On long road trips when I was young, every few hours (or minutes, if I was feeling a little sassy), I would exclaim, “I’M BORED!”
Okay, so I still do this. Whatever.
My parents’ response? “Good. Be bored. Feel the boredom.”
How many of us know how to be bored anymore? How many of us know how to just BE? On those road trips, I would sit, staring out of the window, watching trees and cars and signs fly by. I would build imaginary futures for myself. I would take a nap. I would be bored. I would be. There were no cell phones, and to this day, reading in a moving car makes me feel road sick.
I don’t know how to be bored anymore. I barely know how to just be.
So here’s a little secret (okay, so probably some of you know): for the past month, I (Radhika) haven’t been consuming social media. I learned a lot during this time, and wanted to share some of that here for any of you that are struggling with social media and think that a little break could be beneficial for you.
Before I talk about what this break has taught me, I want to explain what this has and has not looked like for the past month.
This HAS looked like me:
- deleting the Instagram and Facebook apps from my phone.
- not looking through my Instagram feeds (personal and professional) on the computer (or through that Facebook notification thing — side note: what is that about anyway?).
- not consuming others’ work on Facebook and Instagram.
- helping to curate our feed through a third party app that syncs with Ian’s phone so that he can caption and post.
- not consuming ideas on Pinterest.
This HAS NOT looked like me:
- completely stepping away from my business.
- not knowing or having any say in what gets posted on Instagram.
- never getting on Facebook (I got on Facebook through my computer for various things, like posting on Beloved Book Club or if the world needed to see a photo of #puppygirliris).
- having a mental breakdown that I needed recovery time for (that being said, I don’t want to make light of this — I know many people for whom social media has taken a real toll psychologically; that just isn’t what is happening with me).
So why, then? Why did I do this? For three main reasons:
- To just be: As I mentioned above, I don’t know how to be bored anymore. On a Saturday afternoon this past month, after an already fairly full day, I curled up and took a nap with Iris on the couch. Ian was out helping a friend, and when he came home, it was 5:00 pm. On this day, we had already had TWO breakfast meetings to interview friends for an article we are writing, and had gone to a third friend’s house to help jump start her car. Arguably, we had already done some good stuff and we had been awake since 7:00 am. But when I woke up, I felt despair that I had “wasted” the day and had so much guilt for taking a nap. That is insane! Have any of you felt this way? While this isn’t directly connected to social media, I think it really speaks to my inability to just be, as my parents told me when I was growing up. How many times am I unable to stand in a line at a store and just wait, phone-free? How many days do I reach for the phone as my first waking act? How many times am I in person with a friend, only to be looking at what others are doing on social media?
- Time: I recognized that I was consuming so much stuff through social media. Just like with food, you become what you consume so you have to be careful. And while I’m lucky to consume some really high quality feeds on Instagram, I found that I was spending way too much of my time on it. You can eat spinach, but when you’re doing it for 2-3 minutes roughly 30 times a day, it’s kind of an issue. Sorry, Popeye. While those numbers are an exaggeration, I was tired of how much consuming I was doing. Before this month, I tracked my time for a few weeks and was surprised and unhappy with how much of it was spent on social media. And I couldn’t help but wonder how that was affecting what I was producing.
- A challenge: I have probably been on Instagram every day for the past three years. That sounds like an addiction of sorts to me. While I certainly don’t take addictions lightly or think that real addictions can be solved by “challenging yourself,” I did want to see what it would feel like for me to challenge myself to give those things up. As I noted, I did get on Facebook because the point of this wasn’t to totally disengage with my life and the people in it. The key here is that instead of consuming others’ posts, I was only getting on for a few seconds to post something (therefore, producing something). Was I perfect at this? Did someone’s post never catch my eye? No, I’m human. The point is that I consumed far less than I would have without this intention, and I’m okay with that.
What I learned:
- There is power in numbers: A friend started her own social media-free month around 10 days before I did. It was really helpful to check in on each other, talk about tips and tricks, and see how things were going. If you are considering going social media-free for a while, check to see if you can find an accountability partner.
