Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Social Media Sabbatical: Try It. You Might Like It.

Last month I decided to do a digital detox because my social media use was getting a wee bit out of control. What I learned during my time away from social media was that the world won't end if I don't know everything as it happens and that it's easy to slip back into bad habits. Let me break it down for you because unlike Sway, I got the answers

1. Whatever happened, you'll find about it eventually

When I first started the detox, I felt like I was missing out of what's going on the world. More importantly, I felt left out of a massive global conversation facilitated by social media, and I didn't like feeling like an outsider. I mean, is everyone hanging out without me? In the beginning it seemed like there were so many things to tweet and post, and I couldn't share any of it. Argh!

However, even though I was taking a social media break, I wasn't taking an Internet break. Consequently, I probably scoured news sites and blogs more than usual to find out what was going on the world. Once I did, I realized that while I probably could have discovered info about the latest and greatest earlier, I eventually did find out what was going on, and my world didn't end. Imagine that.
2. I'm not alone

Once I detached from social media, I became more aware that I wasn't the only one who spent way more time looking down at a touch screen rather than looking up at the people right in front of you. You know what I'm talking about: You're having a meal with a friend or hanging out at an event, and you pull out your phone. Whether it's scrolling through Instagram or checking Facebook or Twitter, many of us have mastered the art of  the non-conversation conversation when pleasant banter fades into silence because we're looking down at our phones. I don't want to continue to be one of those people, and I don't want you to continue to be one of those people either. It will be hard at first, but I promise you can do it. 

3. Freedom from social media = Free time

During my detox, I realized that I had more free time on my hands. Normally this would be a good thing, but all the free time I had reminded me of how much time I actually waste scrolling on my phone and laptop. I could have been coming up with the next Big Idea or cooking a mean lasagna, but instead I was peeping through the windows of other people's lives (or what they want us to believe about their lives) via social media. Hmmm...I think I'll go come up with that Big Idea now and find out more enriching ways to fill my making that lasagna.

4. Social media needs a purpose to keep it from being a GIANT timesuck

Back in the early days of social media, especially Twitter, there was a lot of advice out there about how to not be annoying on social media and how to provide "value" to your followers. While well- intentioned, I honestly don't think the advice took hold for most of the Twitterverse because I see a lot of stuff that adds no value to my life, but maybe that's just me.

I'm learning that social media needs to have a purpose to keep it from becoming a depressing and self-loathing waste of time. Whether that purpose is to connect with your favorite writers or follow the hashtag of a popular TV show, you need structure when consuming social media, and yes, there's freedom in structure. Look for what you need, find it and then get out of dodge...Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr...all of it! If you don't, you'll find out some new things, but you'll miss more important things, like actual human interaction, if you don't stop staring at your phone.

5. Diving back in after going cold turkey is NOT a good idea

After my detox I felt proud and excited by what I had learned about myself and my habits during the process. However, when I got back on social media, I made the mistake of diving back and playing catch up. From there it was just a hop, skip and a jump back into most, but not all, of my bad habits. The lesson: Once again, have a plan! Just like you reintroduce certain foods into your diet after a fast, reintroduce social media slowly back into your life in a purposeful way with guidelines and limits.

For example, only check Instragram once a day when you're on the train. Scroll through your Twitter feed for only three minutes every other day. If you survived a detox, you can do this. Your eyes, fingers and your phone battery will thank you.  

The moral of this story? Social media has obvious advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, it can introduce you to people and ideas that enlighten you in unexpected ways. On the other it can be a timesuck of meaningless, tiresome chatter and pretty pictures that add nothing to your life and kill your brain cells, if you don't manage it with purpose. The choice is yours.

Stay random,


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