One week ago, I decided to make a pretty epic decision by today’s standards: I was going to quit social media for seven days. There were a number of factors influencing my decision, but mainly I was feeling overwhelmed with my social media habits and thought it would be useful and interesting to take a step back. Some of the results were expected (reaching for my phone every few minutes in the beginning), but there were a few pleasantly surprising realizations as well.
Just so we’re on the same page, I define social media as any platform where you share content with an active audience. As such, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat were the obvious restrictions, though I also avoided apps like Vine and Foursquare though those aren’t as relevant to me on a daily basis. I didn’t avoid dating apps because I saw them as a direct one-to-one communication, like email or text messages. (Also, I wasn’t about to miss out on meeting the love of my life for an experiment.)
The morning of my first day, I woke up and blindly grabbed for my phone and instinctively put in my password, navigated to my social folder, and opened Instagram. Oh, wait … damn. That snapped me fully awake and I closed the app.
I realized very quickly how much time I usually spend mindlessly browsing photos on social apps—from the minute I wake up—so it goes without saying that I struggled a bit trying to fill time when I was bored, time normally spent with my trusty phone: in transit, waiting in line, waiting to meet a friend. I found myself opening my phone and just staring it, which made me feel a little crazy.
As a result of my social media diet, I started to fill the void by spending more time on dating apps, where I found myself to be more forward than I was before. When dating apps got boring, I downloaded four new games, which are insanely addicting and basically soaked up any dead time that I had in the absence of social media.
As you can see, I didn’t really spend less time on my phone—I just found more solitary ways to feed the addiction. If I really want a challenge, my next experiment should probably be one week, no phone.
As the days progressed, I did notice my interest in social media started to wane. I wasn’t anxious to find out what fun things my friends were doing or eating. In fact, I wasn’t even thinking about them. I still received (unopened!) notifications on my social apps which made me curious, but in a few days I didn’t care about those either. That dreaded feeling of FOMO (fear of missing out, in case you’re not up on your social media acronyms) started to evaporate, and it felt amazing.
Also amazing: The feeling of becoming unburdened by people’s photos that I’m so often plagued by. You know, the ones that drive you into a fit of cyberstalking, like a photo of a crush, an ex, a friend you’re in a fight with, someone you’d like to be closer to, or someone whose social media habits generally annoy you. It’s a very powerful thing when you realize that all those negative feelings you get from scrolling Instagram can be avoided with a little willpower.
The week of my cleanse also happened to be a busy week socially (socially in real life—imagine that) with dates, dinners, and events. This proved challenging at first, because I typically take every opportunity to find the right photo to capture moments and maximize likes. I’ll ham it up for the camera and do embarrassing things just to get a laugh on social media. Sometimes I obsess about getting my shot so much that I can’t have fun at a party until I get it. It’s ridiculous, I’m fully aware.
However, it was incredibly relieving to not care about “getting the shot.” In fact, I was surprised to notice that, by extension, I took significantly less photos throughout the week. Instead, I was fully engaged in what I was doing and who I was seeing, as opposed to being out and spending the whole night on my phone.
By the end of the week, it was fascinating to see how a week without social media changed my behaviors and perceptions. Moving forward, I don’t think I’ll cut social media out completely—it’s way too fun and I do enjoy sharing my perspectives and experiences with others— but instead of jumping back in with both feet, I plan to modify my usage. For example, I’ll post a photo or a quote when I actually have something to say, instead of trying to find something to post at every opportunity. I also think I’ll avoid scrolling mindlessly through my feed and instead start to go directly to people’s profile when I’m interested in how they’re doing.
Overall, quitting social media for a whole week took a little getting used to but proved to be easier and more enjoyable than I thought—it’s a liberating feeling to not constantly use it as a crutch or a mindless time waster. If you’re someone who’s starting to feel overwhelmed by your social feeds—whether the reason—I definitely encourage you to try experimenting with a break yourself.
Oh yeah, and you can follow me at @drew_tillman