16 years on social media, 16 days off.
Well, after 16 years of living in the ‘web 2.0’ hellscape, I’m thoroughly dissatisfied with the infinite number of infinite scroll websites and I’ve decided to start a blog like it's 2006 again. (Don’t worry I wont start standing on a street corner with ‘free hugs’ signs- my hugs are only free with advertisements and if you want to remove the ads you can pay a monthly subscription fee)
It has taken a few years of knowing that social media was slowly rotting my soul, reading ‘Deep Work’ and ‘Digital Minimalism’ by Cal Newport and watching a few of those ‘get-a-load-of-how-evil-facebook-really-is’ documentaries to make me take some drastic action.
16 days ago I logged off all social media, set up the Freedom App to block them all as well as a bunch of time wasting websites that were sucking my time like a vampire with an extra large blood Slurpee.
I found myself from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to bed constantly connected to the dopamine slot machine these websites have so deviously engineered. In the first blurry few minutes of my day I would jump on Facebook to find out what some distant relative really thinks about Justin Trudeau, then jump over to twitter to confirm that some distant acquaintance who has fallen down the conspiracy rabbit hole has indeed continued to retweet stuff about Bill Gates and the vaccines that makes my blood boil. (boiling blood is a side effect of the vaccine he would say) Then I’d hop over to Reddit to see in quick succession something cute, something outrageous, something mildly interesting, something infuriating, and then some memes about video games i don’t play and STONKS I don’t own. Then it’s over to the half dozen news sites to scan headlines to find out what fresh horrors the world is filled with.
All before getting out of bed.
I’d then continue to doom scroll on the toilet, and I’d often put on a podcast even while in the shower so I wasn’t alone but was instead hanging out with people that feel sort of like friends, but only in the way that Subway feels sort of like a sandwich.
Throughout my day, those little in-between moments where I used to be able to just daydream and think I would compulsively pull out my phone to scratch that itch of boredom, the feeling that there is something ‘just around the corner’. That there is some important piece of news or trending topic that i need to know about. (The fact that I even know who ‘bean dad’ or ‘gorrilla glue girl’ are is deeply embarrassing)
I got really good at jumping between so many websites so quickly, all while listening to a podcast on 1.25 speed, and I got really bad at being able to be alone with my thoughts, to wake up or go to sleep without cradling a screen like a comfort blanket. To walk in silence, to be alone. To be.
I knew it needed to stop, I’ve known it for months. But finally a couple weeks ago I actually did something about it.
Cal Newport in his books suggests a ‘30 day Digital Detox’ where you get rid of basically everything you don’t need for work and essential communication, and then after 30 days to slowly reintroduce the things you feel like you really missed out on, or nothing at all if you didn’t. He also suggests you make up the rules for yourself that feel right for your life.
Here’s the rules I set up for myself.
No screens in the bedroom, at all, no exceptions.
No screen in the bathroom at all, no exceptions.
No screens before 10am- except if I need to get map directions or make a phone call or deal with something work related
No Social Media at all- only exception is to post some promotion for my upcoming summer drawing classes, to help fill up the attendance.
No Video Games at all. (I’ve loved getting into the Witcher 3 recently, but I felt like If I allowed myself that then I’d be on it all the time, playing Gwent and killing wolves)
No News (with the exception of Stephen Colbert and John Oliver clips on youtube, and listening to CBC in my car)
No Podcasts (unless they are related to detoxing from social media use)
Things I am allowing myself
Youtube in moderation
Screens for work and art
Website and blogging
So I’m currently at 16 days in here’s how it’s gone.
Firstly, I feel great. Funnily enough, something about not knowing all the things in the world to be outraged about makes me feel less outraged in general. Starting and ending my day with the quiet of my own dumb thoughts is an unfamiliar, peaceful feeling.
Instead of being in bed on my phone for an hour before getting up, I now lay there for 5 minutes staring at the ceiling, get bored of that, then get up.
For the first couple hours of my day without a screen I just putter around the house doing some light house chores, feed the cats, empty the dishwasher, sweep the floor etc. Then I make myself some breakfast and eat it without watching or listening to anything. After breakfast I make myself tea and drink it while writing in a physical journal.
I used to write in a journal all the time and that stopped completely maybe a decade ago. On the day I started this detox I bought a nice book to write in and some nice pens. It’s a pleasure to use both every day as I write nothing particularly profound- just sort of recap my day prior and look forward to my day ahead. I find it really has helped me clarify what the priorities of the day are and allows my mind to wake up and think about my own life before knowing anything about anyone else or the outside world.
Another thing I’ve noticed has changed in the past two weeks is a lot less procrastinating. If I have a lame chore to do, like to renew my car insurance I’m finding I just have been doing it first thing in the day, partly to get it out of the way but also because there isn’t the usual ability to get distracted online anymore.
I’ve also started listening to a lot more music. For most of 2022 I don’t think I’ve listened to many full albums at all, usually opting for podcasts or youtube videos or news. But now with most of those other things unavailable I’ve been listening to a ton of albums again. Discovering new-to-me music and revisiting old albums I’ve loved in the past has been delightful. Also have been reading more in the past 2 weeks than I had in the past few months combined. For a while I was sitting with a pile of library books by my bed, continuously renewing them while ignoring them for my ipad- now I’m chipping away at that pile.
I’ve also started going on long walks regularly, and whereas in the past I would almost always walk or exercise with a podcast, now it’s either music or even better I just leave my phone at home and listen to nothing at all. At first it was a bit uncomfortable, but now I find I really enjoy walks where I know I can’t distract myself with anything, and I can just be inside my own mind for a while. I’ve found myself more present, noticing smells and sights and the world around me much more than I had been before.
All of this has been very fulfilling- for the most part I’ve been good on keeping to my rules-and I’ve started to feel that sense of smug self satisfaction that comes with being unplugged out in the world and seeing everyone else on their phone and thinking ‘that’s not me anymore’ Yup I’m becoming one of those jerks.
I haven't been perfect, and have definitely had some slip ups. The biggest one is seeing news on Youtube. I rationalized keeping Youtube unblocked by saying I use it for education and often like to listen to music in the background with it. But the problem is the main homepage is still feeding me news stories and things it knows I’m interested in. For the first week I was able to resist, letting the news headlines wash over me but not watching anything, but in the second week I found myself dipping into things I don’t really care about like the Johnny Depp Trial or UK/US politics.
For the next couple weeks that’s something I think I can work on reducing more. I might end up blocking it completely as well, or install an extension that will just block all the homepage recommendations.
I’m going to complete this 30 day ‘detox’ and then and see where I'm at. I really think that severely limiting my news, social media and screen time is going to be a habit I want to maintain into the future. There are some benefits to social media for sure, especially as a freelance artist, but the benefits of more time, more mental clarity, and less outrage and stress so far outweigh them.
I might eventually even go back on something like posting on Instagram in the future, as an artist it sill seems useful to have an active presence on there, but I will look into auto-posting tools where I can set up a month of posts and then just forget about it for 30 days. The trick is being able to leave a new post alone and not check in on it obsessively like a helicopter parent at the playground.
I do truly believe that in the future humans will look back at these social media saturated times as disbelievingly as we now look back at smoking on airplanes and letting kids eat lead paint chips in the 60’s.
All this is to say, that's why I’m here starting a blog instead, and acting like it’s 2006 again.
Niiice, High Five. (Borat Voice)