Looking Back: Social Media Absence

This morning I saw Tim Bird’s post on Facebook Addiction and it made me realize I was about due to follow up on how my social media near-absence has been going.  Well actually what really happened is that I started typing a comment that went in to a paragraph and then another and before I knew it I leaving a whole entry in the comments section. Better to just write it here, I think.

Looking back to May or so I could say I had about the same level of Facebook addiction as he talks of. If I was bored, I’d go look and see if there were any notifications or anything interesting. I’d leave a few comments, respond to a few, leave (and count) a few likes and head out. And then a while later I’d be back to do the same thing. Then I’d do it again. And again.  I started quantifying it using Rescuetime and it was never less than an hour a day, sometimes much more – spread across the various devices I owned. Yes, it could take my attention away from things happening at home, at work, waiting for the bus, and riding the bus.  Half of me was engaged in my life, the other half was looking for the next little dopamine hit in the form of a like or a comment.

Image via xkcd

But it got complicated when it turned to controversial subjects. Every now and then there would be a disagreement. Usually it’d be with some friend of a friend. And then I’d be back for the dopamine hit to see if they responded but also getting upset and wanting to resolve the argument. And at the same time as that, feeling terrible. I don’t like arguing, I prefer collaboration over conflict so this could monopolize my mood for hours.

Tim talked about using social media as an escape from bad news and a place to vent. Early on I thought that as well, but what I also noticed was that for me that was an infinite loop. I’d be upset about bad news and negativity, log in to Facebook looking for distraction, find more to be upset about. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.  So long before Trump was even a candidate, I started unfollowing friends who were predominantly negative. This made a difference in my mood, but didn’t really make it any less attractive. Now it was a place where I generally found positivity.

Now, though, faced with cold hard facts about the hours I spent disengaging from the here and now, I knew it was time to do something.  Many smokers talk about realizing just how much money they spent on smoking – something that felt good but wasn’t good for them – was part of the motivation for quitting. The same was true here. Except in my case, I wasn’t spending money on my habit.  There are 1440 minutes in a day and you only get a limited (and unknown) number of those blocks in a lifetime. Was I happy with what they were spent on or could I do better?

I started with a series of enforced Facebook breaks (change password to random password, copy/paste that in to one of those email services that sends ‘future-you’ a message) and log out. There was then no possibility of logging in for a week. I even went so far as to create a separate email account as the ‘recovery address’ for my FB password and sealed *that* password away! There was no way I was getting my password back until I was done with the break.

After a couple of Facebook breaks like that, I noticed how little I missed it when I was gone. Eventually I suspended the account and then actually deleted it. I think it’s been about four months.

So what have these four months been like?

Social Media:

I’ve stayed away with Facebook but at first after leaving I thought I’d try Twitter. I took a huge hit in readership here and I thought I needed to promote through social media. Even as I built followers, though, readership didn’t build. What did build was the time I was spending there, checking back, and engaging people I disagreed with. Nope. This wasn’t going to go the way I had hoped. After a few weeks I deleted that profile.

I still play around with Instagram. For some reason I don’t find it very addictive. I take a photo, post it, and maybe once a day have a look at a few things my friends post. I don’t feel that impulse to come back often and check. Maybe that’ll change.

That said, I could see myself leaving Instagram. I don’t think I’ll be there a year from now. (Of course it makes me ask myself now “What are you waiting for?”  Yeah, you’re right. I just deleted it.)

Social Life:

In the past what always brought me back to Facebook after a ‘break’ (other than the idea that it was a break not a departure – our words matter, even the ones in our heads), was the idea that I would lose social connection. How would I stay connected with friends? Would I be out of the loop?

What I did this time, though, was to gather email addresses of friends. I set up meetups for coffee or dinner and so instead of clicking a like on their status as I scrolled by them in my feed, now I was sitting across from them actually reacting to their stories and they were reacting to mine. This made a huge difference.

