A couple Fridays ago, my husband and I began a weekend celebration of our 2nd anniversary of marriage. We didn’t have anything especially special planned. Our only real goals were to eat really delicious food and enjoy each other’s company. In an effort to slow the weekend down and fully experience ourselves, we decided to not use our cellphones for two days. Of course there were some exceptions made to locate a brunch spot and order some dumplings for dinner. I even gave the hubs leeway to check his Fantasy as many times as necessary. The main point was that we were staying off of Facebook and Instagram, the two social media platforms we both use frequently.
After two days, our little experiment yielded some interesting results. First, neither of us missed social media. We thought this “diet” might be tough to stick to, but we realized at the end of it that our attachments to FB and IG were much more habitual than actually addictive. Placing our phones and iPad in our bedroom instead of at hands-reach on the side table by the sofa was extremely helpful. It also made me acutely aware of how often we reach for our gadgets. Each time they weren’t there and I went back to our conversation or the TV, it made me consider what I really needed from these devices.
The other thing that really struck me after two days was how much more rested and relaxed I felt. A large part of me knew this was largely attributable to two days sans election commentary. But I think the other part was releasing that compulsion to respond to something every two seconds. In the past year I have read so many opinions and heard so many other voices, I realized I was starting to have trouble hearing my own. The pressure I felt to articulate and share my opinions in real time was overstimulating my tendency towards anxiety. I felt on edge all the time. Then suddenly, during my social media free weekend, I didn’t.
This two day experiment has now turned into two weeks. I have officially deactivated my social media accounts and gone off the grid for the first time since 2003 (MySpace baby!) Here’s how life has changed:
- I am reading more. Now I remember why everyone used to have magazine racks in the bathroom. I am wondering if there is one large enough for the 44 or so issues of The New Yorker I need to catch up on.
- I am more engaged when I watch TV. I actually give partial credit for the idea of this experiment to the show Narcos on Netflix. Since the show is predominantly in Spanish, the subtitles required our full attention. Each time we habitually checked our phones for useless notifications, we would miss something important and have to rewind. It made me realize how much nuance I was probably missing from everything I watched, even sports. The World Series has a lot more drama now that my eyes stay on the screen at the end of an inning to witness the pitcher walk back to the dugout pumping his fist after he just struck ’em out 1–2–3.
- I’m a little less worried about the world. Don’t get me wrong, I am still aware of all the fucked up shit that is going on. I listen to public radio from 9am-630pm Monday through Friday, so I am completely conscious of both local and global crises. However, limiting my consumption to 95% NPR and the BBC has almost completely eliminated any sensationalism from my day. Instead of getting lost in a sea of comments of 1000 other people who were lured in by the same attention grabbing title, I’m reading and listening to the most objective news our culture offers. Those crazy headlines that people post on social media had me walking around worried about a lot of things I can’t control. Now I just think about what I can, and what realistic small role I might be able to play in making some situation better.
- I’ve stopped comparing myself so much to other people. That comparison is the thief of joy line is so true. Twenty years ago, I would have no idea where half the people I measure myself against were even living. Now I know their kid’s names and where they are going on vacation. It’s weird. And I’ve decided it’s unnecessary. Without these people to look back at, I find myself consistently looking forward towards my goals. My idea of happiness is not muddled by other people’s ideas or expectations.
- I am living more in the NOW. This is so basic right? Everyone is always talking about being present. Problem is, when you are thinking about how you are going to share the wonderful thing that is happening — you’re kind of missing the wonderful thing that is happening. Three years ago at Christmas, my then boyfriend surprised me in my hometown and proposed to me in the most wonderful and dramatic way. Instead of posting about it that day, I lived out the entire experience. I went out to Christmas Eve dinner with my family. It felt like I was in a movie. People were passing dishes and sharing stories and laughing hysterically, and I was experiencing it all in the most wonderful slow motion. Time doesn’t slow down like this when you’re trying to capture the moment for sharing. Instead it breezes past you — it’s swallowed by data. We reassure ourselves with photo and video evidence of treasured moments— as if being able to relive them digitally over and over again might be equal or even superior to having really felt them in real time.
Instead of upping my iCloud storage again, I think I’ll start putting my memory to work.
I think maybe the sign that you are getting old is that you start so many sentences in your head with “Back in my day…” I guess this is my day. The thing is, I am a part of this generation that created the digital everything social media age, but also knew life without it. Right now I am thinking that life with less of it, just might be the life for me.