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UNPLUGGED: Starting My New Life Without Social Media
Hit Me, Baby, One More Time
The First Step Is Admitting You Have A Problem
It's almost embarrassing to admit—I mean, I'm nearly 40—but until a week ago, I couldn't go more than a few minutes without opening Facebook or Instagram on my iPhone or my computer at work. I'd begun sending friend requests to friends of friends-of-friends and people I had no connection with IRL at all, convinced that I didn't have enough followers. I started wondering what hashtags to use in my next post about my dog or my lunch or my workout, struggling to find creative and effective ways to connect with complete strangers, instead of getting as much sleep as a I needed before work or walking the dog I was so proud of online. I'd become anxious if a message wasn't read right away or if a post didn't get its first like after only a few minutes. Were people listening to me? Were they paying attention? Was I cute, funny, charming, informative, through-provoking? Could I call myself a "social influencer" yet? Was I enough? Was I liked?
In short, I was a mess. Social media had become like an addiction, and I had faced more than my share of those in life. These apps weren't fun anymore. They were work! I was starting to determine my popularity and even my sense of self-worth by my number of likes and shares, follows and friend requests. I couldn't put my phone down. I didn't want to put it down. What if I missed something?
What could I possibly miss?
Signs of Any Addiction
Just Like A Pill
I've been down this road a time or two. First, booze. Then, cocaine. Then, booze and cocaine. Then, pills. Then, booze and cocaine and pills. For me, social media was becoming just like any of my previous addictions. Instead of distracting me from the anxiety and depression I already felt in my day to day life, it was beginning to make things worse. Instead of connecting me to other people, it was reminding me how lonely I felt.
Recognizing any addiction relies on your ability to be honest with yourself. Most recovery programs diagnose an addiction by asking you the same questions: Has it—whatever it is—begun to negatively affect your life and have you been unable to stop using it?
A little sleep may not seem like a meaningful impact, but as someone who has struggled with achieving deep, restful, restorative sleep my entire adult life, even a little less sleep affects me throughout the day. I am more easily distracted, more easily agitated and more emotional in general during days before which I haven't slept well. My back and feet hurt more easily. I crave more sugar and caffeine. And I smoke more.
The most alarming symptom of my social media addiction was that I couldn't not open the apps. I could recognize that I was on Facebook and Instagram more than I wanted to be, more than I was comfortable with, but I couldn't just not use them and I didn't know why. It was making me feel bad, and I still couldn't stop.
It sounds ridiculous. I know. It sounds like I'm talking about heroin or Oxy or something. The truth is it doesn't matter what you're talking about, whether it's hard drugs or timelines, your brain can turn anything you enjoy into an addiction and cause your body to have a real and measurable reaction to it...or its absence.
You Don't Have To Take My Word For It
Like A Bad Breakup
I had finally had enough about a week ago. I was done. I had waded through the online whiny waters of the web and read all the passive-aggressive relationship complaints; the miscellaneous, misogynistic, race-baiting, anti-liberal, anti-women, anti-men, anti-LGBT, pro-gun, pro-life, "can this veteran cancer patient get a like and a share," "repost if you're not afraid to love Jesus," and "help me find my birth mom" posts I could stomach. I published a message telling my friends and loved ones that I was deleting all social media at the end of the day and would be gone..."for a while."
Twitter was the first to meet the firing squad. I hadn't used it in months and it was already deleted from my phone. I signed-in on my PC to make it official, and the first of the waves of passive-aggression crashed over me. You don't have to go. We'll keep your room just the way you left it in case you want to move back in. All you have to do is re-enter your password at any time in the next 30 days. Jesus. Clingy much?
The next app to get the kibosh was SnapChat. It wasn't easy. They don't want you to go. I searched my account settings for deactivation instructions. I clicked a button. I waited.... Fine. You can leave, they seemed to say. But we think you'll be back. We'll save your account for 30 days. All you have to do to change your mind is sign back in, and we'll forget you tried to leave us. Et tu, Brute?
Instagram was next. The process was simpler. Two choices: temporarily disable or completely delete. I didn't want to lose all of the photos on my wall, so I chose the temp option. Enter your password to confirm. Done. Account is on hold till I sign in again. No begging. No backtalk.
Now, Facebook? Whole different story. I might need a restraining order. I just wanted a trial separation, not a full-blown divorce. Not possible. If you want to leave, you can have a day or two.... Seven max. And then you're coming home whether you like it or not. Your account is automatically reactivated after 7 days and then you have to re-deactivate it. I'm pretty sure that they're pretty sure I won't re-download the app just to re-deactivate it without scrolling through my timeline, giving me just enough of the digital opiate to make me rethink my abstinence and convince my inner addict that this time will be different. I'll be smarter, stronger somehow. I'll set limits.
Not A Young Person's Problem
In the video below, Dr. Cal Newport, a computer scientist and professor at MIT, describes why he's never had a social media account and how his life is measurably the better for it.
An Anti-Social Media Computer Scientist
28 Days? 12 Steps?
No. This isn't a Sandra Bullock movie. I didn't need a formal detox program to separate me from social media. I haven't developed cold sweats or an uncontrollable tremor since deleting the apps from my phone. I'm not nauseated or chain smoking. I haven't replaced my addiction with another—although I am trying to read more—and I haven't claimed powerlessness and sought sanctuary in religion. It was a simple fix. I said goodbye and I left.
I don't know how long of a hiatus I'll take. It's only been a week. I still find myself grabbing my phone and checking to see if I've gotten new texts or emails when I'm bored, although I am looking at it less and less.
It's early in this experiment yet, but I already feel less anxious and depressed. My feelings aren't hurt for no reason by strangers. I'm sleeping better, longer. And I'm using my time more constructively. I think it will be interesting to see what changes I've made in a month, when it's time to re-deactivate my accounts and Facebook my demons....
Wanna Know More?
You can track my social media-less journey by following me on.... Just kidding! Weren't you paying attention?
© 2018 Luke Anthony Schulte