Why I Quit My Facebook Quitting
Sixteen days into my social media sabbatical last month, I cheated. I was looking for an email address I couldn’t find, and I knew the guy I wanted to reach was active on Twitter. I logged on and tweeted at him. Presto, he got right back to me. So did another friend, with a one-word dm: “Busted!”
He was right. I was busted, but that was hardly the only time I slipped. Last month, I embarked on my third annual social media cleanse. I logged off all of my social software, moved my apps into a separate folder and turned off the push notifications, and told my friends to pick up the phone if they wanted to talk to me. I invited Wired readers to join me, and more than 100 of you sent me emails to say you were up for the challenge.
So how did you all do? My month was long, and my stalwart commitment to improving my Internet hygiene flagged quickly. I cheated a lot.
Some of the cheats were purposeful. Once I needed an address for an event I planned to attend, and the invitation was on Facebook. Another time, I was getting ready to interview a story subject, and I wanted some background on her before we spoke.
Most of the time, though, my slips were accidental. I discovered (again this year) that social software is embedded everywhere. My Facebook log-in doubled as my log-in for my ride-sharing app (Uber), my jogging music app (RockMyRun), my house-sharing app (Airbnb), and my bike-riding app (MapMyRide). And then there was Rise, the social app I use to send photos of my meals to a professional dietician, who advises me to leave off the chocolate and add a bit of spinach. Wasn’t that basically a social app?
Then I traveled to a country that had expensive data, and I didn’t want to pay for a plan. I decided to use Wi-Fi to call home, and turned to Google Hangouts to video chat, send photos and generally keep in touch. It was all over. Social media won.
Or so it seemed, if you interpret my cleanse narrowly as the straight-up absence of social software. Yes, I know, I now sound like a dieter who says chocolate is fine to eat in moderation (ask my Rise coach; she’ll tell you I do this, too). But here’s the truth: each year I embark on this cleanse not to eradicate social software from my life, but to figure out where it serves me and where it gets in my way. My slips served to spotlight the places in my life I most benefited from the Internet (because let’s face it, the social web in 2015 really is just The ENTIRE Internet). And the times that I didn’t cheat? It’s because I didn’t really miss Facebook et al, at all.
Herewith, a few of the best things that my sabbatical inspired:
I read a lot of news. I read it, actually, directly from the source. I had to do something, because all of that unbroken time engaged directly with my work was killing me. I’d boot up my computer each morning, pull up a blank screen, and after writing for a few minutes, I’d seek distraction. Most of the year, this distraction comes from pulling up Twitter or Facebook for a quick peek. Or maybe scrolling through my partner’s latest board on Pinterest. Initially, I found it hard to focus my attention on my work, but gradually, my attention span increased, and I could write for longer periods. And when I needed to take a break, I’d substitute the New York Times for my newsfeed.
I caught up with some friends. I used the telephone. One word: Awkward. That’s because, apart from my mom and my girlfriend, I mostly don’t call people anymore. I have two normal modes for keeping in touch: I graze through friends’ social feeds, commenting and liking and occasionally, following up with an email or text. Or, I make plans to get together in person. The problem is that, thanks to busy schedule, in-person visits are rare. And the daily social media grazing keeps me updated on back-to-school pics and summer vacation destinations, but I don’t learn much about how my friends are doing. Last month, I spoke to a friend who was thinking about leaving a relationship, and another whose father was very ill. Neither conversation was long, but both were revealing. And in talking with my friends, one-on-one, about things that were challenging for them, I felt more connected.
I wasted time. Lots of it. On the subway, I flipped through a magazine, or just spaced out. In the mornings, I made coffee and talked to the dog for awhile before the day started, rather than scrolling the Internet for missed updates. Initially, this left me feeling anxious. I felt like everyone was in on a joke or party I was missing. I tolerated the FOMO until it dissipated, and then I felt relaxed. And because I was connecting with fewer people, I made fewer plans. I missed some things, but I also stopped caring. As my Saturday afternoons stretched out long and empty, I found my time felt like my own.
I made peace with my slips. My cheats did a great job of showing me when social software functioned as a utility in my life. They drew focus to the Internet’s upside–immediate and sometimes intimate information on demand–without the downside–the mindless distraction enabled by an ever-connected life. This year as August drew to a close, I didn’t feel the tremendous anxiety about my return. I’d caught up on the important things, and I didn’t that much about the rest.
On September 1, I updated my profile picture and perused Instagram briefly. Then I turned off the computer, made some coffee, and read the paper. Social media hadn’t won after all; I had.
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