Digitally Deliberate

asdfI’m just coming off a one-month abstinence from social media. A month ago, I marked my phone calendar for yesterday- the one-month mark. I haven’t tweeted or looked at a single Facebook notification or message in all that time- something I haven’t done in about ten years. Honestly, it hasn’t been nearly as bad as I originally feared.

Sure, it was hard at first. The process of pulling your phone out and clicking on the Facebook icon (Twitter/Instagram/Reddit/whatever your poison) when you aren’t doing much else has become a subconscious thing. It’s total habit for a lot of us. It was a complete habit for me, anyway. I didn’t even think about doing it. I put more thought into lighting up a cigarette than I did into pulling out my phone and spending ten minutes scrolling through my feed. I was addicted. It was time to break myself of the habit and reevaluate.

First, I deleted the apps from my phone. I found myself pulling my phone out when I was bored, standing in a line, laying in bed, etc. I’d pull it out and find that there was no app there anymore, then put the phone away almost immediately and do something else (maybe try being in the moment for a change? writing? doing something that drives your life forward?). I also had this habit of opening up my web browser on my desktop computer and immediately typing “Facebook.com” before my brain had even decided what I wanted to do on the browser in the first place. That was just my default destination. I definitely needed a reboot.

As I said, I deleted all the relevant apps from my phone. I also installed an app in Google Chrome that blocked websites I specified and redirected me to my own blog when I entered the blacklisted URL’s. That helped me realize when I was absent-mindedly falling into the social media trap. Facebook (and other similar services) can be as useful or addictive as any drug, much like debt. There’s a lot of information and several studies out there talking about social media addiction, and it’s pretty astounding. I won’t link anything specific here, but it’s not hard to find if you want to fall down that google rabbit hole for a while (just be sure to check your sources).

Once I got the habit broken- I’d say that took about two weeks- it wasn’t bad at all. I didn’t itch for it or pull my phone out all the time. I didn’t sit at the computer and zombie-out over my notifications for half an hour, then waste another hour scrolling the feed. I’m not saying it was all good, because it was a little inconvenient at times. I use Facebook for groups- they’ve basically replaced internet forums for me. I had a question about civil war history for the book I’m writing, but couldn’t get to my civil war history Facebook group to ask. I almost made an exception there, but decided against it for the sake of my personal experiment. There were several instances of things like that happening- things that were totally justifiable uses of the platform (like advertising blog posts or doing project research) and not just idle time-wasting. Maybe you wanted to sell something. Maybe a nice church lady gave you a ride when you ran out of gas and you wanted to share the information for the rummage sale she was setting up for at her church as a way of saying “thank you” (That one really happened. I almost used Facebook to share that flyer to say thanks. Maybe I should have.).

That was the whole point, though, and it worked. I found out what I truly got value from in my usage of social media and was able to separate it from what was just an idle waste of my time. I didn’t even enjoy scrolling through all the bullshit or checking 20 notifications- it was just a chore that I needed to do every day and that was fine.

I’m not saying to abstain from social media or that you necessarily have a problem with how you use it. All I’m saying is to be sure you’re using it in a way that positively affects your life. Sometimes I have something I need to communicate to a large group of my friends/family/acquaintances all at once. Sometimes I need to access a group of people with a specific body of knowledge. Sometimes I need to reconnect with family I don’t see in person all that often. That’s fine. That’s what social media is for. My break wasn’t permanent, and I’m going back in a couple days, but now I’m going in with bad habits removed and a clear view of what matters to me and how to avoid the pitfalls in the future.

If you live a life of minimalism, then live in the digital world just as you would in the physical world. It’s a separate reality, but one that has the same general rules for happiness that the physical world does because it affects your physical life. Think about what actions and activities push you in the right direction. Think about the precious time you spend on things- even when there is no blatant monetary impact. Be conscious. Be deliberate. Every tool has its use, but every tool can be misused.