I’ve never lived in a world where computers weren’t part of the general cultural miasma. I can’t even lay claim to a time without social media, really. My family had Internet, of the dial-up variety, before I turned four. My mom even met my dad, not long after leaving my biological father, over AOL instant message. I spent my childhood playing Newgrounds flash games and trawling the Neopets forums.
All of this to say that giving up social media, albeit briefly, wasn’t even like quitting smoking. Unless the cigarette had been grafted in my hands straight from the womb.
I took a Social Media and Society class this term. Our first assignment? To detox from social media for 24 hours. Because I, in my hubris, laugh it off, I ultimately opt to cut myself off for 48 hours. In the first 24 hours, I cut myself off from all digital media. Social media, email, texting, the Internet. For another 24 hours following that, technology returns to my routine, save for all social media.
The logic’s to see how deeply ingrained social media is in our day-to-day lives but by the end of the whole exercise, I find myself swearing that my professor’s a Luddite with a millennial hate-boner (for the record, she’s a lovely person).
Right before I considered my detox official, I systematically go through my phone settings and turned off all of my push notifications, lest I find myself tempted to abandon ship in the wake of a notification flurry. I post on Facebook to warn everyone that I won’t be reachable, leaving myself with only the ability to take and make phone calls.
It’s peaceful, at least at first. My smartwatch, a Fitbit, isn’t continually buzzing with a million notifications. I spend the day with my girlfriend and already feel more present in the moment. Though there’s a distinct itch in my skull as I watch her check her notifications and various social media apps.
I almost live through her when she did this in bed, like a former smoker inhaling nicotine smoke from other, current smokers.
I find, at least at first, that I don’t miss trying to keep up with my Facebook newsfeed. It doesn’t take long to realize that 90% of my notifications are utterly useless: newsletter emails I never actually read, messages that aren’t in need of an urgent response. I consider just leaving my push notifications off for good, even after the detox ends.
I’m back to using the Internet again by day 2. This time, however, I continue to restrict myself from using most social media. Through denying myself just social media, I feel the pangs of my detox that much more strongly.
I accidentally log into Facebook, out of habit, while trying to work on homework. Though I catch the error, I grow resentful of not being able to clear my over-40 Facebook notifications.
It’s here that the amount of time I spend on social media, predominately Facebook, hammers in. The day feels longer. I grow more productive, hammering out a couple homework assignments and catching up on freelance work within an hour. Still, I grow bitter over my lack of social media. Sometimes, I swear my pocket buzzes even when I know my phone is off.
40+ notifications greet me when I finally do return to Facebook. Not a single one of them was urgent. I’m sure that means something but I already find myself far less irritable as social media swiftly moves back into my life.
But something about my separation from Facebook makes Facebook lose some of its allure. I spend maybe five minutes on it at a time over the next couple days. The irony of sharing this blog on Facebook is not lost on me.
For the record, I don’t see social media as a great evil. In many ways, it’s become one of the only ways I can keep in touch with some of my friends and family. But there are many things I don’t miss. The continual buzzing of notifications, for one. Then there’s all the stock I put into getting likes and comments on my post. Can I use social media without buying into the worst aspects of it? Likely not. By next week, I’ll mostly be back to normal.
Part of me did like the quiet. I opt to cull my push notifications, leaving only texting, instant messaging, and email. Then I turn my phone onto Do Not Disturb and enjoy the silence.