I work as a digital community manager, which is a fancy title for someone who is on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. all day. As much as I love social media, it’s like loving a dragon: majestic and intriguing, but at any moment it can swallow you up in flames. Sometimes it sickens me to think about how much time I waste scrolling through feeds or mindlessly flipping through photos.
There’s the classic debate that the Internet is ruining the way we interact with each other and the world. You’ve heard it before: we’re a society more focused on our screens than each other. We’re too plugged in. Some say social media makes us depressed. It makes us obese. It makes us dumb. The list goes on.
Since my friends and family describe me as a social media addict, I decided to try a little experiment — a 72 hour social media cleanse. I wanted to see if I could handle three days without checking anything, and how it would impact my mood. Does social media really ruin my life? Is it a waste of my time? Can I be more productive without it?
Since I work in social media, it’s unavoidable. I can’t unplug my computer and fall off the face of the social media planet because it’s part of my job. The main rule was that I could not check personal social media platforms for 72 hours via any device (notable examples: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter). To make sure I didn’t cheat, I stopped all notifications entirely. My phone wouldn’t alert me if someone commented on my accounts. I took off all of the sites from my browser bookmarks, put the mobile apps in a special folder titled “DO NOT USE THESE” and downloaded software to block the sites for 72 hours.
The Night Before the Cleanse
According to my recent browser history, I checked my personal Facebook 28 times over a 10-hour period. This doesn’t even include the times I checked from my phone, which I would guess is relatively similar if not more. The worst part is this is less than average usage. I typically check Facebook 50+ times a day. I estimate around the same for Twitter and Instagram. It’s a habit as engrained in my everyday life as brushing my teeth or biting my nails. I don’t even think about it when I do it. This is going to be rough.
I crave it.
I’m too much of a wimp to ever try hard drugs (you’re welcome Mom and Dad) but I assume this is what intense withdrawal feels like after a lifetime of heroin addiction. My entire routine felt empty. I usually wake up and check each site before I even get out of bed. I scroll through my newsfeed like it’s the morning paper. The bright light of my screen is a nice transition to the real world.
This morning, I woke up and felt deflated. I literally didn’t know what to do with myself, so I stared at the ceiling. My streetcar commute dragged on with nothing to hold my attention. I became impatient as each stop lingered for what felt like hours. During my work break, I daydreamed of red notifications. I even tried to convince myself I could check LinkedIn because it’s “work-related” but thankfully got a hold of myself. No cheating.
I guess I’ll read a book I thought melodramatically, as if reading is the worst thing in the world. What is wrong with me?
I’m annoyed at the fact that I can’t do something I want to do. I’m anxious and bored. It’s like being a child and Mom says you can’t watch TV anymore. I’m starting to feel extremely disconnected and lonely. Most of my friends communicate through Facebook groups because it’s easier than endless group texts flooding your phone. It’s not even that I feel like I’m missing out on things, but more that I don’t have freedom to do what I want to do.
People probably think this is pathetic. “Why don’t you…?”
You don’t get it. I need constant entertainment. I’m so used to always doing something, even if it’s as trivial as reading through a newsfeed. I kept myself busy today. I exercised, cleaned, read a book, embraced nature — I was productive. But I can’t keep myself entertained for the in-between-activity time. What do I do while I wait for transportation? What do I do during commercials? With 2 minutes left on the microwave? Wow, I’m impatient.
Not to mention, this was a crucial day for sharing because I had an adorable puppy on my lap all day. A SLEEPING PUPPY NESTLED IN MY ARMS! The world needs to see this precious pup snoring.
Instead, I bombarded my friends with picture messages. I feel like I’m bothering people. With social media, people can check it at their own leisure and deal with the information however they please. You could even hide me from your newsfeed. I feel like I’m intruding on people’s space when I send them a million text messages. I’m unavoidable. I feel like a burden (I mean, I think adorable puppies are crucial but that’s just me…).
I think I finally got the hang of it. I kept myself busy all day. I planned every hour so I could feel like my time wasn’t passing slowly. For the seconds I wasn’t occupied with activities, I was lost in thought. I’ve gotten really good at staring out windows or wandering aimlessly.
I also know it is the end. Knowing I only have 24 hours left gives me the last motivation I need to push through. I don’t feel more productive though. Even writing this last entry for day three is painstakingly difficult. I don’t know what to say, and I don’t feel creative. I lost my drive because I’m at a point where I don’t know if people even care about what I have to say.
It’s embarrassing to admit that I am so reliant on validation, even if it’s a dumb Facebook “like” that means nothing in the grand scheme of things. However, since I feel so out of touch with everything, I wonder if people even care. Should you care? What am I proving? Why does what I’m doing matter?
Three days without social media and you can revert to the unplugged life seamlessly. You can go through the motions — wake up, go to work, go to sleep, repeat. But you’ll also feel disconnected and meaningless.
During my cleanse, a few friends emailed me (old-school!) an article that resonated with me about a guy who quit the Internet for one year. It also makes me laugh because I could barely handle 72 hours. In the article, Paul Miller says he expected to have some sort of grand revelation about life. He imagined himself becoming more productive, more personable, and more of the way he should be before the internet ruined everything. After one year, he realized it’s not the Internet — it’s him.
“I can’t blame the internet, or any circumstance, for my problems. I have many of the same priorities I had before I left the internet.” — Paul Miller
I don’t regret giving it up. It was a good challenge allowing me to reflect on myself, but I don’t think I’ll do it again. More than anything, it was stressful being unable to use it at my leisure. I felt limited because I couldn’t connect to people that matter to me.
Social media does not give my life meaning, but relationships give my life meaning. Without it, I wasn’t able to keep those up easily. Face-to-face interaction is necessary, but depends on other conditions out of my control. Most days, I only see my coworkers and my roommate. A phone call is great, but once the other end clicks, I’m back to nothing. A text is fine, but it’s reliant on the other person responding quickly, and I feel like a burden if I don’t have useful information. People are busy. They can’t text me all day long or spend hours on the phone. I forgot birthdays. I missed events.
Without social media, there’s no way I could stay in touch with everyone. It’s just how we connect these days. I’m sure someday in the future there will be another addition, and we’ll think “how did we do it before this!”. The underlying point is I like staying in touch with people because I care about what’s going on in their life. That’s something I didn’t realize before I did this challenge.
It is exciting to hear from someone you haven’t spoken to in a while, or find a common interest with a new friend you would have otherwise overlooked. It’s encouraging to see people getting jobs, spreading good news, or feeling excited about the future. You never know how someone is going to affect you. Humans are social creatures by nature, but it takes work. Frankly, I’d rather make it easier to connect than harder.