The night before I embarked on my social media fast, I refreshed Facebook and Twitter so many times that my phone developed a stutter and I had to do a hard reset to make the touchscreen acknowledge my existence. It took less than a minute for my phone to come back to life, but in that time, I worked myself up into a froth, thinking about how I was going to be cheated out of my last few minutes of liking people’s puppies and babies and home renovations. (As well as judging all their life choices, of course.)
Getting so upset over momentary loss of access to a couple of apps felt like proof that I needed a break. I make a lot of excuses for my social media addiction, but sometimes scanning my feeds feels uncomfortably close to a lab rat pressing a lever. Also, before I turned off my notifications and logged out for the week, my husband asked me if I was having some separation anxiety, and I said yes…totally forgetting that he was about to go on a trip for a few days. He pretended to believe me when I said I looked sad because he was going away, but we both knew what I was really obsessing over. I think that we can agree that people who love their spouse should have their travel schedule top of mind, instead of their news feed. Was spending the bulk of my time looking at carefully curated versions of other people’s lives taking too much time away from my own?
So for 7 days, I went without Facebook, without Twitter, without Tumblr and Instagram and LinkedIn. Technically, I suppose I also went without Snapchat, but to be honest, I never use it, due to my old-person conviction that it’s taking pictures of my butt and mailing them to my friends and colleagues.
This is what happened during my week without social media.
I REALIZED THAT I HAVE A LOT OF IMAGINARY FRIENDS…AND I NEED TO TALK TO THEM A LOT
My very first morning away from social media, I was on my way to the gym, when my car doors started locking and unlocking, really rapidly, like a murderer with an extra remote was hiding in the back seat. After pulling into the gym parking lot, and checking for the murderer, I pulled out my phone to do what I’d always do: Google a solution/worst-case scenario.
Google immediately informed me that I needed to close my door harder. Whoops.
Any shame I felt at creating my own problem was immediately eclipsed by annoyance, because I couldn’t go on Facebook and tell all my Internet friends how dumb I am. I had to text my sister to complain, like the pilgrims did. This irritation came up several times during the week, when something mildly annoying happened and I couldn’t tell everyone about it in just a few clicks. By the end of the week, I became fairly convinced that this is actually what social media is for: telling people you sort of know that you’ve had a rough morning.
I SLEPT BETTER
The first definitely positive thing I noticed was that I slept better, maybe because I got bored of looking at the non-social Internet and eventually stopped looking at my phone for an hour before bed, in favor of reading a book. This makes sense: Research has shown that looking at blue-light emitting devices like smartphones right before bed affects melatonin levels, which in turn affects our circadian clock—in effect, telling the body that it’s time to wake up, not time to go to sleep.
But, even during the first day or two of the experiment, when I was still reading on my phone, I felt that I dropped off to sleep earlier and slept better. Why? I think it’s because of the next big change I noticed during my social media break…
I WAS LESS RAGE-Y
It’s hard to quantify levels of ticked-off, but subjectively, I felt less irritated during my week without social media. Without a constant update on all my acquaintances’ opinions on every subject, I was just mad a lot less.
IRL, it’s just not that common to get an unsolicited opinion from someone you don’t know all that well (unless you’re a pregnant woman, or the parent of a toddler who’s behaving like a toddler). Thanks to social media, we now have immediate access to everyone’s thoughts. If you don’t believe me, go to your favorite network and post, “I’ve tried and tried, but I just can’t seem to lose weight!” Sit there for 30 seconds and see how many of your connections are secretly unregistered dieticians and amateur endocrinologists. It will amaze you.
The funniest thing was that I still knew what was going on in the world, because I went to news sites instead of looking at my feeds. I just missed out on everyone’s hot takes on every situation. Somehow, I survived.
I HAD MORE TIME
I’m a freelancer, so I make my own hours, but I generally work a normal day, 9ish to 6ish. My first day of working without taking social media breaks, I finished all my work by 3 p.m. I felt like a genius who’d actually discovered how to put more hours in the day.
ULTIMATELY, EVERYTHING CHANGED…BUT NOTHING HAPPENED
I anticipated benefits from staying off social media for a week, but also some potentially dire consequences. For instance, as a freelancer, I can’t afford to ignore my personal brand, even though the phrase “personal brand” makes me want to throw all my electronics in a Dumpster. I thought there would be some fallout from not tweeting my clips for a week.
There wasn’t. In fact, embarrassingly, I got three new followers on Twitter by not tweeting for seven days. Apparently, occasional silence is golden.
But, I can’t promise more than occasional silence. As nice as it was to sleep better, be angry less, and yes, know where my husband will be next week, I missed complaining about my day-to-day frustrations and seeing everyone’s Pinterest-worthy BBQs.
But I can say this: taking a week off from social media reminded me that having a real life in the age of Twitter means creating boundaries.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to figure out where I can buy an actual alarm clock, so I can park my phone away from my bed. I’m sure someone on Facebook will have a recommendation.