On the flip side, I did lose some connections. In the time since I joined Facebook back in 2007, communication patterns have changed. Far fewer people email. So I have lost regular contact with a few people. Some people I know don’t even check their email anymore. Even when I was on Facebook I never felt like I didn’t need email, but it has definitely changed.

I have also made a number of new connections since then. Through my volunteering I have met many Syrian families in our neighbourhood and other people in our building. I met others through this blog. Still others I met through Conversation Exchange.

Facebook is a gated community and something of an echo chamber. I had connected with people very similar to myself. Twitter is an open community but so open that it often can get a bit toxic – I found the culture there snarky at times and toxic when at its worst. But changing the balance of my interaction to include different sources has resulted in my interacting with people of all types.

News and Information:

The double-edged sword of social media is this. We have all the information and updates all of the time. To some it is like drinking from a firehose. We’re reluctant to stop, though, because we tell ourselves “Hydration is important!”

I no longer have a feed I check every now and again telling me the latest outrage – or, for that matter, the latest amazing thing that happened. How do I stay informed? The same way many have for centuries: a newspaper. We get one delivered to our house every day. That is my primary source. I don’t need to be updated more than once a day. On the other hand, if there are issues I’m interested in following or delving deeper with, the Internet is great for that.

While I’ve been on the road, though, I don’t have the same luxury. Yes, the hotel delivers USA Today every weekday, but that is not a particularly good newspaper. So I’ve gone back to reading the news through websites. I will say, though, that I have some work to do there as well. I’m catching myself checking sites several times a day looking for new information. I need to remember ‘1,440’. Is there something better I can be doing than reloading an online news site. Nine times out of ten I bet there is.

I really enjoy connecting on this platform, though. I follow people all around the world and it is interesting to see how people live in different places. What do people love, care about, or get upset about in another country? What are the pressing issues? This fascinates me endlessly.

What about business?

I notice while I’m on the road and a bit lonely that I am being drawn toward LinkedIn more. I don’t think it’s because it’s a particularly engaging but I am likely going there looking for connection.  I’m checking it once a day or so now where I’d check it every few months before.  Something to keep an eye on.

But it does bring up the challenge many have of balancing the business aspects of social media with its addictiveness. I imagine it’s not unlike being a sales person in some industries and not drinking. So many events revolve around cocktails, and now many companies are doing team building trips like wine tasting or brewery tours. The challenges are similar, I think. Some people can exercise moderation and do. But what about those who have more trouble with that?

My partner, Sage, has no personal presence on Facebook or Twitter, only a professional one. For Facebook that meant creating an account that is only friends with people who might co-manage her pages with her.  She does less interactive engagement and more informational.  I’m sure that solutions and possibilities vary with industry, though. Certainly a Social Media Marketing Specialist is never going to be able to totally disengage.

What am I doing with the extra time?

I’ve been reading a bunch more. My free time on the bus, alone in restaurants or at the gate at the airport involves a great deal more reading of books.

When I’m at home I’ve been more regular about exercise. I was doing great keeping up with Zwift training and had even started running. It has been harder here in Louisiana between traffic, non-existent pedestrian infrastructure and a gym whose smell seems to literally give me migraines.

I’ve been studying Hindi and helping folks in India with their English as well. My Hindi is slowly improving but vocabulary is still a challenge. Yesterday I bought a stack of index cards and made some flash cards to capture the new words I’ve learned. They are almost exactly the size of my phone and I am training myself to pull them out at the same moments I would take out my phone before, I now take out the cards. Waiting for a call? Get out the cards. Bored at the restaurant? Take out the cards. Not busy at work? Take out the cards. I am hopeful this will expand my vocabulary more quickly. I’d like to speak much better before I return in February.

What’s next?

