Could you give up all social media for 1 month? If you did, how much extra time would you have? What would you do with that time? Those are the questions I tried to answer during January 2018.
I follow the Study Hacks blog which is written by professor and author Cal Newport. I have also read his books Deep Work (which I have also gifted to several people) and So Good They Can’t Ignore You, so when Dr. Newport sent out an email in December asking for volunteers to attempt a digital declutter, I readily volunteered. After reading Deep Work while on vacation in September, I was already onboard the “social media is a waste of time” bandwagon and had cut back on my usage, particularly Facebook, quite a bit so giving up all social media, or at least putting parameters around it was something I was happy to try. My social media world consisted of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and LinkedIn, with the time spent on each roughly in that order.
After reading Deep Work, I had decided to stick to a 9–9 rule with respect to my activity on Facebook. I only allowed myself to check it before 9 AM and after 9 PM. Since I go to bed before 10:00PM each night, this didn’t give me a lot of time to catch up on friend and colleagues’ lives. (I prefer Facebook to LinkedIn for professional networking — actually I prefer anything to LinkedIn but that’s another story). I work at home and alone so my only face to face conversations during the day are with the mailman and UPS guy (sad, I know). I have moved around a lot so my friends and family are all at least an hour away so Facebook really is my day to day social life. Cutting myself off from my Facebook newsfeed was going to be hard.
I started trying to write a few notes for myself as the experiment started but after a week or so, I stopped because I really had nothing new to add. All of my urges to post something or mindlessly check a feed somewhere had mostly gone away. I was occasionally tagged in a post by a well-meaning friend or colleague and in those instances, it was very hard not to run and see what was written about me. I am very active in a professional Facebook group so when I received notification that I was mentioned there, I did allow myself to see what was mentioned (but only after 9PM). In several instances I did need to respond and did so through email though so I would not break my goal of not posting. I also have a Facebook page for my business (I am self-employed) so I really could not ignore that 100% so checking comments and messages there still occurred but only within my 9 to 9 rule. I was also very tempted to log on around the time of the SuperBowl since I am an Eagles fan and it really was a huge deal that “my” team had finally won a Super Bowl. Growing up and attending college in Philadelphia, I still have many friends there and I wanted to share in their happiness and excitement. (I now live in a suburb of NYC so I am surrounded by the exact opposite of Eagles fans).
To my surprise, I didn’t run to the computer and log into Facebook and my other social media sites on February 1 as soon as my detox was over. It wasn’t such a big deal anymore. When I did check out my feed, I instantly had some of the stress I used to get while skimming through my posts in the past. There were posts about boycotting the Super Bowl, politics and the latest school shooting. I can get all of this news by turning on the television. I just want to stay connected — share in the accomplishments and the not so great moments of my friends. I actually like to see where they vacationed and I like to offer suggestions or help if anyone needs it. Facebook in this way helps me feel connected. Unfortunately Facebook has become the place for way too much drama. Who needs it?
I have not been back on Twitter yet and I’m not sure if I’ll regret that. I had found myself running to twitter every time there was “breaking news” (just about all the time now) and checking Twitter’s trending topics for new news that hadn’t made it onto the big media outlets yet. Why? Why do I care? I recently read something that said most of what you read today will mean nothing in a week. That is true for a lot of what I read on Twitter. While checking the “news” I would also get sucked into reading some truly vile and nasty posts tweeted by normal people with radical opinions who brazenly say online what they would never say face to face. This would add to my stress levels and more importantly, my level of distraction.
Snapchat is something I don’t think of as a distraction and I am using it as before which isn’t much. I have three children. Two are away at college and one is senior in High School. The 5 of us (don’t forget my husband) have a group SnapChat that all of us use throughout the day. If my son gets a great grade or a college acceptances, he will “snapchat” it in our group and it’s a mini-family celebration. My oldest daughter is a student-athlete and if she gets put in an ice bath after a brutal morning workout, she will put a photo of that in the group snapchat as well and we all feel more connected. My younger daughter will snapchat a photo of what she cooked herself for dinner. It sounds like a distraction but I can’t imagine staying in touch with my family ever a distraction.
Instagram is another app I enjoy but I do not spend much time on it so giving it up was not a big deal. I do enjoy scroll through the newsfeed and seeing some beautiful shots from my friends from around the world. For some of my friends, particularly younger ones I have met through travellng, Instagram is my primary way to stay in touch. I still look at it occasionally.
Finally, LinkedIn was not hard to ignore since I could easily not look at it for months at a time. I know as a self-employed business owner I should have been more active on that platform but I never had great success. If people want to check me out before hiring me, I need to have a profile which I do, but I could probably benefit from being more active by commenting on posts and sharing valuable information of my own. I guess the goal here is visibility and I agree that is something I should work towards. That being said, I have been trying to be more active on LinkedIn since coming off the detox and I have had mostly good results. (The bad results include two “love letters” from strange men but this is not all that uncommon, and thus my dislike of it, on LinkedIn.)
LinkedIn has a problem. Men around the world think it is a dating site. Yes I can report these people and block them but there will be new ones popping up soon. Besides creeping me out, these emails (they end up in my inbox) are a major distraction. They get past my spam filter so I read them. And then I am bothered by them. Even with this problem, I will stay active on LinkedIn and will make an effort to post snd comment — more than I have before — for all of 2018. If I see no benefit by December 31st, I will stop using it.
With my new found time added during my digital detox, I decided to take the steps to finally start a blog (I should say re-start because I have had many starts at a blog and a podcast for many years) to share things with the occupational safety community (my field). Before, I would find or create something and then I would share it on a variety of platforms — Facebook, Twitter, via a website, through a newsletter, etc. I figured a blog would let me post everything in one place and then share the link to the blog when I felt necessary. I have a lot of old materials from my previous blogs that I can pull into my new effort (safetydance.blog) and during my digital detox I was able to create at least a dozen posts to use in the future.
I also had time to read a lot more. I finished several books including one by a Catholic Priest (Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship) and one by Ex-Navy Seals (Extreme Ownership: How US Navy Seals Lead and Win). I also read many long form articles in Medium. (I hope to start publishing on there myself so stay tuned).
In addition to all of the above, I learned two things.
First, once friends heard I was doing this, several jumped on the “No Facebook Wagon” for a variety of reasons. It seemed that once they realized they would not be the only ones missing out, they were eager to take a break. My oldest daughter just realized she needs a break too and has removed all social media apps from her phone — pretty impressive for a 21 year old who has grown up in that world.
Finally, I quickly realized that my Apple Watch is a HUGE distraction. Every text, Facebook comment, new email, snapchat and worst of all, breaking news alerts, would appear on my wrist and cause me to look away from whatever I was doing. I eventually figured out that I could use theater mode (I never knew what those little masks were for before) to silence all notifications. Mission accomplished.
Overall, I am glad I took part in the digital detox. As I add back my social media accounts, I have to keep Paracelsus’ wisdom in mind — the dose makes the poison. All social media is not bad but spending mindless hours on it when I could be productive elsewhere is the problem. If I stick to my 9–9 rule, I think that will be a happy medium. I can quickly scan my feeds and only read the kind of things that are important to me. With such a limited amount of time to spend on social media, I will not be tempted to read the junk that so often gets posted. I will likely not go back to Twitter but I will maintain a very minimal presence on Snapchat and Instagram as I described above. I am planning on spending more time on LinkedIn but even this use of social media will be confined to my 9–9 rule. Social media is under fire in so many ways these days but it also provides a lot of benefits. The key is to use social media in a way that’s best for you and not let social media become a major part of your day. This will probably take practice and self-discipline but most good things do.