On May 3, I decided to go three months without Facebook, Twitter, Pintrist, Reddit or Goodreads to see if removing these obvious distractions from my routine helps me focus and be more productive. Today, it has been 3 months.
Brothers and Sisters, the day has come where my three month hiatus from social networking has reached its end – August 3, 2013 has arrived, and it is time to take inventory of what good, if any, came from this exercise.
First, I want to tell you a story.
Jarrod (not his real name) spent time in a detox clinic for methamphetamine addiction. During his detox process, locked in his room with no access to drugs or alcohol, he would stick paperclips in electrical outlets and then lick them just to get a shock. Lacking the ability to alter his reality chemically, any extreme stimuli was acceptable; the more extreme, the better.
Jarrod would also try to cut himself, and denied access to sharp instruments, broke the window in his room and stamped his feet repeatedly on the broken glass. It was safety glass and lacked sharp edges, but he still hurt his feet until the orderlies came in and restrained him. Again, any stimuli was acceptable – even pain; the more extreme, the better.
This is apparently a common practice among recovering drug addicts, and the electrical plugs in rehab hospitals are designed to short out if crossed. Only safety razors are provided to patients. Windows have safety glass and bars. No laces on patient’s shoes.
Still, they try. The chemical addiction, desperation and need to pad reality with a distraction – any distraction, is common.
To quote Warren Zevon – ‘Cause I’d rather feel bad than not feel anything at all.
Now, I can’t possibly say my dependency on social media was on par with Jarrod’s drug addiction, but I couldn’t help but feel something akin to withdrawal symptoms as I started my cold-turkey stint, abstaining from the familiar connections to social media. Just like Jarrod, the first thing I did was seek out new, unproductive distractions to replace my old ones.
Stumbleupon.com became my cocktail of choice. This is just a refined search engine that pulls up pages other users have marked as interesting in a category, such as literature or pop culture. I tried outInstagram and for the life of me, I just don’t get why it is so popular, but that is probably because most of my friends are over 30 and not on Instagram much. There were other sites, too and slowly, I weaned off all of them, but that wasn’t due to my masterful self control. It was just that they were not very fulfilling.
Before, if there were updates on Facebook or Twitter reported on my phone, I would stop what I was doing and jump over to see what they were. Over time, this conditioning had jaded my judgment and confused my priorities. I was like Pavlov’s dog, immediately reacting when an update came in. I would address the messages that are easy to respond to and wait for more time in their day to deal with the ones that require more work and those piled up.
That isn’t technology’s fault. It is my fault for allowing the technology to manage me, instead of the other way around. Instead of letting the technology and their notifications tell me what to do and when, I should be managing the technology and notifications from social media within my own timeframe.
To break this habit, I quit social media for 90 days. So?
What did I really accomplish?
I tested my convictions, because this was a rash decision and I thought about reneging more than once. I made a promise to stay off of certain sites for 3 months and I kept it. Though it was a dumb promise, I remain a man of my word and that’s something, right? Right? *cough*
What insight did I gain?
Without the distractions of social media, I was more productive. I was also more disconnected from friends and family and felt a little adrift. I now realize the benefits of social media and it is not all bad stuff. Yes, there is a lot of noise and clutter, but it also connects me with people I love, like and care about. It connects me with people who make me a better person just because I know them. I like to think that maybe I also have a positive influence on some people, too.
Social media is just one way of doing this, but it is invaluable in the access it provides. That I allowed myself to get wrapped up in how much peripheral junk is out there is a personal failing, but not a comment about social media in general. It’s like dynamite – it can be used productively and can be good, but if you shove it down your pants and light the fuse, notsomuch and is bad. Very, very bad.
Was it a worthwhile experiment?
With some dedicated thought, I could have arrived at the same conclusions about social media I came to from doing a 90 day hiatus, but yes. It was worthwhile. I now appreciate my online friends more than ever, and resent the ever-present noise and distraction less. I also think I will be better and filtering out the crap, but that remains to be seen.
What is my unsolicited advice on the subject of unplugging from social media?
If you’re thinking about unplugging from it all, take a step back and ask yourself what, exactly, you’re trying to unplug from and how you can best manage the process, rather than avoid it entirely. Is there another, less extreme way to accomplish the goals you want to achieve? Try those first. If you are truly addicted and want to unburden yourself from it all, then and only then – unplug.
And for what it is worth, I’m glad to be back. Will I fall back into bad habits? I don’t think so, but time will tell.
Hello World! Look at me!
So maybe, yes. I still need help.
And here are the final Unplugged Memes of the Week:
Yes. It’s true. I printed up exactly two books of the unplugged memes used on this blog for the last 90 days. Be the first to comment and I’ll send you one of the books, still shrink-wrapped and #2 of 2 total printings (can you say, collectable?). Yeah. Anybody. Just comment on this post. It’s yours. Might help steady that wobbly table leg, eh? Anybody.
- Unplugged From Social Media Update: Day 86 – 6 Days to Go (lifein64squarefeet.com)
- Unplugged From Social Media Update: Day 79 – Meh. (lifein64squarefeet.com)
- Unplugged From Social Media Update: Day 65 – The Guilt (lifein64squarefeet.com)
- Unplugged From Social Media Update: Day 58 – Ch-ch-ch-changes (lifein64squarefeet.com)
- Unplugged From Social Media: Day 44 (lifein64squarefeet.com)
- Unplugged From Social Media Update: Day 72 – Don’t stop pedaling (lifein64squarefeet.com)
- Unplugged From Social Media Update: Day 51 – First World Problems (lifein64squarefeet.com)