On December 31st, I posted a New Year’s post on Facebook including a youtube video of ‘The Tenors’ singing Auld Lang Syne. It’s one of my favorite versions. Then I logged out of my account, took Facebook and Messenger off my phone, and haven’t touched them since.
On December 31st, I systematically deleted over 200 pictures from my Instagram account, leaving just three posts: a picture of our cairn from the Cinque Terre in Italy with a caption about living life in balance; a series of three pictures in sepia tone from our house project; and an infographic post stating I’d be off social media for at least 30 days. Then I logged out of my account, took the Instagram app off my phone, and haven’t touched them since.
On the morning of January 1st, I made my “smart phone” what I call a “barely smarter than dumb” phone, removing games, news apps, app duplicates (nobody needs three weather apps!), and shopping apps. I also installed a web filter so that while I can use my web browser to google the occasional recipe or fast fact, I can’t circumvent my lack of apps by running similar content via the web. It screens out news websites, ESPN, and most gossip sites, as well as youtube, social media, and Amazon.
By the afternoon of January 1st, I’d reached for my phone at least a dozen times, in vain, because there was actually nothing to do there!
2019 ended with this bevy of digital fussing as part of my New Year’s resolution to digital detox. Spurred on by Cal Newport’s eye opening book Digital Minimalism, I promised myself 30 days social media, and what he calls “optional” technology, free. Newport tells readers the purpose of that 30 days should not just be to pull away from social media with the intent of returning a month later to the same platforms and the same habits. Instead, the 30 days are meant to be a reflective period about how technology can be better used to infuse value and maximize priorities.
Of course, in order to do that, you have to establish what values and priorities you’re trying to infuse and maximize.
So, let’s reflect! A halfway into my social media hiatus, how are things going? What’s been hard? What’s been easy? And what’s been unexpected? And what, if anything, has 15 days revealed about priorities and values that I can carry into the rest of 2020.
We’ll start with what’s been hard. In the first few days of January, what was hard was not having the “pacifier” of social media to fill the downtown that it was normally filling. When stuck in line at the grocery store…when waiting for the gas tank to fill…when drinking my morning coffee…what was I going to do with these five free and random minutes?
The answer in those first few days was fidget! I’d pick up my phone automatically, realize there was nothing there to do, check the weather, and then put it down. I checked the weather a lot. A couple of times a day probably. Even on days when nothing remotely interesting was happening with the weather!
A colleague of mine who also gave up social media on January 1st recently told me she found herself checking her smart watch data app numerous times a day. She knows all kinds of things about her steps and heart rate and flights of stairs climbed because it was the only thing there for her to check in the moments that she would have otherwise reached for her phone to scroll Facebook or Instagram.
Thankfully, this has become much easier halfway into the process. The brain is highly adaptable, and after a while, it registered that there wasn’t really anything to look at, so I stopped reaching for my phone at all. I started bringing a book with me places, or I listened to a podcast if I had a more significant segment of time, like a wait in the car, to fill.
Only one time did I find my “dumb phone” inconvenient entirely, and that was once when I unexpectedly found myself with an hour to kill without a book or headphones to podcast. What was interesting in this moment, however, was not that I instantly wished to have social media to go back to, but rather that I wished I has something of value to engage in. In this sense, it seems like Newport is right in asserting that the 30 days will ultimately pay off in helping to recognize what those values and priorities are.
The other admittedly difficult thing was giving up the convenience of Facebook features like birthday notifications. This played out in our house almost immediately when four days into my purge, Josh asked if I knew whether or not it was his friend’s birthday. I didn’t off the top of my head, and would have normally just checked Facebook, which, of course, I now couldn’t. Consequently, Josh has been off Facebook for a long time, so wouldn’t have otherwise been used to that convenience himself, but was rather used to the convenience of being able to ask me to use the platform to gather him the information.
In the end, I wound up texting my sister and another friend to have them check Facebook as to the birthday in question.
Similarly, I had a friend who was expecting a Christmas Day baby. December 31st rolled around, and still no baby. It wasn’t until the afternoon of January 1st that I realized that Facebook probably would be the place I’d first have learned of the birth, and how was I going to find out now. Of course, calling my friend was always an option, but I didn’t want to be the friend texting everyday “Any baby yet?”
Fortunately, my sister also came through shortly after the baby was born by sending me a screenshot of the Facebook birth announcement. I didn’t ask her to do this, She simply sent a text about the baby’s name and when I responded that I hadn’t seen it because I wasn’t on Facebook, she sent the photo.
It’s been exchanges like this that have also surprised me. Don’t get me wrong. I was grateful for my sister’s update, but it’s also been interesting how much gets shared and discussed via social media that, when you’re off social media, people make an effort to still share with you. I have a beloved colleague who is saving for me all the things from Facebook she would have tagged me in or shared with me from the last month, to show me in February. I have another friend who actually scrolled me through her Facebook feed to show me the posts she’d made that I’d missed.
These things don’t bother me in the slightest. However, having pulled back from social media, they do surprise me in the sense that it’s amazing how much is still happening there, and how much people want to make sure you’re involved with it.
If there is a thing that has been easiest, or maybe the thing I miss least, it’s being away from the garbage, trolls, and negativity. Admittedly, I often took a vigilante approach to social media, pointing out people’s fake news stories, negative comments, and blatant ignorance.
I don’t miss not doing that. And though the scourge of negativity and ignorance still bothers me on the whole, by not engaging in it routinely, I find myself more content.
Also, it’s decreased my overall screen time enormously. Thanks to the screen time app on my phone, I’ve been able to track a 25% decrease in screen time during the first week of January, and a 53% decrease in screen time during the second week. That time has been reinvested in working on things like my graduate courses and reading, both of which are of much higher priority and value to me.
Now that I’m over the hump of the first 15 days, and the automatic reaching for the phone, and the wondering what’s happening on social media, I’m hopeful that the second 15 days adds further clarity into those value and priority pieces that will ultimately define what my digital presence looks like post-30 day detox.
It would be difficult to imagine at this point just firing up my Facebook and going back to scrolling as normal, I’m also not naive enough to believe that 15 days is actually all the time it takes to overwrite habits formed over years of use. That’s ultimately why Newport suggests coming back to technology with well defined “norms” of what the social media and optional technology use will look like.
15 days was not enough to yet have a grasp of what my norms will look like. But it does feel like enough time to know that I crave having norms in place!
If you haven’t yet tried a digital detox, these next 15 days might be a great 15 days for you to start!