I’m back again, after my self-enforced social media vacuum – no social media for Lent. This was a big deal for a once Facebook-obsessed meme-monster. Lent is a good 6 weeks, not a piffling few days. A good time, then, for inner, personal reflection rather than outward “look what I’m doing now!” exhibition. Or even, “look what I’m thinking now!” scaremongering (more of this, below).
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest – my otherwise constant daily and hourly (and minutely?) companions were duly deleted from my iPhone. I welcomed the break, having experienced the weight of negative feelings which I was increasingly linking to my use of social media. A break would help me to assess what was happening, how I use social media now and how I could perhaps get a more positive experience from it in the future.
It’s quite timely that I write this blog post today (although I’ve been jotting down some feelings throughout the Lent period), when the image I’m seeing a great deal on social media just today is this:
I don’t read the Daily Mail, which is arguably the point! The front cover today has become a meme, ‘gone viral’. Luckily, with my newly developed social media ‘emotional resistance regime’, I can choose not to dwell on the demonic May poster and resulting comments and opinion. But before I delve into the outcomes of my time in the wilderness, I’ll take a look at the reasons why I decided it was all getting a bit too much.
Reasons for leaving
- Negativity, or even downright apocalyptic drama on social media
I’ve never been more switched on politically than right now. We’re living in one of the most tumultuous political and social eras in recent history and no-one knows what’s going to happen. What do you do when you’re uncertain about the future and happen to also live in a time when information is immediate? Some people might choose to switch off. If you’re like me, you might Google ten times a day and fervently scroll through Facebook and Twitter feeds. Someone out there must know what’s going to happen?
I personally became swept up in the drama of Brexit and Trump. The more I looked for information or reassurance, the more horrified and demoralised I became at the often vicious and aggressive commentary happening on social media. At one low point, I found myself navigating to the Fox News Facebook page and reading comments to news posts – I wouldn’t recommend anyone doing this unless you’re particularly emotionally resistant to extreme racism, trolling and division! My own actions were akin to forcing myself to look at the world’s worst slasher movie out of morbid curiosity, but the effect was to come away feeling slightly more downhearted.
- ‘Notification anxiety’
I don’t know if anyone else has this feeling. It’s probably on the OCD scale, like I must know where all remote controls to TV and streaming devices are at all times and they must also be neatly lined up on the coffee table. Similarly, if there are red notifications in the top right hand corner of my Facebook or Twitter app on the iPhone, I can’t stand it. I have to clear them off or it niggles me. Oh to be free of the niggle for 6 weeks…bliss.
- Distraction from the most important things…
Obviously, a combination of notification and world affair anxiety was distracting me from the single most important thing in my life – my 2 beautiful daughters, aged 6 and 4. Increasingly, I’d find I was looking a phone instead of responding to questions, or just not paying attention to what they’re telling me about their day. I’m the one that complains of how they say “I can’t remember!” when asked about their day at school. So why was I incessantly looking at social media when they try to talk to me?
I think my final reason for taking a break was plain boredom and tiredness. Too much of the same thing. The same people, the same groups, the same kinds of photos, the same negativity I was increasingly being drawn to. My thumb was also getting sore from scrolling (is there a name for this? ‘Scroller’s thumb’ maybe!? ). Added to this, it was the end of a rainy, dark February.
How did it go? I’ve been assessing myself through the 6 week period, taking note of what I missed, if anything, and how I felt.
The positives of no social media
- Less anxiety and more relaxation!
I was obviously ready for this as peace came quickly. For the first 1 1/2 days, I did feel at times a little lost, akin to the feeling where you think you’ve forgotten something – a letter you were meant to post maybe, or a task or reminder you’ve forgotten to act upon. After the first day or two, this feeling disappeared. I did, over the course of the 6 weeks, miss a few things which I’ve set out below. But these feelings were few and scarce. I certainly wasn’t pining for any social media at all.
- More time spent on other activities
… and of course this means I had more time for arguably more positive pursuits! I have certainly listened to my children more and enjoyed observing their expressions, the way they speak and move. We’ve done more cooking and baking than ever before in such a period of time. They even helped me make Mary Berry’s self-saucing lemon pudding – quite technical for a 6 and 4-year-old. I’ve also read a lot more – both fiction and non-fiction, online, via my kindle, and even – shocker – in print. I’ve also had far more time to cross off to do list items, which included some major changes in our household.
I have to admit that the urge to fiddle on the phone didn’t get the better of me entirely. My ASOS shopping app got a fair battering, as did the Met Weather app, weirdly. I did avoid news apps however, for obvious reasons, my thinking being that if WW3 is about to start, surely someone will just tell me?
At one point, I got addicted to reading answers to questions on Quora, until my husband reminded me that, technically, this is also social media. However, look up ‘mysteries’ on there if you’re looking for a wacky read.
What did I miss?
This is important as it reflects how I’m going to be using social media differently going forward and my new ‘emotional resistance regime’.
I missed Twitter, but for one reason only – connectivity with my local community. Is my yoga class on, this evening? What events are happening in the local area this weekend? When is that new bar opening? There are a couple of local Facebook groups that I perhaps missed a little for a similar reason; however these do also tend to get bogged down with negative comments, for example “oh that’s just what we need – another wanky bar in the area”. So I conclude Twitter is best for local community information.
And that’s basically it. I didn’t miss Facebook at all, or Instagram or Pinterest. However it did give me time to think about how I might use these apps differently.
My reflection took me back to the emergence of social media and how we could connect more easily and immediately than ever before. This is still valid, but these connections can be used more positively. What do I need them for? What’s important to me and how can I use them for the betterment of myself rather than to feed negative emotion?
It’s a work in progress, but my main points are this:
- I’ve switched off notifications.
- I’ll look at Facebook, but once a day. There are key friends and groups I’ll navigate to. I can’t avoid the memes and news stories of the day, but I won’t be drawn into reading more about them, particularly the commentary.
- I have lists set up on my Twitter account, one of which is for local community groups and accounts of local interest. This is the one I’ll browse, and again maybe once a day. I do have a separate account for work (I work in cancer care) – it’s informative and helpful to look at this feed so I’ll glance at this, too.
- No Fox News or the like, on either Facebook or Twitter!
- I have also defriended a few people (obvious Trump supporters – I’m not apologising for that, either. I just don’t want to read their sh*t. Not so bothered about Brexit supporters as long as I feel they had reasoned arguments rather than a snap response to divisive issues.)
- Instagram, Pinterest. Well, I’ve recently, given my age (40, no less) become interested in gardening and household improvement, for which these apps can be useful. My new regime includes taking a look at these apps perhaps more frequently, but to research practical issues that are positive for my family.
It’s a basic ethos: social media can be positive, but only if I utilise it as positively as I can. In addition, less is more and I need to put the phone down.
My new outlook on social media comes at a testing time, with a snap general election on the way on June 8th! I’m aware of the negativity that’s begun already, but I think one day in to the announcement, I’ve done a decent job of not dragging myself down with it. A more relaxed and refreshed me, with a less sore thumb!