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It seems only fitting that my first post on this new blog be about why I ditched social media (and pretty much every other digital app and service that wasn’t necessary) cold turkey for 3 months.
Before I jump in, I feel that a little bit of context might be helpful here. While I would love to imagine that all of us are already good friends in the middle of this conversation, I realize that many of us aren’t significantly acquainted yet.
If I had to summarize my relationship with social media and all things digital to this point in my life, I would have to say that I have always been a bit… resistant. This may be due in part to my unyielding affection for things like paper books (so far I’ve kept my promise to never use an e-reader) OR this might be more due to fact that I generally resist everything until it’s my idea (a character trait I’m not exactly proud of, but at least I can admit it now). Regardless of the reason, I’ve just always resisted new tech and apps until I’ve decided that it’s something I really want or “need” in my life. I was a new mom, years into my corporate career before I eventually decided to jump on the smartphone train and retire (albeit reluctantly) all my folded paper maps in 2012.
Fast forward to 2020 and my smartphone usage was at an average of 4-5 hours per day (which was actually a reduction from the prior 7-9 hours per day in years 2014-2019). These hours were usually spent on equal parts Facebook, Instagram, Gmail, Messaging and several other apps that supported my life and business ventures. I have never been a “band-wagon” type of person (see above note about my stubborn resistance to things in general), so I’ve never really used any other social media–apart from the epic MySpace page I had for those few years in college. I have passionately avoided Tik Tok, Twitter, SnapChat and pretty much every other app that has come along, so I definitely didn’t feel overwhelmed by the quantity of apps I was using; BUT, I still found myself feeling a general unease about the amount of time I was spending on my phone, especially considering the whole minimalism journey I had been on over the past decade (loads more on that later, I promise).
This general unease about my digital “usage” was magnified over the past summer when I started to realize just how much my habits impacted my kids. Before I delve into this thought any further, let’s take a quick timeout: I’m not in ANY way trying to imply that in order to be a “good” parent you have to be a luddite and devote every moment of your life to your children. We are all different, we are all going to have different values. We each have unique needs, passions and priorities and that is GREAT. Okay–Back to how my habits were affecting my kids–I personally found that the values I was constantly working to cultivate with my children were also constantly contradicted by my digital habits. In one breath I would talk about how important it is to create intentional habits, spend time outside, be present with people, etc… and yet, there I was, sitting in the same room as my kiddos, half paying attention to them as I mindlessly scrolled. I would like to be able to say that every time I’ve been glued to my phone it was doing something productive or at least something that brought me joy, but I absolutely know that half of the time I was lost down some rabbit hole or looking at carefully edited photos of people that I had never met. I am in no way wanting to shame anyone who does this (and let’s be honest, if you’re a millennial parent with a smartphone, you probably have), I just couldn’t help but feel convicted by the way my words and actions didn’t align. AT ALL.
Right around this same time I stumbled upon a book called “Digital Minimalism” by Cal Newport. I say that I stumbled upon it because I literally walked by it sitting on the returns shelf at the library; the yellow cover caught my eye and the intriguing title drew me right in. Looking back, I know that this meeting was in no way a coincidence and for that I’m grateful. So, I took the book home, finished reading it within 24 hours and it instantly became one of the most impactful books I’ve ever read.
That very same week, a little docu-drama called “The Social Dilemma” was released by Netflix. I know that half of you are rolling your eyes right now and that’s okay… I love y’all, even when you roll your eyes at me. While I can’t say that the film was as life changing as Cal Newport’s book or that I completely agree with all of it’s messages, it was a pointed and eerie confirmation of many of the things I’d already been thinking and feeling.
So, on an ordinary Wednesday afternoon in October 2020, I just decided to take a break from all the noise. I deleted every app on my phone that wasn’t crucial for daily life and promised myself that when/if I decided to use them again, I would first need to clearly define what their role would be in my life. I didn’t want to give myself a set amount of time for my digital hiatus because I recognized that I wasn’t fully aware of how deeply rooted my impulses were or how long it might take to rewire my brain. That being said, I decided that my break would be a minimum of 30 days and would last as long as it took.
As I sat there deleting apps off my phone, I didn’t really have any expectations about what my time away would be like. As I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t one to excessively use social media to begin with (I typically had 30-60 minute daily limits set on Facebook and Instagram), so I didn’t really anticipate this hiatus being too difficult.
The first few days weren’t too painful, but by the end of the first week I found myself walking through some bizarre emotional and physiological experiences. For example, I suddenly had very little reason to take pictures of my food or the random things I encountered throughout my day. I caught myself (on more than one occasion) instinctively reaching for my phone to take a photo of something and would immediately wonder, “who am I even taking this picture for?” Another thing I found myself sorting through was the realization that I would have to get used to going about my day to day life without telling everyone what I was doing. As I read that last sentence, I realize how completely insane it sounds, but I think that there are actually LOTS of people who would feel exactly the same way. I laughed on several different occasions when I imagined what it would be like to take a photo of my plate of vegetables, print out 1,000 copies with some cryptic quote about life and snail mail it to everyone of my “friends” on social media. I didn’t actually try it… although, it still sounds hilarious.
After the initial few weeks, my impulses started to change and I found myself in a new stage of “detox”. The thought of scrolling through my Facebook feed disgusted me. I started to realize how little social media had actually benefited my life overall. I wondered what moments I had missed out on over the past several years as a result of my often mindless habits. Another thing that I started experiencing during this phase was an outright irritation for anyone around me that was glued to their phone. It is exceptionally weird to be sitting right next to another human being and yet feel miles apart because their eyeballs are glued to a screen. It was during this phase that I had to practice patience the most; I was the one who had chosen to take a digital break, not all the people around me.
The initial 30 days of my hiatus had come and gone before I even realized it. By day 40, I still didn’t feel anywhere near ready to jump back in OR to make a decision to permanently walk away either. What I was feeling was peace and joy and focus like I hadn’t experienced in years. I felt like I could really tune in and be present with people. The time I spent in God’s Word each day was more meaningful and I caught myself thinking about the things I had read throughout the day. I was sleeping better. I was less agitated. I was spending more time in person with people. I actually started calling people on the phone again to chat. I had started printing out photos of special moments we had shared with people to hang around our house or mail to the people we shared the moments with.
By day 90 (which also happened to be the day that I was ready to announce this blog), I had come to a pretty clear decision about the roles that all the various apps had in my life going forward. For most of the apps, it was pretty clear that I didn’t need them and wouldn’t be re-installing them. For a few others, I decided to keep my accounts and set clear boundaries about what their role would be going forward. I’ll be sharing more about this in another post later this week, so be sure to follow for part two!
Considering the fact that this post is already turning into a novella, I’ll take this opportunity to wrap things up. I am SO excited to be embarking on this journey with y’all and will be talking with you soon.