to just start posting whatever I wanted. The truth is, I’m a combination of 😂,🤓,😎,😳,😱 and 😀. Humor, design musings, tech observations, weirdo thoughts, photos of buildings and cars. I tried to let go of the worry and just be myself.
The Other Side
As a result of these changes I have felt less anxious and more able to practice mindfulness and meditation in a meaningful way. Oddly enough, the way I use social products is much more enjoyable too. I’m curious if anyone else has ideas or strategies for sustainably managing the networks you’re active on. Let me know here or Tweet at me. I’ll get back to you in a few hours.