On February 16th, Tuesday evening, I decided to give up all social media for lent. I created a cute little picture, set up a few auto-posts, and deleted everything but messengers from my phone. My husband laughed when I told him what I was doing. He asked, “are you sure you can go 40 days without your obsessive need to stalk everyone online?” Honestly, I wasn’t sure that I could.
When I was in bed, I think I picked up my phone at least a dozen times and absently went to where the Facebook and Instagram icons used to be. I couldn’t figure out why I was doing it other than what I did before bed. This left me with a few options: put down the phone and read, remember how to scroll through the internet without any guidance from other people’s opinions, or message a few friends I knew were still awake. I chose to read, which meant I stayed up way longer than I planned, but I went to sleep without feeling any negativity.
The next few days were the same. Pick up the phone, run on autopilot, search for social media crap. I think it took until Monday the 22nd before I really broke the habit. It was around that time my friends started reaching out to me. They were asking if I kept messenger or got rid of it too. Obviously, I wasn’t getting rid of messenger. Messaging is kind of ingrained into my being. I grew up in the ’90s with AIM, MSN messenger, and text messages. I celebrated the day my mom finally got unlimited messaging on our cell phone plan. To me, messenger apps and texting are the same. Internet-based messaging apps are super necessary for my ability to communicate. I have zero bars at work and need to contact my husband if something happens with our kids. Also, I need to bug him throughout his day.
As the days progressed, I started noticing a change. Not only was I spending less time with my phone in my hand, but emotionally I felt better. I wasn’t getting hit in the face every single day for hours at a time with negative thoughts. I wasn’t watching other people live their lives or go on adventures that just weren’t in the cards for me. My FOMO started fading. It’s hard to have a fear of missing out when you don’t know what you’re missing out on.
Another significant change I noticed was how much more I was communicating with people. Before, if I missed a friend, I would just scroll through their pictures and see what they were up to. I felt like that was enough. They looked happy. They posted pictures of their kids and travels. I felt as if I was up to date on their lives, and I didn’t need to reach out. But now, I don’t have that ability to peek in on people’s lives.
Ending my voyeurism left me with no other choice but to reach out to my family and friends. My conversations became stronger because I could no longer assume what was going on in their lives. I actually had to ask questions and be present within the conversation. I also noticed that I was even missing my friends. I wanted to know what they were up to. I wanted to engage with them in ways that I wasn’t doing before when I was satisfied just watching whatever they shared on social media.
I am now three weeks into my 40-day social media sabbatical, and I’m not sure if I’ll go back. I don’t have the same urges holding me hostage. Writing this out has helped me see how addicted I had become to the machine when I’m not one to be addicted to anything. Usually, if I feel forced to do anything, I do the opposite, and the opposite of living is social media.
I have to figure out a new way to share pictures of my kids with my family who live out of state, but that’s the least of my worries. I still want to be able to share my writing with as many people as possible. That means I’ll probably log into browsers from time to time and share blog posts or updates on my writing, but that doesn’t require apps to be on my phone. Leaving everything on a computer will give me the separation I need, especially when I’m too lazy to get off the couch and find my laptop.