The thought came to me a number of weeks ago. Through various conversations, and hearing people’s ideas about social media, I was finally inspired enough to go for it and pitch the idea. It originally started just from a desire to experience life away from these platforms and to invite people along for the ride. Though I’m a Master’s student, currently doing my Master’s in Counselling, this didn’t have anything to do with my studies (I know some people wondered that). However, the data and results are something I couldn’t keep to myself, and so, I wanted to share with the community at large.
I know I’m not the first to take a “break” from social media, and certainly won’t be the last. Every time I have done this myself, it has been incredibly enlightening and refreshing. But, the idea of doing a communal “fast”, if you will, was a fascinating thought. I think many people are motivated to participate in something if they know their community or circle of friends are also signing up. It offers a sense of connectedness, accountability and camaraderie.
HOW IT WORKED:
Ironically, I invited people to participate by using social media! Through Facebook and Instagram, I asked people to participate in a week long experiment by taking a break from these two platforms. We began on Dec. 1st and ended on Dec. 8th. During this week, people were not to access either of these sites (aside from small businesses who depended on them for cliental and/or financial income). There were about 60 participants! I was so pleased with the response.
Before we began, I asked people to keep in mind three things as the week went on:
1. How you feel within yourself. What comes come up for you?
2. How do you experience your relationships?
3. How is your overall mental health and well-being?
The results and feedback after the week was up was overwhelmingly insightful. I asked people to send me their thoughts and reflections so that I could share them, where they would remain anonymous, for the wider community to read. I asked people to share the positive, negative, and neutral aspects from their week in however many words they would like.
RESULTS & RESPONSES:
The general consensus at large was that this break from social media was “much needed” and extremely clarifying for most.
Below, are some quotes and reflections from those who participated in the experiment:
“I had way higher productivity.”
“I found myself contacting friends more during this week away from SM. I couldn’t see what they were up to, so I had to ask them. When you can’t see what your loved ones are up to, it stirs up your attachment emotions and initiates seeking drives to move you into making sure they’re alright. In other words, seeing my friends online all the time partially inhibits or dulls my ability to ‘miss them’!”
“I was so much more creative and present to my life.”
“I felt brain space opening up as the week progressed, without other people’s thoughts and activities to think about. I had a hard time when I had big feelings to deal with, as Instagram is my primary self soothing thing to turn to when I’m upset, and distracts me to calm down. I finished a whole book and started another in the week — I was pretty happy about that. I found myself a bit more present to my own life, and a bit more bored with it at times. I found that when I went back on on Sunday night I had some things confirmed: ‘There really isn’t anything new on there, on Instagram. I hadn’t missed anything important. And when using it, I found the same negative thoughts creeping in.”
“This was ultimately only liberating and freeing.”
“I was less frustrated with my kids, like a lot less. I felt less divided and more present. They were no longer an interruption to my ‘tune out everything going on around me’ moments. My capacity for relationship has been much greater. I feel more ready to engage in conversation and more eager to have people in my home. I’ve been more productive. The things I do on my phone have more value. I’m getting through books faster. I enjoy those small moments of downtime more. I feel more prayerful and more in tune with God and my own spirit.”
“I reached out to family and friends more. I made points of real contact and connection with people instead of scrolling and thinking I had a sense of what was happening in their lives.”
“Working and studying in the mental health field, I often ask myself, ‘Should I be following suit? Do therapists need to have an online presence?’ I am not a therapist yet, but hope to be soon. My feed is crowded with all their advice and reflections. Having time away from all that noise (although potentially helpful), a question came to me: ‘Do I need others to know/read my reflections? If so, why? Do I feel unheard?”
“I spent more time being with the people in front of me and had more time focused on my needs.”
“I’ll be deleting Facebook entirely and cleaning up my e-mail accounts. Basically, I’m going offline as much as possible. The people who love me can e-mail me, or phone me. I’m curating my life, not having it curated for me.”
“This week made me more keenly aware of how much I tend to reach for my phone when in-between moments come up. It made me aware of how much I felt on Instagram to stay in the loop on peoples lives in a very impersonal and disconnected way versus an intentional text, or phone call.”
“This break continued me in my trajectory towards mindfulness.”
“When I was with others who were on it (SM), I didn’t really know what to do with myself. It made me feel self conscious at times, really. I would pick up my phone and do honestly nothing… Given that my family and friends live far away, I did really miss them more. I felt disconnected from what they were up to (even though they’re hardly posting!) I’m not sure how much of that was just perception.”
“I was less anxious. Had more time to do meaningful things. I was more present.”
MY FINAL THOUGHTS & CHANGES MOVING FORWARD
The responses above are direct quotes from people who participated. As you can see, all of them who shared had an entirely positive affect. I didn’t receive any responses about how it affected anyone negatively, or even in a neutral way — and I did ask people for those insights if appropriate.
I am a firm believer that just cutting things out of our lives isn’t always the “answer”. However, having space from things like this gives us a chance to reflect on our relationship to the thing we are “abstaining from”. My hope for this experiment was for me, and those involved, to “re-think” our relationship with social media.
For me, I found myself more creative in a number of ways. I had so much more space within myself for people, for my assignments, for my spiritual practice and just enjoying the things in front of me. I had a deeper desire to connect with my family. I opted for more “Facetime” conversations with those far away. I felt so much more engaged in my life. More present, more calm, and more inspired. I also left my phone in other rooms way more often, and found there to be so much liberation in that.
I am convinced that MINDFULNESS is crucial here, as it is with everything in our lives. How can we be more mindful, and intentional with the ways in which we use social media? How can you?
Facebook was not really my addiction, but rather Instagram. I read up recently on one of the original employees, designers and creators of Instagram, Bailey Richardson, and how all but three, herself included, have left the company because it is not the same platform they first designed — “the sense of intimacy, artistry and discovery that defined early Instagram and led to its success has given way to a celebrity-driven marketplace that is engineered to sap users’ time and attention at the cost of their well-being.”
Moving forward, I have decided for the year 2020, to only use these platforms through my computer as much as possible. I have deleted the Apps from my phone and will use them via my laptop. Though the process is much slower, as I have a 2010 version of the Macbook Pro, and had to research how and if you can even upload photos via your computer anymore. This small decision has helped me to be so much more intentional with how I choose to use it, including much smaller fractions of time. I want to use Instagram to share my Blog primarily, and to limit the itch that pressures me to share so much. It is ridiculous really, how much I felt that pressure at times. So unnecessary and frankly, WHERE and from WHOM is that even coming from?!
A new year approaches, and it is my thirtieth year. As cliche as it may sound, it feels important for me to lay a foundation for this new decade. It feels exciting and empowering — to take more ownership over my life and to make the changes I want to make. To live the life I want!
I have been so inspired by the reflections and responses I received from all those who participated. It has been the fuel for me to cultivate greater spaces for freedom and vitality in my own life. I hope it has done the same for you.