Last Saturday marked the final day of my 30-day social media cleanse. Both clients and friends have expressed curiosity around my experience, so I thought I'd share publicly. This article is lengthy compared to most; it feels that important. Advanced apologies to those of you who have to rally in order to read something longer than a status update. If that sounds like you, all the more reason to READ ON. ;)
The impetus to unplug (from Facebook in particular) had been building for awhile. Interaction with my newsfeed had become increasingly similar to my relationship with lattes and red wine. Totally a treat in small doses, still damn good in moderation, and pretty much toxic once dependency became the norm. Scrolling had become a chronic escape - laced with the subtle and superficial anxiety that characterizes any addiction. I decided it was high time to see what would happen if I were to quit cold-turkey.
30 Days without Facebook :: Here's what I learned >>>
The first solid day of my social media fast, I noticed an unfamiliar spaciousness in my schedule. This surprised me, as I didn't think I logged that much time on the book of faces. But as it turns out... I. so. did. It was my go-to distraction more often than I cared to admit and as it turns out, it was taking up quite a bit of mental and emotional bandwidth.
I'd check Facebook first thing in the morning, scroll my newsfeed while having a cup of hot tea. Less than an hour later I'd be back at it, tracking post engagement via my iPhone just before heading in to teach a class. After my morning workout - still dripping wet with sweat and endorphins - I'd responding with Pavlovian-like obedience to message notifications and red alerts demanding my attention. On and on it went each and every day... five minutes here, ten minutes there... mindless scrolling... precious minutes devoured by an insatiable newsfeed. Results are now in: It added up to hours at the end of each day. And as a business owner I had convinced myself that all of this was necessary. Within 2-3 days I realized with emphatic certainty that it wasn't; I'd been under a spell.
#1 ~ THE URGENCY of social media is a LIE (& I'm calling its bluff!).
This first realization was the most immediate and palpable - a reminder of something I learned in my first business course over a decade ago: what's urgent is rarely what's important. Business or not, the incessant accessibility of social media is misleading to our senses. We set up notifications as a convenience, but in reality they result in energy wasted. Not to mention, we become so reactive to external digital cues that it keeps us from being responsive to what it is we value in any given moment.
I had attuned myself to a digital fixation... a little red circle inviting me to pop-on, peruse, post, process, and re-present my virtual self to the world. And as soon as I was no longer chronically main-lining a perpetual content drip... once I abruptly quit... I felt the familiar relief and terror on the other side of any addiction. A vast expanse of unknown; the spaciousness of countless possibilities unattended to. What was "urgent" could no longer derail me from all that was important. Suddenly all that mattered was what mattered to me, now. And oh shit... what WAS that? [Cue: usual reach for phone as distraction from the answer; with Facebook disabled, my phone echoed with silence]. Suddenly I had no choice but to consciously attune myself to more internal cues.
What would a sudden surplus of time and space amount to? The most immediate results weren't what I expected. I didn't work on my book or catch up on emails. I hardly touched my laptop for nearly a week, and my phone battery lasted three solid days instead of one. I nested and enjoyed the sensation of un-invaded mental space. My home transformed into a sanctuary as I used my free time to pour attention into my three-dimensional reality. There was greater stillness within my mind. I felt more content, stress-free and at peace in my heart.
And though I wasn't trying to be productive (like, at ALL) I watched my to-do list dwindle before my eyes - primarily due to the fact that I wasn't perpetually adding to it. No longer did I have a dozen open tabs in my browser weighing me down with must-see articles, videos and limited time offers. I didn't keep up with him or her, decide on this or that, or chronically compare myself to every other woman/writer/coach/agent of inspiration within a million mile radius. I wasn't adding to my to-do list at all... I was free to source my priorities from within once I stopped concerning myself with others. Which led me to an even greater realization.
#2 ~ POPULARITY isn't productive (at least for me it sure in the hell isn't!).
Must. create. online. presence. Must. gain. more. likes. Look!, says the ad box... so-and-so has x-many likes and followers. How many do YOU have? Social proof has become the new currency and divorcing the digital onslaught suddenly freed me from a self-imposed pressure to prove myself via online metrics. I won't pretend that this is true for everyone but in MY line of work, popularity doesn't pay the bills or align me with those whom I most want to serve. Resonance. Trust. Loyalty. Word of mouth. Those who genuinely want what I bring... they respond and spread the word organically. That's how lasting relationships with loyal readers and clients have developed over the years; and it hasn't really changed much, even in the new age of social media.
Clients gained through product launches, social networking campaigns and/or Yelp! had rarely stuck around. I had been "buying" into the idea that online marketing and visibility was key... but the truth is, it had never translated into dollars and/or the quality of engagement that delivers meaningful results. I was gaining more "likes" and "engagement" but how is that productive when: 1) it doesn't create meaningful or lasting connections and 2) it continually keeps me from doing what I am designed to do. And even if heightened visibility via social media will somehow lead to long-term payoffs, it certainly doesn't feel worth the current full-time investment it's requiring. Not even close.
