9 Reflections Post-Social Media Detox
Two weeks ago, I decided to do a social media detox.
I did so for the following reasons: Partly because the nature of modern, social and digital communications can be exhausting. Partly because I wanted to fill the resulting void with more meaningful things without the (mostly self-imposed) burden of considering external perception. And partly because I wanted to resign myself to an analogue existence for a while.
I chose two weeks because it seemed long enough to be significant and short enough to be realistic (and also because my sister thought I couldn't do it. I think you'll only last a week, she said. Tsk.)
Not for lack of communication
The other thing to note was that the detox wasn't for the sake of becoming a hermit. I wasn't aiming to cut off communications from the outside world—I just wanted to control the method. I still wanted to talk to people, i.e. those who were relevant. Also, I believe that in the end, if you want to make time to find someone, you'll find a way. (More on that later.)
So I post the left image to my IG stories (this was likely unnecessary since it's doubtful anyone would have really questioned my lack of presence—it's just social media after all, and we all have our own real lives to live—but I suppose I wanted to make a statement), uninstalled all of the offending apps and waited for the withdrawals to begin, haha. And as any addict who's doing a detox will tell you, this results in a lot of free time and freed brain space. So here are some of the realizations I came to when I was off of social media.
Note: I should also take this opportunity for full disclosure. I did, on occasion, have to use social media for school- and work-related reasons but bearing in mind my ban, I did so only on a need-to basis.
Note 2: I somehow ended up listening to a lot of music that I would've otherwise while on my ban (something or other about diversifying my sources of entertainment) so here: this is the sort of feel that I wanted for my state of mind.
Life is easier when you tune out the noise.
At one point, I had a friend text me to see how the detox was going. My reply was, "MY LIFE IS TOO FREE FROM STIMULUS." (I'm given to being melodramatic at times.) However, as much as it was disorienting, it was also refreshing—I wasn't constantly on this bend of mindless consumption of information, visuals, text, data, media, whatever. I had less cluttering up my mind space, which gave me room to be more creative and focus on the things that mattered.
When something good happens, who do you tell first?
Normally (and I use this word lightly, because what even is normal, nowadays) but if something good happens to you, wouldn't you tell the people close to you, rather than broadcasting it to the world? Isn't it weird that the latter happens more than the former? Even if it's something as innocuous as discovering a new cafe or something considerable like a personal achievement—whereas previously I would've posted on my IG stories or something, I found myself doing the more intentional thing and sharing it with particular people instead. The funny thing about social media is that suddenly, everyone's business is everyone's business when it isn't. As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, one of the best courses of action might be: "We might all try minding our own business."
Question everything, especially yourself.
If there's one thing we need to do in today's digitally-charged society, it's to stop taking things at face value—which is understandably difficult, since that's basically all that social media offers. Having the forced distance between me and Instagram really made me start thinking: Why am I posting this? Does the world need to see this? Or to be more succinct, who do I really want to see this? Why don't I just talk to them directly? And then, how does the increasing normalization of social media impact how we interact with our everyday lives? How does this fast-paced, digital reality affect our real reality?
Keep it simple.
Life doesn’t have to be so complicated. If you want to talk to someone, make the time. I'm not good at playing mind games and sometimes it seems like social media is one big mind-f*ck—especially having lived during a time when it didn't take so much precedence in our lives. (I'm glad I finished high school before social media took over our lives, honestly.) Though it can seem otherwise because we're constantly sharing about ourselves, like 'look at me! look at me!'—everyone is wrapped up in living their own lives. It just goes back to the idea that it's not all about you, and to be honest, it's probably better that way.
Short-form vs long-form content
I suppose this point comes from the contrast between my English Lit background and my current career in communications. At its heart, social media is about content creation/consumption. Traditionally, there's always been a certain dichotomy between shorter and longer art forms. I assume it has to do with the amount of time it takes to create something—the shorter the time, the more disposable, or something like that. But it's also true that sometimes pieces of seemingly brief content can actually take longer to create (because of their concise nature, and all that)—there are some creators on Instagram who spend huge amounts of time crafting pieces that really only end up in 180x180 pixel squares, but those reach a much larger audience than they would have on a website somewhere. (And then you could go on to ponder if Instagram is the destination in and of itself, or if it should be used to supplement/promote content on a more long-standing platform, and also, what is the power of the influenced audience, really... questions for another time, perhaps.)
And so you can't really judge content or a piece of art by its brevity—only in how much it speaks to you. For example, choosing between reading a novel or scrolling on Instagram—which is more value-adding to my life right now?
What you fill your time with is what you fill your life with.
Your life is comprised of things that you pay attention to. This would explain why my life feels alternately fractured or idle because my attention span is shot to hell, mostly as a result of social media. (I think I was also a distracted person to begin with but there's no way to determine that now.) The fact is that social media is there for you to either waste or fill your time with—unintentionally or intentionally. When I wasn't on Instagram constantly, I had more free time to do things like read books, something I've always loved but had somehow fallen by the wayside as I've gotten older.
Social media feels good.
Well, obviously, otherwise why would people be 'addicted' to it? There have been a lot of people advocating for "unplugging" lately, and there's the science behind it too—how each notification sets off dopamine in your brain, i.e. much the same way drugs do, and so on. I don't deny that Instagram is useful for both inspiration as well as making new connections—indeed, I found myself missing those practical aspects during my detox—but at the same time, this reliance on social media is crippling if I can't be independent without it. I want to be able to validate myself outside of it, no matter how connected our digital and physical selves are now.
Do it on your own time.
Checking notifications, reading messages—all these should happen when you want to, and not when your phone tells you. Essentially you're reclaiming control over your life by deciding when you want to pick up your phone and engage with the digital universe. I find that when I'm plugged in all the time, there are so many things constantly vying for my attention, and most, if not all of them are pretty irrelevant to the way I want to live my life. This culture of instant gratification that we live in—it takes a toll.
You need to know how to be alone.
Going "off the grid" and detaching myself from all these updates from people or companies, most of whom I didn't even really care about, allowed me more time for myself. I was able to live without this cloud of surveillance—be it me knowing what others were up to, or others know what I was up to—and it was liberating. I would say, as cheesy as it sounds, a social media detox can be a form of 'self-love' because you're actively making time for yourself. And as humans, we should always make time for those who are important to us.
I want to be clear that I'm not completely hating on social media—as I said, I think it's a useful tool for inspiration and connection, but I don't think it should necessarily replace the things outside of it. The detox essentially became a way for me to reclaim control and live my life a little bit more intentionally. Self-awareness is the first step to greatness, heh.
PS. Also, I realize that not everyone's experience is alike—perhaps you're not a digital slave like I was (in which case, congratulations! have a cookie or whatever) and these reflections might altogether be more telling of my own personality than social media. (Let me know if this is the case and perhaps we can have an interesting conversation, haha.)
As for next steps, I'd like concurrently explore two things: 1) how to live an intentional, analogue existence in today's world, and 2) how to build more meaningful connections using tools like Instagram and Twitter. In that vein, hit me up with your thoughts on the social media experience. Perhaps the bright side of it all is knowing that we're not alone in being humans.