In a moment of annoyance in February, I decided to get off social media. This wasn’t the first time I reevaluated my relationship with social media, and likely won’t be the last. However, it was the first time I seriously contemplated quitting all social forever in one go. Instead, I opted to go 30 days without social media and then make some changes with a clearer head.
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Why I was Picking Up My Phone
One thing I quickly discovered about myself is that boredom isn’t what drives me to check social media. I’m more than capable of entertaining myself. People watching when waiting in line is great fun. And my own thoughts are all I need on a long walk. I might want a book if I’m going to be stuck somewhere for 15+ minutes, but short bursts of boredom don’t phase me.
No, what drives me to pick up my phone is discomfort. I found myself reaching for it anytime I remembered something stupid I’d said earlier that day. I picked up my phone whenever something a little cringe was happening on TV. I would find my phone in my hand anytime I was avoiding an unpleasant task.
So, during this month, I’ve had to gradually get used to moving through discomfort without the pacifier of social media. I still pick up my phone more than I’d like, but without a feed to suck me in, it’s not providing as big of a reward.
What I’m Permanently Deleting
Before this last 30 day break I was extremely online on several platforms. I knew that a few would have to go permanently. My primary criteria for getting rid of accounts was how much time I spent on them and how likely the time I did spend correlated to positive action on my part. I also considered how much time it took for the platform to be valuable to me, so if it was possible to cut back without significantly degrading the experience.
First, I’ve let my TikTok go. This was a hard choice, because I do love how the algorithm works. I saw content on there that I never would have come across on any other app. However, TikTok also has the ability to fill large volumes of time without me really noticing. And I find when I’m on there a lot my attention span goes way down. Additionally, I don’t have much interest in creating short form video myself. Each video takes too much time to make and the lifespan is just too short for it to be worthwhile for me as a creator. Plus, I still have access to a lot of the same content and tools through Reels.
This was a tough one, but it came down to the fact that I don’t really like the person I become if I’m on Twitter too much. There is too much noise and too much pressure to post constantly. If you’re not tweeting a dozen or so times a day no one pays attention to you. Plus, based on what I’ve seen mid-size creators say, once you reach a certain level of popularity the trolls, spam, and people without social skills start to be overwhelming. As much as I love being the first to know things, it’s just not worth the psychic drain. And to be honest, there’s no reason why I need to be that in the know. I’m better off reading longer, fact checked articles for the news and books for ideas. That’s more the pace I live at.
What I’m Keeping
While I did seriously consider just deleting everything, there are practical and personal reasons why I’m just not ready for that. Some platforms are so integrated into the internet that not having an account is a pain, while others I’m keeping because I can use them in ways that still bring me value.
I’m keeping my Pinterest account active for a few reasons, but I’m also reassessing how I use it.
First, unlike other social media, I primarily use Pinterest as a search engine and a way to gather ideas. When I did scroll through my feed mindlessly, it was always on my phone. So, now I use it on my laptop only.
Honestly, I did consider deleting it entirely because of how minimal my use is, but it is a really handy way to store ideas. Also, when searching for visual things, Pinterest hits often clog up the Google results and without an account it’s plain annoying to deal with. So, for now at least it stays.
I also use Pinterest to promote this blog. However, I’m changing my strategy to what I call the lazy method. Basically, I don’t bother with optimization at all. I’m not trying to post at optimal times, making idea pins, or creating Pinterest specific graphics. I’m simply pinning the images from my blog posts to relevant boards once a week or so, manually.
My new attitude towards Pinterest (and all social media) is that if the algorithm likes it, they like it and it it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I’d rather spend my time writing better posts, taking better pictures, doing cooler projects, and living my life.
This was a hard one to decide on, but in the end it’s the only one that is coming back to my phone. The biggest reason is that I find IG to be inspiring, rather than numbing. If I’ve curated my feed right, I end up with a short scroll followed by a burst of energy and a strong desire to work on my own projects. I do have to be mindful of who I’m following. Lately I’ve been deleting accounts that are posting way too many Reels to the feed or who just don’t fit my vibe anymore. Unless we’re personal IRL friends I am ruthless.
