What I’ve Learned From Two Months Without Social Media

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“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”
Herman Melville


As you probably know, at the beginning of the year I decided to turn off social media for the rest of 2015 in order to invest in more meaningful relationships. This decision sparked a lot of fantastic conversation, and it even inspired a few people to cut back on social media themselves. Recently, many people have started asking how it’s going, so I figured it was time to post an update.

The Successes

I had several goals for my year unplugged. Some have worked out swimmingly, others are requiring a bit more creative solutions. These are the biggest wins so far.

I’m not as attached to my phone

I used to take my phone everywhere. I felt naked without it in my pocket or in my hand. Now, I’ll occasionally forget and leave it on my nightstand or sitting in another room. I still have my Pebble watch, so I get texts, calls, and emails, but I don’t have the constant urge to pull my phone out. Which leads me to the next point…

I feel like I am more present when I’m with people

Without that nagging little voice in my head telling me I’m missing out on something on Twitter, I feel more able to focus and be present with people. It’s not just in my head either; Amy has mentioned she feels I’m less distracted and more present in the moment.

I don’t feel as disconnected

Oddly, disconnecting makes me feel more connected. When I decided to do this, one of my biggest hopes was that it would help me move past the status updates and connect with people in a more meaningful way. Surprisingly, this turned out to be quite effective. Because I have no idea what’s going on with people, I’m forced to ask more often, and this direct, synchronous communication tends to lead to much deeper dialogue than what I would find online.

Life feels slower

Without the distraction of social media, I feel like I’ve been able to recapture part of my day. I spend more time pulling apart ideas and working them until they have more substance. I’m reading more articles instead of scanning headlines. I’m journaling every day. I spend more time with my family. And though I haven’t been keeping up with my blog the way I’d hoped, I’ve finally been able to start building an app I’ve been planning for a while (which I’ll hopefully announce soon).

The Challenges

I’m not going to lie: the first few days without social media were rough. I never thought it was possible to go through a detox from Twitter, but I was having some serious withdrawals. At one point I even found myself staring blankly at the home screen on my phone for 5 minutes before realizing there were no updates to check and putting it back in my pocket. Since then, I’ve really started to enjoy being unplugged, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some annoyances challenges that come along with it.

I’m still not reaching out to people as much as I’d hoped

Even though the interactions I’m having are deeper and more substantive, I’m still not reaching out to as many of my friends and family as I’d hoped I would. I have a propensity for tunnel vision, so it’s easy for me to forget about people who don’t naturally fall into my daily routine. Since I can no longer depend on an algorithm to remind me that the people I care about exist, I’m going to have to come up with a less sophisticated solution.

It’s harder to share the little things

Sometimes I want to share an amusing thought or funny photo, but I no longer have a great channel for that. I default to texting, but I often get replies like “Ummmm… That’s random lol” because people these days are used to receiving that sort of thing through asynchronous channels, like Facebook. Unless it’s particularly relevant to them or their relationship with me (e.g. an inside joke), I usually end up feeling like a weirdo, especially if I don’t text them often.

I ordered a new watch band for my Pebble. This is how Amazon shipped it to me.
I ordered a new watch band for my Pebble. This is how Amazon shipped it to me. How do I share this?

Even worse, because texting is so direct it seems discourteous not to reply when someone texts you. The problem is I’m most likely to text during the workday because that’s when I’m in task mode and handling all of my other communication. There have been a couple of times when I’ve taken a short break to send a funny meme to some friends, and the next thing I know I’ve become engaged in a dozen different text conversations simultaneously and an hour has gone by where I haven’t gotten anything done (hopefully my boss doesn’t read my blog * wink *).

It’s harder to engage with people I don’t know well

Since we moved back to Nashville, I started getting involved in the local WordPress community. I’ll be attending the Wordcamp Atlanta conference at the end of the month, as well as helping coordinate the Worcamp Nashville conference in May. One of my favorite things about going to tech conferences is engaging in the online conversation that happens along side them. This is where I feel like social media really shines—I’ve met a lot of awesome people at conferences just by following a hashtag. When it dawned on me that I wouldn’t have Twitter for either of the Wordcamps, I seriously considered making an exception for them. I decided, however, that I’m going to tough it out and come up with an alternate method of engaging while I’m there. If you guys have any ideas, please let me know.

Also, I made the mistake of not asking for contact information for anyone before I went offline. I’ve had to log back into Twitter or LinkedIn a few times just to send a quick message telling people to email me. Doh!

I’m usually the last to find out about things

Me: “OMG. Check out this hilarious video I just discovered today!”
Everyone: “Yeah, I saw that last week. And so did the rest of the internet…”

This happens a lot. Though, I must say I’ve been surprised how fast important news still makes its way to me. I just wish I could tweak the “important” filter to include a few cat videos.

I still don’t talk on the phone

I definitely haven’t come any closer to overcoming my weird phone phobia, but I’m consoled by the fact that no one else I know likes talking on the phone either.

Waiting in line is way more annoying

While social media can be a big time suck, there’s something to be said for having it as a distraction from things that are a much greater waste of time—like waiting in line at the DMV. On the other hand, it does give me more time to read.

The Verdict

Overall, turning off social media has been a very positive experience. I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to make it through the rest of the year (and maybe even further). Thank you, everyone, for being so supportive and encouraging. I’d love to hear more of your thoughts about it!

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