During our family’s camping excursion into the wild, wonderful wilderness of West Virginia, a side benefit to our time in the tent was the poor wifi. I’d forgotten what a blessing it is to be “unplugged,” and after the initial disappointment period (“Gah, that’s such a cute photo and I can’t share it with the world!”), being a tech minimalist proved to be an enjoyable experience.
So enjoyable, in fact, that I decided to extend it after we returned home.
I’d always been a little envious of my friends who took “breaks” by temporarily deactivating their social media accounts, but told myself, like any addict worth his salt, that “I can quit any time I want to,” rationalizing that I use it for work (which is true).
Except apparently I couldn’t quit, and every time I had a free moment of brain space, I filled it with mindless scrolling — and hated myself for it.
All it took was a few days of “cold turkey” in the wilderness for me to realize exactly how much I wasn’t missing:
- My friend from high school swim team can do a backflip off a diving board.
- A former co-worker’s son finished his track and field season.
- A relative is angry with the Supreme Court of the United States and took a selfie of his middle finger in front of The Marble Palace to prove it.
…And so forth.
These are all interesting facts which may come up in conversation if I ever saw these people in real life. But I haven’t seen them in years (in some cases, decades) and don’t expect to anytime soon.
So I temporarily deactivated my account and deleted the app off my phone, after providing Facebook with the reassurance that yes, I would be back. (Some of my best story ideas have come from social media, and as much as I wish I could ditch it forever, my inner newsie is too afraid of missing out.)
After I deleted the app, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders. Having spent several days away, I knew that whether or not I am present in the world of social media, it will continue without me.
And that is what happened. In my absence, the toxicity, misinformation, hatefulness and bullying went on as usual — as did the good things, which tend to be more elusive: Words of encouragement, rational thought, respectful discourse, goofy kid photos. I just spent a few days blissfully unaware, free to process my own thoughts.
Here is my takeaway:
Picture your brain as a filing cabinet. The drawer labeled “Social Media” is crammed with an ever-growing collection of sometimes-interesting-but-maybe-not-applicable information. Every day, with every scrolling session, more gets shoved in. The filing cabinet gets heavier, carrying the weight of all this unnecessary information. Eventually, maybe the “social media” file leaks into the other drawers because there’s not enough space to contain it.
Then one day — bam! — you slam the social media drawer shut, lock it and throw away the key.
The information inside gradually disintegrates, and the weight of the cabinet gets lighter. Your brain feels less burdened, and better yet, there is more drawer space for useful information that can be applied and enjoyed in the real world.
This is your brain off of social media — free to think, unencumbered, and not tied down by the likes of Jessica from High School’s vehement opinions gleaned from a 30-second perusal of an article on NewsYourWay.net* (*URL invented for the purposes of this writing).
I’m back on Facebook, with limits. I loved my break, and it helped me to establish a healthier relationship with my phone and social media. I no longer automatically reach for my phone if I have 10 minutes of down time.
I no longer care if I’m missing out on things, because guess what I’m not missing out on? Real life unfolding before my very eyes:
My kids sitting on a couch next to each other, reading books as the morning sun comes through the window.
My husband telling me about his work day.
The bird building a nest in the apple tree next to the front porch.
They’re not glamorous and maybe not worthy of a video reel, but they’re real life. And I love them.
Abbey Roy is a mom of three girls who make every day an adventure. She writes to maintain her sanity. You can probably reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, but responses are structured around bedtimes and weekends.