Each year when Lent comes around, I always try to make the effort to give up a bad habit, while subsequently trying to do something more proactive in order to feel more fulfilled. This year, I’ve gone where few millennials have gone before – I unplugged from social media. It consisted of Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and even LinkedIn.
After moving all of my social media apps to a “DO NOT OPEN” folder on my phone and turning off the notifications for the apps, my Lenten purge began. What was actually a 46-day period (yes, I abstained on Sundays, too) of social media sobriety, was filled with some very eye-opening lessons.
1.) The addiction is real.
The first few days were bizarre. I found myself substituting the time I spent on Instagram and making Snapchat stories with checking my email incessantly, playing games on my phone and anything I could do to feel connected. It was almost like I needed to see my phone light up to feel a sense of relief. This could be a sign of how our technology is rewiring our brains, but I’ll leave that issue for another Lent. Needless to say, the first few days were like a withdrawal. There was this psychological itch I couldn’t scratch and it would drive me bonkers. An ambitious workload and dividing my newfound “free” time to other areas like reading and yoga, helped me to get through the first 72 hours – the toughest part. But even as I began to feel comfortable, there were random periods where I began to feel anxious. I needed to feel connected. I felt I was missing out. But then I reminded myself how nice it was to be off the grid and to be in my own sense of solitude. I eventually got through it, but seeing how tough certain periods were for me, has shown how addicted I’ve become to social media.
2.) There’s more to life.
To curb my need for social media I found myself spending more time reading, writing and going to yoga. That was my trifecta as far as filling my time was concerned. I finished two books on grief, which I highly recommend (It’s Okay That You’re Not Okay, by Megan Devine and Understanding Your Grief – Ten Essential Touchstones by Alan Wolfelt PhD.) and began a third – When to Jump: If the Job You Have Isn’t The Life You Want by Mike Lewis. I continued to journal and began to outline some new writing projects in the works. Lastly, I found a yoga class that I love and doesn’t hurt my wallet. I fell in love with yoga all over again and it has been the perfect form of destressing while exercising my body. Going through this purge has shown me that fulfilling behaviors have taken a backseat to my passive scrolling through social media feeds. I began to feel less concerned about needing to be connected and more involved with doing things that I loved – doing things for myself.
3.) Social media is passive living, not active.
This is a continuation from #2. As I learned that immersing oneself in social media is merely a way of zombie-ing ourselves, I now had to be more active in my communication and relationship maintenance. I no longer could keep in touch with friends by sending a Snapchat, liking an Instagram photo or giving them a retweet. I now had to actively maintain these relationships through old-fashioned communication. It was more meaningful to hold conversations with friends, many of whom I had texted, called and FaceTime’d more as a result of my purge.
A flipside to this lesson was learning that there are some people you feel close to because you are constantly seeing them in your timelines, but in reality, they do very little to maintain good communication with you. I really learned through this process that friends I have more healthy open communication with, I am now more aware of our closeness, whereas some friends who I thought I was close to I have noticed the incredible distance and passivity that exists.
Social media can give us a false sense of relationship maintenance. Because we see our friends through their pictures, snaps, and tweets, we feel a sense of connection, even though we are not actively participating and managing that relationship. Yes, I do think social media is good and letting us all know what is going on in the lives’ our friends, but it doesn’t do much to keep those relationships healthy.
4.) I felt more focused, and productive and less distracted.
I learned how social media distracts us from our lives. With having no excuses to take a break from work, I had to force myself to focus. I found myself more intent on making my to-do lists and crossing items off, whereas before I felt more in tune with procrastination. With me finding more time for things I enjoy doing, or feel fulfilled by, it had a ripple effect on my own attitudes about getting healthy, being productive and making myself happy.
It is so easy to get distracted from the things that matter because we are too busy keeping up with everyone else’s affairs. We lose our focus on ourselves, our own happiness and the productivity we keep in order to reach our goals. Unplugging helped shift my focus back to the things that mattered.
5.) Social media robs us of the here and now.
Speaking of… There were many experiences I encountered during Lent where “This would be the perfect Instagram photo!” came to mind. The only problem was it would wait a very looong time to get posted. Eventually, without having the end result of an Instagram post to receive likes and comments, I began refraining from capturing sights and experiences on my camera. I instead just enjoyed the experience I was in. I very rarely enjoy just being present and not worrying about the past and the future. Social media has us all on that continuing pendulum – searching for the next big thing that will garner us more likes, instead of just appreciating how the experience makes us feel at that moment.
Whether it was a great meal I just had or an awesome sight I saw – my motivation for enjoyment came simply by just the enjoyment itself, and not needing to manifest it into a prop for others to give me their approval.
6.) It has an important purpose.
In a world where many accuse the media of shaping the way we think, social media has become my vessel for news. Not only do I find out about things as they happen in real time, but I am exposed to stories and individuals that I normally wouldn’t in mainstream media. Social media has a sense of unbiased that we don’t see in cable news.
Social media allows you to immerse yourself in a story, or experience, while the mainstream news is ready to get you to the next beat. It was only after my Lenten purge concluded that I logged on to Twitter, scrolled through tweets and felt the pangs of horror in reading the stories surrounding the Parkland school shooting. It wasn’t to say I wasn’t moved or horrified when I found out initially, I was, but social media allowed me to see the faces and hear the voices that the traditional news outlets glaze over.
I find myself more impassioned about issues when I can navigate through social media than and feel like I am the driver of my own search for truth and justice than when I am simply being told what is deemed newsworthy.
7.) It’s my way of making people laugh.
When my purge ended I sent a snapchat with an obnoxious “I’m BAAACK!” message. It garnered some laughs from friends and that was when I realized – I use social media to engage others and make them laugh. It is a source of great entertainment for me, and a way of being funny and make light of life. Remember that time I got stranded in a snowstorm? The now infamous experience wouldn’t have been possible without Snapchat. As a result, I got through being stranded in a snowstorm for 12 hours with relative ease and made many people laugh at me in the process. To know me is to know I love to laugh and make others laugh, and in many ways, social media brings that to light.
8.) I really don’t miss it.
Now that I’m back I took time to go through notifications and “catch up.” I was more annoyed with myself because I didn’t feel like catching up or found that what I was catching up with wasn’t worth my time. I felt annoyed with myself and the experience. Now after a few days of being able to go back on, I don’t find myself using it as a break from work. I don’t even find it as my morning and nighttime routines – yes, before the purge I would scroll through my feeds right when I woke up and before I went to bed. That’s not to say I won’t want to in the future, nor that I have any interest in it at all – I just told you its a great way of me expressing myself and making others laugh, but I don’t feel the dependency on it anymore.
I don’t feel like I have to depend on social media to maintain relationships or to stay connected. Yes, I found that social media can be good when it is used in a way that isn’t obsessive. Purging myself from these platforms even for 46 days and 46 nights gave me a much-needed balance in my life – a reboot of sorts. I feel more productive and fulfilled. I manage my time better and have a better focus. This isn’t to say I’m perfect now that I have gone through this process. I realize how on my own accord I distract myself from things that matter, or avoid checking in when I know I haven’t talked to a friend in a while. However, this purge has opened my eyes to how I am living my life. Social media does have a place in our lives, but it shouldn’t be our lives.