There has been a lot of stuff out there about unplugging. Everywhere you look, someone is heralding the benefits of taking a break from your phone. My friend Victoria wrote a really excellent piece, pondering a digital detox. There have been articles written about smartphones ruining an entire generation. And more recently there was this really interestingly researched piece (also sent to me by Victoria) urging us not to buy the new iPhone because of the behaviors it encourages. A bit dramatic but… yikes.
Sometimes all this “detoxing” talk can feel a bit high and mighty, a little Gwyneth Paltrow-esque. But I have to be honest, sometimes I want to smash my iPhone, go out and buy a flip phone – and maybe an old school MP3 player (or maybe take it really old school and get a Walkman.. can you even buy those anymore?!).
Let’s rewind. I have actually been a perpetually late adapter of social media. But once I get involved, I get really, really involved. I joined Facebook back in 2005 for the express purpose of spying on my two younger sisters (They were still in school and I had already graduated from college so at the time I had to get an alumni email address to get an account. Yes… I actually went that far.) Once I was on Facebook, I was hooked. Same goes for Friendster and MySpace. At first, I didn’t really quite “get” Twitter – when it first came out it felt like a version of Facebook with just status updates, which felt a bit self indulgent to me. I joined in 2010 when I started my blog and realized what a great tool it was for connecting with other people in the industry. So I got addicted to that, too. Somewhere along the lines despite my late adapter tendencies I went from working in traditional marketing (that was the first 9 years of my career) to starting a blog and transitioning to a social media job, to blogging full time.
And Instagram… oh, Instagram. Everyone’s most loved and hated/most talked about app. I joined right when Instagram launched, but for my first year on Instagram, I only used it as a filter app – to post my photos to Facebook and Twitter. For an entire year, I didn’t even realize it had it’s own little community, which is kind of hilarious, looking back now. Major blogger fail. #shame.
Instagram was, at first, the most fun thing ever. I loved sharing bits from my everyday life and didn’t really put much thought into it… it was just a fun tool that I used to support my blog. Most of my early photos were mirror selfies of what I wore to the office that day. Other “content” included lots of photos of food, wayyyyyy over-saturated sunsets, and blurry late night photos of cocktails. Oh how things have changed. Everything is so polished and planned out, these days!
Somewhere along the line it all just started feeling rather overwhelming. Instagram was the main issue for me, specifically, sharing on my personal account, and with responding to DMs on my professional account (I have two instagram accounts – one for the blog and one for close friends/family. Oh and another one for my cat. Yeah. That’s a lot of accounts). I love Instagram for so many reasons. I love how it has brought out the budding photographer/artist in myself and my friends. On my private account I love finding weird stuff to share. And for the blog, I love the community around it and how easy it has become to interact with my readers, brands, and other bloggers. But there is a point where it all just felt to be too much. I found myself compulsively scrolling, checking stories, and replying to reader DM’s + questions. I found myself feeling tired during the day but restless and unable to sleep at night. And agitated. And anxious and antsy and wanting to look at my phone. All the time.
So anyway, I was thinking about this a lot and came to a big realization. Social media is not the problem. My phone is not the problem. I AM THE PROBLEM. Somewhere along the lines I had developed this compulsion to share every detail of what I was doing – I couldn’t do something cool/interesting without going onto stories or my personal account and posting it, and I’d gotten addicted to scrolling. Scrolling through Facebook and Instagram, keeping up with all of my friends – without actually talking to any of them. Instagram. Instagram stories. Group texts. Twitter. Facebook. Online dating apps. Holy crap. I felt like my phone was this abyss. I’d open it up and feel unable to tear myself away.
I decided to put myself on the blogger version of an iPhone detox. Not the Internet in its entirety, not all of social media… for me, it was my phone, specifically that was the problem.
I first looked at what apps are necessary for work. Obviously, a big part of my job is sharing on Instagram. So I set some guidelines. I could post once or twice a day (in line with my usual content) and at those times, check in – respond to comments, answer questions, etc. And I could post to Instagram stories but forbade myself to go down that rabbit hole of watching everyone else’s stories. Anyone else find that you start to watch and suddenly an entire half hour has gone by? Oy. That was happening to me every day, sometimes twice a day.
