I took a week off social media recently, which means that I didn’t look at Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat for seven days. I had made a rule for myself this year to stay off social media until my priorities were completed. What I found was that there doesn’t come a point for me in the day that everything is done, so having that end point be the “green light” to do something else was crazy because it didn’t exist. My day isn’t just a list of things to be done. In actuality, that meant that in the transitions of the day, big ones like finishing a meal or running an errand, or small ones like my son going off to play by himself or after taking my dogs out, it was a habit to check one of the apps I mentioned above. To get back to wanting to use social media well (as I set out to do with my rule for not checking it until my priorities were checked off), I decided to completely abstain from it for one week.
Before I go into my thoughts about my social media free week, I think it’s important to discuss the “why” of this. Screen time has been something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, especially as it pertains to my 5 year old son. Right now, I don’t like the place that we’re in when it comes to his relationship with the various devices we’ve let into our home. Honestly, as a task-oriented introvert whose husband is working long hours right now, the easy thing is to let my son watch a show or play a game while I get something done or just get a few minutes in of alone time. Recently, however, I’ve noticed that his default response to dead time is to ask for a screen. Ouch! That’s not something I’m proud of; and if I’m going to be telling him “no” to screen time, I need to be ready to do the same for myself. I also need to model on a daily basis the healthy way to use screens for all the benefits they can bring without them ruling my life by demanding my constant check in and attention. My son doesn’t have social media accounts, but that day is coming at some point, so I need to be modeling it along the way. At the end of the day, I might say that I don’t value what I get from a screen, but the time I spend on them would tell a different story.
The first thing that came to mind when thinking about this social media fast was that after the first day, I didn’t really find myself super tempted to check anything. This shows me that I have made progress on the journey of being who I am, of not needing approval from anyone else besides those whose opinions I really value, and using social media as a tool and not being marked by “always being on her phone.” I’ve been thinking through what my “online life” looks like and why it looks the way it does over the past year. I decided to close an old blog because I felt like I was doing more bragging than just sharing life, that I was wanting approval more than I was wanting to encourage, and that I was living life to share online instead of just living life. In reality, the various social media channels are just mini-blogs so I’ve been trying to personally find my place in all of this. One the one hand, I know there is value to sharing life online and keeping up with friends and family who we don’t live near. On the other hand, I don’t want to go back to that place of just throwing a picture or thought up just because it seems good for that moment, thus adding to the noise I’m specifically combatting. [Please note that this is a personal preference and that I don’t view all blogs or social media usage habits as bad; in fact, there are many that I get value from. This experiment was just about putting them in their place in my life. I believe each person must do this for themselves and that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to this.]
Secondly, as expected, my mind was a lot quieter. There are studies upon studies of all the “bad stuff” that’s happening to our brains because we’re so connected and inundated with information all the time. Loss of focus, dwindling attention spans, inability to be still and mindful, and various other health risks are not something I want to be putting myself or my son at risk of.
The most obvious thing was that it was much easier to tell my son that he couldn’t look at a screen when I wasn’t checking mine constantly. The old saying about “do as I say, not as I do” is not great parenting advice. One of the quickest ways to change something in your kids is to change it in yourself.
I got a lot more reading done and got a cross stitch project almost done. I found that I was able to focus on what I needed and wanted to do and got more done because I wasn’t constantly wasting time transitioning from one thing to the next by wasting 5-10 minutes each time. Notice that I said I got to do something I wanted to do. It isn’t unusual for me to have a “busy” day, not complete many of the tasks on my list, but be fully up to speed on social media. This should not be. Because it wasn’t even an option, it was either be productive or be restful. My heart (much like my mind) was in a much better place because of this. I didn’t feel like I was on the hamster wheel of life; I was able to take time to do things that fill me up so that I was then able to serve.
I think the biggest takeaway was the removal of unnecessary noise. Sometimes, I find myself adding on expectations to myself because I see other people doing something online. I think this was my big draw toward doing this fast. There is a LOT of good information out there for just about anything I came up against: what book should I read? What activities should we do for homeschool? How can I help my son learn how to hold his writing utensil correctly? What should I make for dinner? How can I be a better friend? What does this verse in my Bible mean and how does it apply to me? Where’s the best dentist around here? What clothes are in style? How can I organize this? As a recovering information junkie, I can waste a lot of time forming perfect plans and making lots of organized notes about something, owning it without once considering the actual implications of that decision. When that happens, I inevitably feel guilty because I’m not measuring up and then move to a place of doing more to prove to myself (and others) that I can do _______ (cook, homeschool, manage my home, etc.) well. I didn’t have any of that this past week. All I had were my own convictions and thoughts, the input of my husband, time to journal and process out things, and space to be creative with how to do the things I need and want to do.
The big question is “what now?” What will happen going forward? I think this part is pretty personal and specific; what works for me might be to little or too much for someone else. No one is right or wrong, as we’re all on this journey together to use devices well. The important questions to ask are: how does this add value to my life? and how can I place parameters around using it to add value and not unnecessary noise? Let the rest go.
For me, in general, this means:
- All social media notifications are turned off. That constant “ding” for my attention compels me to check what it was. This requires me to multi-task and takes my focus off of whatever it is I was doing. Studies show valuable time is wasted when this happens, and if you add up all the notifications one could get in a day, we spend a lot of time switching tasks and not accomplishing anything.
- I only have the Facebook Groups app on my phone because I do find value in the specific curated groups I’m apart of and follow, but find little value in scrolling through my news feed. I will check my “notifications” on Facebook on my desktop computer a few times a week to keep up with my friends and family that prefer to use it as their primary social media presence. You can curate your notifications to just show what’s important to you.
- What to share and how to share it are something I’ve not quite figured out for myself. I love chronicling our day via snapchat video or insta-stories that I can then download and share with family or keep for ourselves as memories. I do want to be smart about being safe when it comes to “over-sharing” on social media, and I don’t want to always being capturing the moment and not really taking it all in. I have a DSLR camera that I want to use more, and I like having random pictures I take with my phone to use in our Project Life albums (that I make all from my iPhone).