A few weeks ago, I did something I wasn’t sure I could do: I decided to take a social media sabbatical. I signed off of my social media accounts with the intention of staying off them until the end of July (~6 weeks total).
Why Am I Doing This?
Lately, I haven’t felt very present in my life. This may be attributable to a number of different factors, the most nagging of which has been how much time I spend on social media. Instagram, Twitter, Facebook: you name it, I can waste time on it. While I value social media as a tool to keep in touch with friends and to spread the word about writing I love and my own writing, I’ve also noticed a fair deal of what can only be called “time suckage” when I’m logged in.
I signed off of my personal Twitter and Instagram completely. I use IG for some of my freelance work, so I have stayed logged in to the company account and use it usually once a day for 5-10 minutes. Facebook presented a quandary because beyond using it for work, I also use it to declutter (Buy Nothing groups forever!) and message people whose phone numbers I don’t possess. The compromise there is to stay logged in but to avoid scrolling and instead going directly to the page I’m seeking.
What We Talk about When We Talk about Willpower
I’ve done smaller social media detoxes recently and have been surprised by the realization that it’s actually more a matter of breaking a habit than harnessing willpower. Willpower is a necessary ingredient in breaking habits, of course, but there’s more to it than that. There’s an idea out there that it takes 21 days to break a habit, and whether or not that’s true, I’m experiencing it firsthand. Occasionally I reach for my phone without even thinking. It’s not a lack of willpower, because the willpower exists to put the phone down when I realize what I’m doing. Beyond the perceived mental need to “check in,” there is an underlying physical habit that needs to be broken. As with smoking, half of what I miss is the act—scrolling gives me something to do when I’d otherwise be bored.
Loss of Connection
One aspect of the social media sabbatical that I didn’t expect, but maybe should have, was the loss of connection I feel. Not so much from the outside world, because I get plenty of that from conversation and the New York Times and NPR, but from my friends and family. I didn’t notice until now how much I rely on social media to keep me informed of what’s going on in everyone’s lives. Waiting until the next time I see them is completely fine, but it’s definitely a different experience of the world. Sure I could call, text, email, and I do, but on some level even that is a different way of communicating—less social, more focused.
What to Do with All this “Free Time”?
- Read. I’m tearing through my TBR pile and am actually reading most sections of the Sunday Times instead of just browsing.
- Crossword puzzles.
- Watch TV. I usually opt for books over television but now that I have more time, I’m tuning into some good series that I’ve missed.
- Focus on one thing at a time.
- Rediscover things I love: tarot cards, crystals, decluttering, cooking, thinking, etc.
- Listen to the news.
- Talk with my husband.
- Brush my hair.
- Discover my Enneagram type. (I’m a 4 with a 3 wing.)
Taking a Social Media Hiatus as an Artist
Social media is an important tool for an artist, especially a self-employed one. But an interesting thing has happened over the last few weeks: more work has come my way than usual. Maybe it would have happened anyway, but I prefer to think that it’s because I’m not unintentionally blocking the flow of things by existing in a constant state of distraction.
Using social media can create a sense of spin around the idea of constantly needing to “keep up” and that can take a lot of energy out of you. If, like me, the rest of your life is very full, the burden that social media can bestow can often take away from the time and energy and mental space needed to actually create. This recent interview with Jonathan Franzen had me thinking even more deeply on this idea. Whether or not you’re a fan, he’s got some good points about the downfalls of a modern lifestyle for a creative type.
Do We Need Social Media?
The plainest answer is No. But the more nuanced answer, the more realistic answer, is Yes. Social media is a portal—like prime-time tv, movies & bestsellers used to be—into communication. It gives us something to talk about around the water cooler. It’s a useful tool, if managed wisely.
Creating Boundaries in the Future
Come August, I’m unsure of how I will structure the place where social media must exist in my life. I know I feel saner (and my wrist and elbow less tight) without endless scrolling. But I also want to keep up with my tribes and construct a sustainable, exciting social media presence as a writer.
Some ideas I’ve been tossing around:
- Imposing a daily time limit. Half hour? Less? More?
- Choosing one platform and really going for it. I tend to prefer IG but know Twitter can be better for my chosen profession, so I’m not sure how I’d make the call (flip a coin?!).
- Incorporate monthly weekend detoxes.
- All of the above.
Tell me: have you had any particular luck in establishing workable boundaries around social media use? If so, I’d love to hear about your strategies in the comments!