Additionally, I’m changing the way I use IG. I’m taking a more casual, approach. Like with Pinterest, I’m going to be posting what I feel like posting and not worrying about the algorithm. Most importantly, I’m going down to one account.
I’m no longer going to have a dedicated account just for my cats. That will likely mean more cats on my main feed and stories. Anyone who’s not cool with that is free to unfollow. I also was experimenting with an embroidery only account and that will be reintegrated into the main as well. I’m hoping that this will make my IG both more fun to use and more of an authentic representation of me.
The thing about Facebook, is that I don’t actually use it much anymore, but it’s sometimes inconvenient not to have one. I didn’t have it on my phone before this experiment and don’t see any need to add it now. Mostly, I keep it around because Marketplace is sometimes useful, organizations use it for events way too often, and there are sometimes useful groups. But generally I only log in 2x a month, so it’s not hurting me or taking up too much of my time.
To be honest, Reddit is another one of those accounts that I often forget to check. My feed is all people posting creative projects and plants, so it’s a pretty wholesome and chill place. Occasionally it’s nice to be able to give people an upvote, so I’ll keep it for now. And I generally don’t feel called to post or comment, so the time commitment is pretty low. Really, as long as I stay off negative and addictive boards (I may have a small addiction to Am I the Asshole) there is no downside to having an account. So, it stays for now.
YouTube falls somewhere between IG and Reddit for me. I don’t tend to spend too much time scrolling because it’s never been on my phone. And the amount of work required to post is so high that I’ve never bothered. But I do find that I walk away from most YouTube sessions inspired and energized. If I do end up on a channel that drains me, I click away and hit the “do not recommend” button. I also sometimes find that YouTube videos are essential when I’m trying to figure things out or need a product review. Getting rid of YouTube doesn’t make sense because it still adds more value to my life than stress.
There were a few things that helped me get through this experiment or other social media fasts I’ve done in the past. Generally, I find a combination of inspiration, distraction, and tools is what helps me get through a challenge like this.
How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell
I adore this book by artist Jenny Odell. Not only does it have one of the most beautiful covers I’ve ever seen, it also tackles the issue of attention from a unique angle. Odell approaches the problem as an artist, so the book ends up a bit meandering, which is perfect if you really want to reflect on the “why” of your social media use, and not just the “how”
Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
If you’re looking for something a bit more concrete and scientific, Newport’s book may be more your speed. The author makes a really clear case for reducing digital discretions in your life and provides some great strategies as well. The big caveat I always give when recommending Newports work, however, is that he doesn’t always see or acknowledge how privilege pays a part in his life and the lives of those he uses as examples. But as long as you keep that in mind, this is a great read.
While retraining my brain to focus more, I’ve found the Forest App to be one of my favorite tools. This simple timer/productivity tracker lets you set a timer so that a small, digital tree grows during the time you’ve set aside to be work. The app functions on the honor system, there’s no big digital lockdown, so if I want to play music or look something up on my phone while I work I can. But I find watching my little tree growing rewarding enough that I generally don’t cheat. I used this to get through the last few chapters of my dissertation, and still pull it out from time to time when I need to focus.
I started listening to this podcast because the host was interviewing Jenny Odell. I kept listening for the many great conversations about social media. The guests are frequently people who have to be online in some capacity in order to do their jobs, which makes for some really interesting conversations. I really love hearing people talk about how they balance the desire/need to participate in social media with the other areas in their lives. I highly recommend listening to a few episodes of your struggling to figure out what to do after a social media fast is over.
Overall, I’m glad I took some time off of the socials to clear my head and reset my priorities. And while I’ve been back online for a week now, I’m better at putting my phone down when it’s not serving me.
Have you done a digital detox? Let me know in the comments below or over on Instagram!