As last Sunday’s post suggested, this is the year of “Work like you care about it”. And let’s be honest, that should be every year afterward. I want to learn to use those 1,440 minutes even more effectively. I don’t mean they all have to be productive, but they should be rewarding. I should feel like I’m glad I spent my time doing what I did. I think I’m there about 60% of the time now. That’s up from probably 40% when on Social Media but there’s still a great deal to improve.

I’d like to spend more time outside at home. It’s easy to get in work mode and not leave the apartment for a few days at a time. I literally have everything I need. This gets harder as winter comes and being outside is less attractive. I want to change that. It feels good to get out, and I finally have most of the warm clothes I need to do it. I will get more this winter.

I need to continue find more ways to bring the unexpected in to my life. Travelling to new places is a great way to do this but I can’t do this all the time.  When I get back home I am excited to resume visiting new libraries in town. There will be more cooking experimentation, of course. I’m also looking for new opportunities for stepping outside my comfort zone.

And in spring it will be time to get cycling again. I’d like to get to the point where I could do even longer distances cycling and running.  I would like to aim for a half marathon race and a 200 km ride. Not in the same day, mind you.  I’ve run a half marathon distance but couldn’t finish as my first race was scheduled to happen in Delhi during some of the worst of last year’s smog. As for 200 km of cycling, that shouldn’t be too hard. I’ve done over 170. That adds only about 90 minutes of cycling.

This summer’s Vermont cycling trip was the first of my ‘unplugged’ trips. We covered so much more ground in so much less time and enjoyed ourselves tremendously.

But I’m sure I would not be able to accomplish as much were I spending as much time plugged in to social media. One of the first things I noticed when taking that first Facebook break was how much faster I could do a 100 km bicycle ride when I’m not checking Facebook when I stop for a snack or to refill a water bottle.

What would you do if someone gave you some of your free time back? Why not try a short social media break and see if the use of your 1,440 improves.


9 thoughts on “Looking Back: Social Media Absence

  1. I log onto Instagram about once a week and Facebook about once a month. It doesn’t holy attention like it used to.
    My problem lately is refreshing WordPress to see if anybody has posted a new story. I don’t read a newspaper but I have a news app and I look at that once a day.
    In my job, I have downtime and that’s when I get online. At home when I’m not sleeping, I’m watching Netflix or on here. 😀

    1. I don’t usually refresh here as most everyone is on an email update so I get notifications.

      I hear you about getting online when you have downtime. I do the same. I have to try to be aware, though, when I’m getting on for good reasons versus trying to ‘fast forward’ through part of my day.

  2. Thanks for noticing my blog and following up on the theme. It’s a tricky balancing act, keeping the excitement of ‘real’ life while using social media to tell people about it and make your presence known!

  3. “I started with a series of enforced Facebook breaks (change password to random password, copy/paste that in to one of those email services that sends ‘future-you’ a message) and log out”

    Ummm. Wowza how do I not know about this??? I’ve done well in a social media diet, but I could TOTALLY use this concept for other apps/sites etc that I spend too much time on.

    Bravo for you and your productivity!

    1. Oh funny – I never thought of doing it for anything else. But yeah – the first time I saw this technique mentioned, it seemed *so* obvious. How could I have not thought of this?

  4. Todd, my husband Krishnan and I went to Mongolia in 2015 to celebrate our 25th anniversary and that was the first time, we got off social media for a whole month. It was refreshing ! Now every September we logout from FB, Twitter and Whatsapp. This year, I simply removed FB from my phone. I have it just on my iPad which has only wifi. It has reduced the amount of time I spend on FB dramatically. Like you, I have more time to blog, to read and do other stuff while still staying in touch.

  5. “I really enjoy connecting on this platform, though. I follow people all around the world and it is interesting to see how people live in different places. What do people love, care about, or get upset about in another country? What are the pressing issues? This fascinates me endlessly.”

    That is how I feel about it here on WordPress. The atmosphere is somehow more classy than the typical social media sites like Facebook or Twitter. It seems more geared toward people who write because they enjoy writing and not merely to complain or brag.

Share your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.