It’s highly convenient that February 1st fell on a Saturday. That morning, the end of my 30 day social media detox, I imagined I’d get up, make my coffee, snuggle onto the couch with my laptop, and happily indulge in the digital world I’d missed the past month. I assumed there would be something of substance and/or quality that, though I’d learned to live without it through January, I would find endearing or exciting to be going back to. A Saturday morning was the most opportune time to lose myself in that world again.
I opened Facebook on my computer and logged back in, quickly landing on a homepage that declared I had 96 notifications waiting for me. I’d missed 96 things in 30 days! I didn’t know if that number seemed high or low. I’d never stopped to think about or count how many Facebook “transactions” I was part of on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.
I started to click through them and found them to be…remarkably boring! After a while, I stopped clicking through each one and just skimmed the list looking for something interesting. Eventually, I just cleared the list entirely, marking all as read, despite having only skimmed about half. In total, there were only six notifications that truly interested me at all.
I’m no math genius, but 6 of 96 is not a high percentage.
My immediate reaction was to delete my Facebook account entirely. I was really close, but eventually walked myself away from that edge by considering the two groups I use my personal account to manage: my theater department group, and this blog’s page. After a quick search revealed that there would not be an excellent way to continue to moderate those platforms without a profile, I reconsidered.
However, I was moved to continue to downsize that digital space. And so I commenced an exodus of my Facebook friends.
I don’t want this to sound mean, or like I don’t value being connected to people from my past or from different organizations I’m involved in, or even my work; however, I had almost 500 friends on Facebook when I left January 1st, and those same 500 friends when I came back to Facebook on February 1st, and in those 30 days I probably only thought about, connected with, missed, communicated or otherwise interacted with 15-20% of them.
And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with being connected to the other 80%, there’s also nothing inherently beneficial about being connected to more people for the sake of being connected to more people.
So I started pairing down my friend list. If we hadn’t talked in 10 years, if we had never actually met in person, if you were a friend of a friend that I met in passing once at a wedding or event, then I took you off my list.
This is a point that Cal Newport said in his book was going to be hard for a lot of people who weren’t working on Digital Minimalism to understand. I deleted people as “friends” that I’m actually friendly acquaintances with. It shouldn’t be hard to explain to people that you still value them as “friends” without wanting them as part of your online network…but for some reason, it is. People who have realized that we used to be Facebook friends, and now we’re not, have approached me accusingly wondering why I’ve unfriended them.
This strikes me as interesting because I truly believe that if I had simply deleted my account entirely, these people would not have worried that it had anything to do with them. But instead, because I have chosen to stay on while shrinking my circle, they immediately assumed my it has something to do with them.
In truth it has nothing to do with anyone else, and everything to do with me and what I want my social media platform to look like. Sure I like looking at the pictures of the new baby my “frenemy” from high school just posted, but at the same time…why? It’s a time fill, and more often than not, a time suck! And in the past month, I’ve harnessed that time a lot more productively.
In 30 days off social media I read a book every week, finished a three credit graduate course, got through nine hours of podcasts on educational/political topics, and watched three documentaries.
In 30 days off social media I realized I was really bad at knowing my friends’ birthdays, pretty bad at just checking in on a regular basis, and probably needed to get better at both.
In 30 days off social media Josh and I decided we needed to make it a priority this year to work on practicing a foreign language. We routinely host guests in our AirBnbs that come from overseas and speak multiple languages. Though convenient that they all speak English, it makes us feel ignorant that we ONLY speak English.
In 30 days off social media I was present, doing one thing at a time. Gone was the “dual screen time” of watching a movie while also scrolling something on my phone or playing a game.
In 30 days off social media, I took ZERO selfies!
I came back to my optional technologies, as the book had suggested, with a new set of rules in hand to guide how the optional technologies I let back into my life would help me optimize the things I value.
I’m going to continue to write this blog, and I’m going to continue to share it to Facebook because that’s where some of my readers are. And I’m going to continue to post on Instagram because I asked for a beautiful new camera for my birthday, and Instagram is a photo based platform, and I have the means to take beautiful pictures. Those pictures will be shared, automatically, via Facebook because the accounts are connected. And that will be extent of my content. My words here. My photos there.
That’s more than enough!
Consequently, there are a lot of optional technologies I did not come back to at all. There are no games on my phone. There are no news apps on my phone. Youtube is not on my phone. ESPN is not on my phone. Facebook and messenger are not back on my phone. My icons are down to a single screen.
However, the most important takeaway, and probably the biggest reason I’d suggest everyone try this for 30 days, is that I feel in control of my time and my technology again. And the, perhaps, scary thing is I didn’t recognize that I was ever out of control of it to begin with. If you’re building space into your life to play a game, check a feed, or double tap photos, you’re using filler to replace substantive time.
If you don’t know if those things are taking space in your life, now’s a good time to check!
Wherever 2020 finds you in this digital debate, I’m glad you landed here. Know that I value what I write, and I value that you read it…and I hope you always find value in the perspective for your own life.
If not, you won’t hurt my feelings if you let it go for something else.