40 Days Without Social Media
This year on Valentine's Day I did something I have never done before. (And no, it wasn't eating a whole box of chocolates by myself.)
On February 14, 2018, I signed off of "social media."
Joining with a group of like-minded colleagues, I decided to spend the 40 days of Lent without Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, or Anchor in my life. To let you know how big of a deal this was for me, realize that I've never taken a break from social media since I first got a Facebook account at the end of high school in the spring of 2009.
So after 9 years of almost daily social media interactions, I've spent the last 40 days without it in my life.
And it has been quite the experience for me. Let me share some of thoughts from the last 40 days:
- The first week was hard. Really hard. I lost count of how many times I grabbed my phone and unconsciously unlocked it, swiped to the media page on my phone, and went to click on where my social media folder normally is. Those first few days taught me how conditioned I was to use social media anytime I felt bored, or felt like I need to be doing something, or felt awkward in a social interaction. I automatically gravitated towards the high of checking for notifications.
- One thing that greatly helped me was moving all my social media apps into one folder and moving them back several pages on my iPhone. This meant that I had to consciously try to find that folder rather than allowing my muscle memory to kick in and open my Twitter feed. This spatial move created the time I needed to remember that I wasn't going to get on social media. It gave me a buffer.
- I've had to become more intentional with my friends and extended family. I haven't been able to rely on a passive examination of a News Feed to tell me what is happening in my loved one's lives. I actually have to proactively reach out to them. Which, since my family currently lives in Senegal, means a lot of WhatsApp messages, FaceTime calls, and iMessage conversations. While it has sometimes delayed when I have found out something, the benefit is that I end up finding out about news directly from the person in one of our one-on-one conversations.
- My phone has become a lot less used. I didn't realize until the past month and a half just how much my "downtime" consisted of: check email, check Facebook, check Instagram, check Twitter, and repeat. It's given me the initiative to not keep my phone on me as much and to spend more time reading, writing, and playing with my son.
- I read more books during the month of March then the first two months combined. (1 book in Jan/Feb and 4 books in March.)
- When something cool or noteworthy is happening during my day, my knee-jerk response to immediately capture it on my phone is not nearly as strong as it used to be (though admittedly it is still there).
- I know a lot less about what is going on in the United States. Currently living in West Africa, most of my American news normally comes through Twitter and Facebook. But without those social news curators, my main news sources have become my BBC and Al-Jazeera apps on my phone. And not nearly as much of the "daily" American news pops up on those networks. This alone has significantly reduced my stress and frustration in life.
- The two main apps I have started using more are my Kindle and YouVersion Bible apps. I've "found" that I have a lot more time to read and spend time in Scripture when I'm not being distracted by my social apps. This habit is one I hope doesn't change.
- Having now been back on social media for a few days, I am surprised by how I had overestimated the amount of happiness it would add to my life to add social media back into my daily habits. Now there is some increase to be sure, but not as much as I had expected.
As a whole, the forty days I spent away from social media helped reduce my stress and increase my attention on the present. I have grown in my appreciation for living in my current events and loving deeply those around me.
Here are 3 action steps you can apply in your own life so that you can control social media (instead of the other way around):
- Choose a window of time each day to not be on social media. While it may be implausible to not engage with social media at all, you can find more meaning and productivity in life when you are checking notifications. Find a time during the day when you can put away your phone and focus on more meaningful things - family, friends, work, music, reading, or another habit. For me I am keeping off social media before noon my time (which is 4 hours ahead of EST), so that I can start my day off right and wait to check on social media until when most of my friends are actually awake.
- Move your apps. In order to keep you from mindlessly opening Instagram, put all of your social media apps into a folder and move them to a new place on your phone (hint: not the front page). This will force you to consciously decide when you want to get on social media. My social media folder is on page four of my phone (with only 5 apps on page one and 1 app on page three) so that it's not the first thing I look at when I open my phone.
- Turn off your notifications. They'll still be there when you open your app. But rather than having the app demand your attention, you take control on when you digest that social media. You'll check your phone less, get distracted less, and - most importantly - be more present with the life actually going on around you.
Life is best lived in the present, not through a filter.
And while I am stepping back into social media, my hope is to take the lessons I've learned and live my life with social media as a (very small) addition - not the main component to my day. I plan to continue to spend as little time on my phone as possible and spend more time with my family and friends, in good books, writing more, and loving the life before me.
All in all, I learned that I can be more social without social media.
What do you think? Have you done some type of social media fast in the past? What lessons have you learned and how do you keep social media from dominating your life? Share below!