I did it.
I thought it would be sheer agony, that I would be clawing at my skin. I was afraid I would be forgotten, get left behind, that the weight of isolation would be crushing.
I didn't know if I had it in me to see this through to the end, but I had to prove to myself that I could do it. And I knew I would be the better for it.
I stayed off of social media for ONE MONTH.
What, did you think I ran a marathon? Spent a month in a convent? Don't be ridiculous.
To be honest, the first few days felt a little like the scene in Trainspotting when Ewan McGregor’s character is first coming off heroin. There were nervous twitches and paranoia. The world around me seemed to shrink and distort. How many pictures of beautiful cups of coffee was I missing out on? What life-shattering news about someone’s lunch was I oblivious to? What if we were invaded by Canada and I was the last one to know because I wasn’t on Facebook?
And most importantly (ridiculously), was my day to day living nearly as exciting or colorful if I wasn’t broadcasting it to the world?
One of my favorite bloggers says you have to unplug in order to plug into your purpose. So for one brief month that’s what I did. It was eye-opening and refreshing.
Focus is a skill that requires practice
Every time I hit a snag while writing or found myself wrestling with where to take a new presentation, the urge to refresh my Instagram feed was right there. At first, that was about every two minutes. Eventually I worked up to ten minutes.
Facebook and Twitter didn't help either. Like leeches, they thrive on the blood of wasted time. Suddenly emails started showing up to tell me how many missed notifications were waiting for me, what was trending or what my friends had posted.
Get behind me Satan!
As I learned to silence the itch for distraction, I found that I not only created better work more quickly, I was more inspired about future possibilities. What had been a creative desert for a few months was suddenly blooming with potential projects and ideas.
Temporary road blocks in the creative process turned out to be seeds for future possibilities. But I would have missed them had I quickly run to the internet at the first sign of difficulty. Pushing through built in me the habit of better focus and silencing the daily noise in order to better connect to the more important things around me, whether family, friendships or purpose.
Everyone is trying to sabotage you
Okay, not really. But are all those pictures of beautiful coffee cups, lazy Wednesday mornings and effortlessly sheik Friday nights really helping me to do anything? Unless you count feeling bummed about my life, stressed to live up to filtered awesomeness and wondering how everyone but me figured out how to make coffee shops and brunch a full time job. Then, mission accomplished.
It also just made me secretly wish their coffee would spill all over that perfectly hipster outfit.
Or is that just me? Bueller….Bueller….Bueller
My time on social media had made me cynical, frustrated when I knew a picture was filtering out the hard truth of real life or when it all felt a little too perfect, contrived and slightly manipulated. That is the struggle of social media, is it not? Being authentic while still having healthy boundaries, expressing the beauty in your life without photoshopping the truth away, or bleeding out on everyone’s feed.
The people I want to follow inspire me to live more fully in the present, to run harder towards the race put before me, to love people more extravagantly, or be brave in the face of the difficult. A challenge I want to live up to in my own feed for those that choose to keep a pulse on my little corner of the world.
Friendships do much better when you stop "liking" them
Instead of lazily liking a friends update or creepily staying updated on someone by scrolling through their pictures I actually had to reach out to them.
With a text message and everything. Sometimes I even called or wrote a letter and PUT A STAMP ON IT.
I know. Who did I become??
I quickly realized which friendships had depth and which were surviving on wall updates and feed refreshes. Not that it’s a bad thing to have varying degrees of closeness in friendships! The beauty of social media is that it allows us to stay connected to more people than we normally could.
But most of those connections are surface-level. In the race to gain more followers, friends, and find everyone from our 5th grade class, we fail to cultivate deep connections.
We lose the ability to take our online friendships offline and invest with purpose and intention. Wouldn’t you rather have a handful of people that really know you than thousands that only “like” you?
Stop living life through your camera phone.
And actually start experiencing it. I found myself those first few days wanting to Instagram the life out of, well, life. That fire we built in the fireplace when it was a cold 63 degrees outside. (We live in LA. That's our winter and spring all rolled into one). The biscuits I made for book club. Or my daughter doing pretty much anything.
If you don't Instagram/Facebook/tweet it, did it really happen?
The world might not bear witness to the glorious meal you just had, but you, and whomever you shared it with, will remember the conversation, the atmosphere, and whether or not that dinner actually tasted as good as it looked. It will be like a special secret shared only by the few of you who were privileged to actually live the moment.
Staying on the wagon
I’m now back on social media, though without the same frenetic drive. And I’ve put some guidelines in place to try to stave off the beast. After 5 pm I’m social media free and each weekend, I delete the apps from my phone to keep me from checking until Monday. Some weeks, I don’t even load them back on!
I’m also joining Lara Casey’s #FruitfulSummer challenge of cultivating friendships. All that time I might have spent in the black hole of Facebook is now being poured into a few relationships that I want to grow more deeply. Consider joining me?
Social Media is here to stay. And I am grateful for how it allows me to catch a glimpse into the lives of long-distance friends or find inspiration and encouragement from people I have never met. But I want to follow those that are real, that are not afraid to show life beyond the filtered picture. It’s not easy and I’m the first to struggle with how to be authentic and yet not emotionally bleed out all over everyone’s feed.
I’m sure there will be relapses and I’ll have to keep fighting the creep of social media take-over, but I’m encouraged that there can be a healthy relationship with it.
Okay, now you may go check your Instagram feed to see if you got any more hearts.
What steps might you take this summer to be more present and intentional in your daily life?