It's been 9 months since I quit Facebook.*
It wasn't the first time I'd flirted with going social media free. When my children were tiny and I was studying, I periodically took 30 day absences from Facebook (and chocolate**). It started because when I sat down at my computer to analyse my data and write my manuscript, I was conscious of clicking on the open Facebook tab as a bit of a rest for my brain. One click led to another and I'd find myself heading off to bed a couple of hours later after not accomplishing much. There was such limited time when the kids were asleep and I was alert that later I would regret not having better used the time.
On the flip side, there were many benefits to using Facebook. As a mother in a new city, I connected with other parents, found out about community activities, and posted up to the minute photos of my growing cherubs for my family overseas. As a PhD student working remotely, I connected with other researchers and was notified about conferences, meetings, and sometimes even publications. It is true that I would have heard about some of these things in other ways, but the possibility of missing out or FOMO always brought me back.
Fast forward a couple of years to when my PhD was done and I used some of the extra time on my hands to join the Whole Life Challenge. It's a 6 week programme focused on practicing seven daily habits of health and wellness, including nutrition, exercise, mobilise, sleep, hydrate, well-being, and reflection. One of the weekly well-being challenges was a social medial blackout, to abstain from using social media for the week. This idea wasn't novel to me, but the angry and defensive backlash from participants in my group showed me that it wasn't only new to others, but also threatening in some way. I discussed this with my partner, a web developer, who spends most of his waking hours staring at screens doing really cool stuff and learning really cool stuff. He made me say that last bit, but it's true that there are positive effects to having the world wide web in the palm of our hands. Questioning your gadget use and constant clicking can feel uncomfortable, even to those who are open to discussing it. What if you looked closely and found your own internet use wasn't good for you? Case in point, after a wee chat about this, Jack and I planned to take an internet break on the following weekend. We switched off the wifi and I started to work on an article with an imminent due date, but soon realised that I'd left some of the relevant documentation at work. I drove to my office to pick up the papers and couldn't help myself - I switched on the computer and took an illicit look at my Facebook page... and never confessed!
Over the years I've joined and quit a few social media platforms. During my studies, Pinterest helped provide the brain rest I craved, but it didn't lead down the same sorts of rabbit holes as Facebook. Since then I've joined LinkedIn and Twitter, but left soon after as either I couldn't see the relevance or perhaps I got out before the addictive properties were fully ingrained.
Quitting social media is hard. For the first few days, there is a twitch, a psychological need to check and physical need to click. Soon you start to become more aware of when you use it (or used to use it). The witching hours at our house tend to be 4-6pm when children and adults alike are hungry, tired, and tempers are frayed. Those are the moments when I miss my virtual escape most. Over time the twitch fades as other things begin to fill the void. I've learned that I don't miss what I don't know about; I'm embracing JOMO and leaving FOMO behind. I've found my days to be full and meaningful and I'm coping with moments of nothingness. I have more spare time for the things that are important to me and some of my extra time goes to recreating the most positive features of social media. For example, I have made family photo albums, regularly send personal email correspondence to family and friends overseas, and spend time reading local papers and notices.
It's often said that people on their deathbeds wish they'd worked less. I suspect in the future those in their final moments of life will wish they'd spend fewer moments on social media galavanting the earth as a screen zombie. Will you? If you think you might, take a look at your screen habits and social media usage. How do you want to look back on your life? Think about your goals and how your use of technology can support your dreams. If you think this doesn't apply to you, I dare you to look closer. Start by downloading an app that tracks your internet usage. Have you already spent three years of your life on Facebook? If you have, maybe that's okay with you. But if not, try a social media fast for a predetermined period of time and notice how you spend your non-screen time.
After giving it full consideration, I wonder - will you quit Facebook, too?
*Those of you linking to this article through the MegDrive Facebook page will raise an eyebrow at this. To be clear, I don't have a personal facebook page anymore. I don't have any friends and I don't like or follow anything. I post on the Facebook page to help people find this blog, for now anyway. Sometimes even the MegDrive Facebook page takes a social media break. One day soon, MegDrive might just earn her 100% Facebook Free badge from the clever people over at Basecamp.
**I found that quitting chocolate is bad for me - it has a negative impact on my attention and mood. As it's one of my vices, I do periodically give it up as it helps me lower my bliss point, so I can do with less and love it just the same.