- It’s okay that people don’t know what I’m doing all of the time: In the first few days without social media, I found myself reaching for my phone to take a photo of Iris or a lavender-something or a cool place we were going (or all three at once). When I realized I couldn’t share it, taking the photo just wasn’t as important. Not because I didn’t enjoy what I was doing, but because I realized that I could enjoy it just as much by being present and not taking a photo of it.
- I can leave my phone behind: In general, I don’t take very many photos on my phone that I don’t plan to share (I know, I know, #bougiephotographerlife), so I just started leaving my phone behind at times. I left it plugged in upstairs for entire weekend mornings and afternoons, left it at home when I knew I would be going somewhere with Ian, or just didn’t take it out of my purse for hours while out. It felt weird to be so unattached, but I realized that most things that people need to contact me for just aren’t that urgent, and that feels great.
- Being bored = brain overload (in a good way): So what did I do with all of this time? I spent a lot of it thinking. In the car to Asheville and on the plane to Princeton for weddings, we talked and planned a lot. I’ve known for a while that during stretches of time where I just get to think a lot and can live at a slightly slower pace (e.g. winter holidays, …the shower), my brain can work differently and I often come up with my best ideas. And so I dreamed up a lot of personal projects and other things that are in the works. More to come — maybe — I might keep some of these to myself!
Where I struggled:
- Peak: Around half way through the month, I heard of and downloaded an app called Peak, which helps you increase your cognitive skills over time. It was a lot of fun, but I found myself turning to it for more than the recommended 15 minute ‘workout’ each day. All of a sudden, I realized that Peak had become social media for me — just another way to distract myself when I didn’t feel like settling into ‘being.’ I didn’t delete the app, but limited myself to only using it three times a day at first, and then decreasing to one from there.
- Missing things: About one week in, I realized that I wasn’t checking my phone obsessively and therefore didn’t need it all the time. Because of this, I often missed some things. In fact, I was called out for a friend for forgetting to respond to a text and found myself slacking on phone-related things in general! If I saw a text at an inopportune time, I would sometimes forget to respond for hours/days because it wasn’t marked unread and I wasn’t looking at my phone all the time. I don’t want to be that person, but it did make me think about how many different ways people can contact me (text, email, FB messenger, calling, Insta DM) and how I really wish those were streamlined.
- Connection: Social media actually does connect us; that’s one of the reasons it’s so powerful. I’m sure I missed some things while off Instagram and Facebook and I did not use my extra time to connect with people in other ways (e.g. calling them on the phone) more than I already do. So there were times when I felt like I had no idea what was happening in the lives of some people who I’m primarily connected to through social media, and that didn’t feel great. I regularly talk to a friend who lives in another state 1-2 times a month, but the business of the summer caught up with us, so we had not talked in a while. When she found out that I hadn’t been on social media in a month, she said, “Wait, so you actually don’t have any idea what’s been going on in in my life?” In an ideal world, I see my friends all of the time and we talk at least once a week. But in reality, that’s not the case, and it’s assumed that at least some portion of what we share through social media will do the talking for us. I get to see my friend in person soon, but if I do a break again in the future, it’s going to be important for me to consider beforehand who I will lose connection with and how to regain that in other ways. Luckily, if someone sent us a message on our business Instagram or left us a nice comment, Ian told me about it.
- Speaking of which: Ian would sometimes see something interesting on social media and tell me about it. I’m not sure this is an actual problem, and it really only happened once a week or so, but it did make me feel connected in a way that others who take a social media break and don’t have business partner/husbands probably don’t. I also wasn’t sure I was “breaking” my own rules. If I take a break again, I might reconsider letting him share what he found interesting with me, but most likely I wouldn’t. I’m Ian’s partner, and that means I get to be the person he processes things with. And if, once a week, that thing is something I don’t really need to hear but can live with, that’s fine by me.
Well, simply, I don’t know. As I’m writing this, I haven’t had the apps back for long enough to know exactly how to proceed. While I love structure, putting time limits on getting on an app or using Instagram for the long-term just doesn’t feel right for some reason, like I should be able to show more self-control without setting time limits on myself. If you have ever left social media for a while and gone back, I would love to hear from you! In the meantime, I’m going to try to take what I’ve learned and use those lessons even if there is an app I can click on now when I don’t want to “just be.” More importantly, I’m going to act on some of those plans I made in my month off and strive to produce just as much as, if not more than, what I consume on social media.