I then deleted all of the social media apps that could be easily accessed via my desktop from my phone. (Everything besides Instagram.) And I logged out of my personal account for a couple weeks. I posted to my personal account that I was taking a little bit of a break from my phone.
I disabled ALL push notifications. Even the text message ones. I ended up putting notifications back for texts as I didn’t even have a home screen notification so I found myself frequently missing messages. I was going for a detox, not trying to lose all of my friends.
What happened: The bad.
I felt lonely at times. Social media, when used properly, can give us such a sense of community. Without my phone, I found myself feeling lonelier than usual. (Although – this forced me to be better at a) making plans, and b) using the phone for what it was originally intended for – phone calls!, and c) just getting out of the house if I felt lonely – going to see a movie or going for a walk.)
A few of my friends got worried and/or mad. I didn’t really tell anyone what my plans were. I got the idea rather spontaneously and just turned it off. What I should have done: Think things through before deciding to detox and properly alert those nearest and dearest to me of my plans. You can’t just go from being the person who posts every day to Instagram, who likes and comments on everything and responds to most texts within five minutes to the person who is completely detached from everything. This is when I got in trouble with the text messages and put notifications back on for those.
My Instagram engagement (on the blog account) went way down. (Likes were fine, this is more about comments.) An important part of Instagram is commenting and liking and engaging in the community. I used to spend at least an hour (usually more) a day commenting on other bloggers’ photos. When I stopped that, my photos started seeing a lot less action. That was a bummer, but at the end of the day, the sacrifice is worth it to me. I’d rather be happier, and online less than have a zillion comments on my posts.
I missed stuff. I didn’t see most of my friends’ posts on Instagram and Facebook so I had no idea what they were up to unless they contacted me directly. In the past, I always knew what everyone was doing. I was like a little hawk. Though, maybe this wasn’t actually a bad thing as it made the conversations I had with my friends more interesting when I saw them or talked on the phone.
What happened: The weird/unexpected.
For the first time in (literal!) years, I found myself feeling bored. I never feel bored, ever. I realized what a waste of time all that endless scrolling can be. I found myself ahead on work. Without spending all that time commenting on Instagram, I got ahead on writing, creating graphics and collages for my blog, that stuff.
What happened: The good.
I got outside, a lot. If I started to feel restless I would take a walk. I ended up buying a bike. (It’s my favorite thing ever.) And signed up for painting classes next month.
I read a lot. Even more than usual, which is already a lot.
The headaches went away, I slept better.
I felt more present and in the moment with friends. Honestly it took a week or two where I would be constantly thinking about the phone and wanting to look at it but eventually that compulsion went away.
I said this earlier but I got better about making plans… and using the telephone. Without social media, I found myself craving real actual human company more than usual. I also had more time to see friends.
This was a fun experiment. I learned a lot about myself. Honestly, I still don’t really think my addiction is fully broken, but I am a lot more mindful of my bad habits now. I got two big takeaways out of this.
First, I needed to make my phone to be a less fun place to “hang out.” Deleting the majority of the apps helped with that, and I have been deleting Instagram from my phone on weekends when possible which feels wonderfully liberating. I take it off around 6 or 7pm on Fridays and put it back on Sunday late afternoon. I also have been making an effort to provide myself with an alternative activity for whenever I may feel bored and want to reach for my phone. (On the subway, at the nail salon, hair salon, etc.) This basically means carrying a larger bag big enough to fit a book or crossword puzzle (yes I am basically eighty years old, I LIVE FOR crossword puzzles).
The second, was the realization that I don’t necessarily NEED to be on social media as much as I thought I did. As bloggers/influencers/whatever the new buzzword is, we build it up in our heads that we have to be doing all of these things to stay relevant… and yes, you can’t just quit Instagram full on, but no one is going to care if you take a couple days off. And most things (Facebook, Twitter) can be scheduled. I check in on both of those platforms a few times a day (from my computer) and respond to things, and then leave them alone.
I can’t recommend taking breaks from social media enough. If you find yourself feeling anxious, burnt out, tired, or cranky, maybe try taking a few days off from Instagram/social media, and see what happens!