Okay. Let me start by saying that I’m leery of being that person who does something and then thinks everyone else should do it too and then I turn into a proselytizer but I trust we’re all grownups. Maybe there is something you can take away from this. Maybe.
I had been thinking about leaving social media for a long time. Perhaps a year or so. And I think we know when we’re close to making some sort of change because we bring it up more and more, asking those close to us what they think about it. I didn’t want to be that person who is reactive. You know this type. They post something about how Mark Z is stealing our brains and our content and our photos (probably 100% true) and the whole world is out to get us and so they’re leaving Facebook and about half the time (perhaps more), they come back, saying not much about why they came back or how they rid themselves of their indignation. And then, one day in very early June, I was listening to an Outside Podcast.
I love podcasts (which will become very important in a few paragraphs) and they were interviewing a guy named Cal Newport who talked about digital minimalism. Basically (and he’s a professor and I’m not, so pardon the paraphrasing), he advises us to “view technologies as tools to be used to support things that we deeply value-not as sources of value themselves.” He spoke about doing a cleanse of sorts for 30 days and then after that, you can mindfully put back in what makes sense for you. You can re-insert (or reload) what brings value to you and your life. Sort of like an elimination diet; take out everything, see what’s making you itch, and only put back what you can handle. THIS is what I needed to hear. I needed a structure, purpose and data backed reasoning.
Like children of the 80’s, I’m a no pain, no gain sort of person. I not only eliminated social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn), but also podcasts (gasp!), Netflix, Amazon Prime and Strava. My intention was to make it to 30 days. I figured, my mom got sober when I was 12 and she went away for 30 days to stay at Serenity Lane so that timeline made complete sense to me. Luckily for me, my elimination diet didn’t include very awkward group counseling sessions telling strangers how my mom’s drinking made me feel (not good by the way).
Here’s what you may be wondering. It was easy. So easy. I can’t say this enough. And come on. It’s a 30 day commitment. It’s technology. It’s not food or clean drinking water. I hate to be dramatic but seriously.
Here’s what happened. I read more. Every Sunday I bought the New York Times and spent the week reading it. I finished books I’d been meaning to finish. More people texted me and people EMAILED me to ask how I was and to tell me about their summer so far. I was so touched when people reached out. Honestly. Deeply touched.
I took far less photos. Don’t worry. The sun rose and fell and no one really skipped a beat without my documentation of the process. I raced and ran and rode my bike. I ate good food and didn’t share pictures. And by the way, I don’t really think you all want to see what I ate for lunch. I’m completely aware that I’m the butt of the joke about people sharing food pictures. I think I’d like to think I’m combating the negativity (politics) and the mere passing around of other people’s content (but you should definitely pass this around). I’d like to think I’m spreading sunshine and hope and unicorns. But since I’m a life coach, I know this is mostly BS.
We’ve propagated a platform of sharing. For better or worse. The tractor left the barn so long ago, I’m not sure we can get it back. Most of us don’t text or email or pick up the phone regularly to check in with friends. Many of us rely on Facebook. I don’t know what the long answer is but the short answer may be this; we’re on our phones and apps too much. And if your drug of choice isn’t Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, perhaps it’s “tv” or streamed content. Perhaps it’s LinkedIn or Strava or podcasts. Maybe you justify podcasts, because “you’re learning” but eliminating apps and reducing technology use isn’t about you justifying why you listen or tap or scroll. Not really. It’s more about what it’s taking you away from or more importantly, from whom. It’s not so much about feeling a part of something as it is, feeling afraid of being left out of something.
Perhaps the long answer is that if we forget how to cultivate and nourish relationships without a phone or a computer, then what? If we choose watching content over hanging with our kids or going outside, then what? If Instagram secretly makes us feel like we’re not going outside enough or not pretty enough or not rich enough or just simply, not enough, then what?
So, after 30 days, I went back to Strava and streamed content. After 40+ days (as of yesterday in fact), I went back to Facebook and Instagram. The only thing I know for sure is that I didn’t miss the apps or the taps, but I missed you.