Upon logging off, my productivity did go way up... but with an unexpected twist. By sequestering myself from the incessant pressure of the online rat race, my priorities shifted pretty considerably. For a month now I've been doing what I feel genuinely called to do versus circumnavigating the maddening insistence of what so much outside influence would have me attend to. I'm being more deliberate in my choosing of who and what I want to spend my attention, time, and energy on. Which led me directly to another realization:
Too much social media makes me anti-social. Generally speaking, my empathic sensitivities can lead me to be somewhat resistant to social engagement. And sometimes I even use "introversion" as an excuse to justify what is something else altogether - emotional avoidance. Well as it turns out, Facebook had been giving me another convenient excuse to do just that - hold friendships and relationships at an arms length. About a week into my fast I noticed a largely-foreign desire surfacing in me. I yearned to see people in the flesh... to reach out for real-time connection. I called friends. I set up tea dates. I enthusiastically dropped in for eye contact and deep sighs of appreciation. Leading me to the most obvious of ah-hahs.
#3 ~ CONNECTION will never replace intimacy (yet it was certainly keeping me from it!).
Without a doubt social media offers us connection. When it comes to maintaining associations from a distance, I am a big fan of technology and its virtues. Real-time photos of far off family members, snapshots of other worlds, global exposure of social causes, and courageous ones who inspire me from afar... all of these are invaluable connections that I missed during my hiatus. Things I'll continue to enjoy moving forward. Having said that:
I'd saturated myself in connection and used it to bypass deeper levels of intimacy. I'd been trading-in the rich vulnerability of one-on-one for the safe distance of virtual engagement. As we all know, intimacy delivers riches that digital connection could never afford us. To be intimate is to offer the gift of full presence and raw truth without diluted distraction, filters, or (and this is of utmost importance) the need for collective validation. True intimacy requires a level of confidence, courage and authenticity that online networking will never be able to replicate.
All things considered in my own cost-benefit analysis of social media, Facebook is starting to become a cluttered wasteland of diminishing returns. And yet so many of us (me included) consider it utterly indispensable. When I shared with friends and colleagues that I was going social media free for thirty days, I heard the same thing again and again" "Wow, that sounds fabulous! I wish that I could do that. But I HAVE to be on Facebook. Ya know... for business." This I get; I've uttered those words verbatim. Yet now I'm starting to question this entrepreneurial assumption, particularly as the landscape of social media shifts. Times they are a-changin, and Facebook is no longer the grassroots marketing forum that it used to be.
#4 ~ VISIBILITY isn't guaranteed (unless you wanna pay for it via engagement or dollars).
Social media has changed dramatically in the past five to ten years. It's reached a critical mass of dependency, leading to more advertisers and algorithm-directed content. More algorithms = less customization, resulting in a force-fed experience. For example, on my newsfeed (even my on Close Friends feed, supposedly customizable) I longer see an equitable sample of posts from people I've selected. I see posts seemingly at random or via avid junkies. Friends that post inconsistently aren't even visible much of the time, no matter how I tweak my settings or how far down I scroll. On my main newsfeed, space previously devoted to people of my choosing is now reserved for ads... featured posts from colleagues willing to pay for visibility.
It is rapid progression toward an engagement-reward model where "being seen" on Facebook is reserved for like/share-happy addicts, corporate entities with marketing teams, and/or pay-per-click advertisers. It's an at-your-fingers digital slot machine that feeds on attention. Constant engagement is king. Therefore, for those of us who want a life outside of a newsfeed, Facebook's relevance is rapidly diminishing. We are slowly and incrementally being cast into the shadows while simultaneously being robbed of choice; and when choice is compromised a tool rapidly begins to lose potency. We no longer power it. It powers us.
And yet having said ALL that, I'm not done with Facebook. Not yet anyway. Its benefits still weigh in heavily; and there are many things that I missed while I was away. People and opportunities that made me fall in love with social media in the first place... I'm not ready to give those up. My intention here is to share with you how exactly I will be more conscious moving forward. Engaging less and investing more in a life outside of the cries of hungry news feed.
If you can relate to any of the above, I invite you to JOIN ME. Question the fallacies that drive social media addiction: a false sense of urgency, fixation on metric validation, trading connection for intimacy, and unconsciously giving your attention-as-currency to what is rapidly becoming a digital money machine.
Social media doesn't have to be a fixating time-suck... it can be softer, more fluid and playful... and in support of everyday living in real life. Scrolling is a choice, not a necessity.
When you feel a digital reflex kick in, here are 3 very simple steps at your disposal:
1. Move cursor, top right.
2. Drop down menu selection: "Log Off"
3. Scroll the newsfeed within that bold & beautiful heart of yours...
& share in real time.