How my anti-social media experiment set me free
I used to spend hours scrolling. I used to do it on train platforms and while on hold during phone calls at work. Sometimes I would even scroll through Facebook while on the phone with my best friend. I could recall major life events of people I haven’t talked to since graduating high school. I knew what their kids looked like through Instagram. It was mindless, kept me distracted, and was something to do when there was nothing else TO do. I never saw it as an issue. Everyone does it right?
I didn’t realize how much social media had weaved its way into my life until my good friend was shocked to hear I was moving, through a friend.
“Why didn’t you tell me?!” She asked.
“I told you!” I replied.
“No, you didn’t! I would have remembered that major detail of your life.”
“Oh, well I about posted about it on Facebook.”
No sooner did the words leave my mouth did I realize how sad it all was. Hundreds of friends, family, and acquaintances knew I was moving from one part of my city to the other, and she didn’t because she hadn’t logged into Facebook in a couple of days. In the time it took me to notify those people, I could have group texted several people, like the ones I actually talk to. I could have called her to let her know the exciting news. Hell, I could have done something slightly more productive. Instead, I posted about the life change, and subconsciously waited for the likes to come in.
Since its founding in 2004, over 1 billion Facebook accounts have been created. That means roughly one out of every seven humans on this Earth has signed up for an account at one point or another. By logging in, you are immediately able to connect with just about anyone, anywhere on the planet. Cool, right? For those of us with friends and family in different states and countries, this is a huge bonus. Within seconds, I know where my stepmom and dad had dinner last night. I can find out how my best friend’s yoga class went or see what my high school English teachers are teaching their classes this year.
But the thing about Facebook and other social media is that while it helps us stay connected, it keeps those connections pretty shallow, even with the people we really care about. It also leaves room for speculation, and with that speculation comes anxiety. For those of you who think you’re too good for it, count how many times you check your phone a day, and write down how much of that checking is with social media. Be honest. It’s okay.
The sudden realization of my anxiety over it combined with how disappointed I felt about the conversation with my friend lead me to quit. I made a post to alert the people I talk to, describing the easiest methods to reach me. Then I had my best friend log into my accounts and change the password for both my Facebook and Instagram. I made a promise to myself to quit for at least for a month, but hoping I could do six. With that, I was done.
At first, it felt empowering, kind of like breaking up with an a**hole boyfriend or girlfriend. It was great to give the proverbial middle finger to something I regrettably had a strong attachment to.
After that though, I felt really lonely, and for lack of a better term, disconnected. I suddenly had all this free time that I used to spend messing around on Facebook and Instagram, and doing nothing of any importance. I couldn’t like Kelly’s post (a friend from middle school) about nursing, or former coworker’s picture of her garden. I couldn’t let people know about my new office, or that I broke my record time on my run the other day. I had to do actual things and reach out to people if I wanted them to know about my life.
So I did. After less than a week of this, something obvious but delightful started to happen–they connected back. No longer relying on me to see something on Instagram, my dad started sending me pictures of my family through text, and that increase in texting lead to him calling me more. Prior to this, he would only call me to remind me to pay my student loans if he hadn’t heard from me in a while. And if he wanted to know how I actually was (pre-experiment), he’d ask my stepmom to check my Facebook. Instead of Facebook chatting with my friends back in other cities, we began Skyping. Sure, the communication went from daily to maybe weekly, but the conversations have been more in-depth, and it’s been really good to see them, in the best way technology allows.
Most importantly, I started doing things I enjoyed, and being present in those things. I could eat a meal at a good restaurant without feeling the need to Instagram it. I could talk about the art I was making in an unedited, expressive kind of way, to people in real-time.
I even had to be present with the hard stuff about daily life. It was challenging to not reach out with a click of a button and find instant solidarity, but being in the moment with my issues has allowed me to handle them better. It forced me to overcome the pride hurdle and reach out to ask a loved one to listen.
A couple of weeks in, I discovered that I didn’t miss it, not at all. Furthermore, I spent less time thinking about what other people were doing and more time focusing on what I was doing. Turns out, in the grand scheme of things, I was much happier too.
So I challenge you, fellow social media addicts–take a break. Unplug. For a week, a month, or even longer, take your biggest method of daily distraction and remove it. I can assure you, being several weeks in myself, that the personal nourishment you get from real interaction beats the hell out of the instant gratification you get from a click. Jess Krista Merighi is a writer currently based in Chicago, IL. When she’s not writing, she’s rocking out in her underwear to Against Me’s new album, dodging cars on her 10-speed, and judging you based on your astrological sign. You can find more of her work at JessKristaMerighi.com. For up-to-date sass, and probably lots of feelings, follow her on Twitter at @JessKristaMerighi.
Image courtesy of ABC Family