What I learned after taking a year off from social media

red yellow and blue kite flying under blue sky during daytime - how i felt after a year off from social media

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

Do you have a torn love-hate relationship with social media? Have you considered ditching it and wonder what it might be like to live unattached from the Instagram or TikTok firehose? I took a year off from social media and discovered a few things.

The backstory

I’ve been on social media since the beginning. I was on ICQ in the 90s and Friendster (predating Myspace) when it launched. My Twitter handle is simply the three letters of my first name @Lon. I’ve launched companies and campaigns on social media, and I’ve been personally inspired by people I would have never encountered otherwise. 

Even though the negative impacts of social media usage are well documented, I’m not anti-social media. I love the connections that can form, its real-time nature, and the behind-the-scenes look into the lives of friends and people that fascinate me. I believe it can be a tremendous launchpad for social activism. I own Facebook stocks. And no, I don’t worship Zuck, nor do I have the mark of the beast. Some genuinely good people work at social media companies who are trying to create value while trying to grow their business like any other. 

I agree with social media advocates that it's merely a tool. You ultimately get to decide what you do with it. The problem is that other tools like hammers and bank accounts aren’t actively engineering ways for us to stay hooked on them daily. There are powerful forces that aren’t working in your favour. You might feel impervious to its lure and influence, but billions of dollars in advertising beg to differ. As someone who’s worked in social media marketing, brands invest in it because it consistently works. 

I’m a Seven on the Enneagram personality model, so I’m highly prone to chasing all of the shiny new things. Social media is a mouthwatering buffet for my type. I’ve always wanted to taste a bit of everything the world has to offer. Fear of missing out is a thing for me. At the same time, I long for what’s real and what’s deeply human. I didn’t want to find myself devolving into a fomo sapien, constantly on the lookout, reacting and living at the surface of life. 

The shift

For a few years, I’ve been seeking more focus for myself. I had read Cal Newport’s Deep Work (which ironically took months because I was so distracted). It solidified for me how often I was pouring energy into chasing irrelevance. I’m someone who has always felt that I’ve had a lot on the go and not enough time, and yet it became apparent how much time I spent mindlessly scrolling or incessantly ‘checking’ and breaking the focus I sought after. I desperately wanted to decrease my inputs while increasing my level of presence. 

It’s hard to quantify what it’s cost me. Research has shown that heavy social media usage is linked to increased rates of depression as well as a decrease in life satisfaction and overall well-being. There are even camps now for adults to digitally detox and spend time off the grid.

I didn’t plan on taking a year-long social media sabbath. There was no grand announcement or personal commitment. I merely took a break to focus on some personal projects and realized I didn’t need to go back. A month went by, then three, then six. The apps deleted on their own due to infrequent usage. 

It was nowhere near as hard as I thought it’d be. 
And maybe giving up social media is not as much of a loss as you think it might be. 

Here’s what I noticed during a year off from social media

I didn't miss much

But what do I know? I wasn’t tuned in enough to feel any fomo. I may have been slightly out of touch with some friends and events, but those who knew me found other ways to keep me in the loop with what mattered.

My overall screen time stats dropped significantly

My number of pickups dropped from 250/day down to 30 on average. What was there left to check now without social media? No more emerging hours later, dazed from an endless Instagram wormhole. There was nothing to post or update or reply to. In a day and age where it seems we’re all content creators, there was now no funnel that needed filling. I still think the desire to create is very human, but I was able to explore other outlets, like write a book

I felt outside of the matrix

I’d hear people vent about how social media was frying their brains or impossibly seductive, and I’d simply nod. Sometimes I’d feel a sense of being better than, but mostly I felt empathy because I knew the feeling all too well. I had pulled myself out of something I never thought I'd leave.

Some interactions were awkward because we tend to assume we're all caught up on what's the latest. Each time I emailed someone asking how they were, it also felt a bit archaic. 

I’m still addicted to finding ways to fill my time

Whether it’s diving into cryptocurrency or digging into the latest covid stats, I haven’t shaken my habit of always seeking more. One difference is that my inputs are far more on my own terms now rather than served up by an algorithm. 

I still sought validation

I want a sense of significance as much as the next person, but I was able to transfer it much more towards what mattered most to me–Did my partner and children feel seen today? Did I put in the work towards projects I cared about? Those are really good days.

I was more present in my own life

Not that much visibly changed. I still get upset and take pictures of my food, but I’m far more aware of each moment now. My insides are quieter. I sleep more, read and write more, and I take time to do completely unproductive things like staring out the window and simply being. 

If you haven’t tried a social media detox yet, maybe this is your chance to try.

Some tips on how you can reduce or remove social media from your life
  • Start small. Try disconnecting for a month, a week, a day. You don’t need to go cold turkey all at once. The never again approach can be too overwhelming for some.
  • Change the settings on your phone to reduce notifications or set up time limits on your social media apps. Try deleting or logging out of your accounts. I get curious at times, but the barrier to checking is too high for me to bother.
  • Find an alternative that’s so compelling that it replaces your desire for social media. You could always post about it after 😜  but maybe this is your chance to discover what really lights you up. 
  • Be intentional when you do use it. When my kids ask for screen time, I almost never say no. I simply ask them for what and for how long. If it’s to binge four shows for two hours, that’s fine. Be clear and mindful of what you’re committing yourself to, and don’t go beyond that. 
I'm jumping back into social media

I’m about to break my year-long social media hiatus. Unashamedly, it's mostly for self-promotional reasons with the book being released. I'm giving myself 3-months to reevaluate my relationship with it. I’m hoping to return wiser and use it in more measured and healthy ways than in the past. 

If you get value out of my content, of course, I’d love for you to follow me. Or, better yet, rather than having a social media platform algorithm mediate our connection, join my email list for the latest.

May you find presence, focus, and connection in our increasingly noisy world.

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