The experiment I never thought possible.
It is January 31 and for 31 days I logged off Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok as a sort of sociological experiment with myself.
But, Kate, you work in marketing…how can you just not participate in social media?
Great question. I’m glad you asked.
It is a question I have asked myself multiple times over the years when I contemplated a social media fast like this and what also kept me from pulling the trigger. It was my excuse for trying something a little radical (for me and for my profession).
Here is the back story.
I have known for quite some time that I probably have an addiction to scrolling social media. If you were to light up my brain like a lab rat, you would probably see dopamine hit after dopamine hit when someone commented or liked my post…or even as I scrolled through clothing ads from my favorite brands and clicked “add to cart.”
Having babies made it worse. I cannot even bring myself to admit how much screen time I logged while nursing children late at night or becoming “nap-trapped” holding a sleeping baby.
The pandemic made it worse. Isolated, fearful, and seeking distraction—to Instagram I went.
Working fully remote from home made it worse. “I am stumped on my next introduction to this section…I’ll just scroll on my phone for a minute,” I would think. Hundreds of times a day (probably).
Let me just say if you haven’t figured it out by now, this is a vulnerable blog post. But I think of Brené Brown always saying vulnerability is one of the most important attributes for connecting with others and sharing your truth. So here is mine.
I have been in counseling for multiple years now and I attribute it to helping me not have postpartum anxiety with my daughter like I did with my son.
I was talking with my counselor over the past year about my tendency to overspend or shop online even when I didn’t necessarily have money in my budget to do so. Let me be clear. It has never been some sort of massive debt problem. It’s a little bit here and there, like small cracks on a frozen lake. It doesn’t cause a huge hole, but the cracks are there, hurting the integrity of an overall healthy financial plan.
It sometimes feels embarrassing to talk about, but I wanted to get to the root of what causes the rush I would get for buying insignificant things. After studying my patterns and making connections, there was one clear connection–social media scrolling led to buying more things I did not need at least 85 percent of the time.
So, in the spirit of Dry January, when people tend to quit something they might have overconsumed in the past to give the year a fresh start, I took my own version of a social media fast. I still let myself peruse LinkedIn from time to time because that was not a problem platform for me and kept me at least loosely connected to the working world–but that was it.
Here is what happened over the past 31 Days.
- Detox and Withdrawal
The first few days after I deleted the apps from my home screen, my muscle memory was insane. It was now my weather app where the social icons used to be—and boy did I check the weather.
I used to watch instagram stories while blow drying my hair. What should I do now? Sit and think?
- I lost my phone a few times.
Sure, it was just in the house, but I detached myself so much from it without needing social media entertainment that I actually didn’t know where I left it. Wow, that was freeing.
- I only bought a few things–and they were mostly intentional.
I am a sucker for a sale notification so I did have one slip-up when an email newsletter got me with a heck of a deal. But mostly I didn’t overspend.
- I read four books, including an 800-page presidential memoir.
I really liked this pivot of picking up a book, even when sitting with family, when I might have doom scrolled instead.
- I got really into Google Photos’ Memories.
Every day Google Photos collects fresh memories and videos–I shared them with my son and it brought joy each day.
- I started my day reading.
I used to pick up the phone and go straight to check social media notifications. This month, I spent time in reflection and slowly reading long form journalism.
- I looked in the mirror less.
This one was strange–but I noticed it when I discovered hours after I had made a chocolate cheesecake with my kids that I had chocolate on my face. As a 36-year-old, I am pretty regularly fed content telling me I need to improve my image by fighting aging, pursuing thinness, and using certain makeup products to look good. But with less of these messages, subliminal or outright, it held less power over me.
- I was SO MUCH MORE PRESENT.
This was apparent to me when I visited my family one weekend in January. Usually my social media usage increases while traveling because I am out of my routine and the discomfort of that pushes me to self-soothe. But I just sat with it and ended up having better, more meaningful conversations with family.
- I missed some important pieces of information until days later, including tragic news.
This was hard. I heard about three people passing away connected to friends and family–and hated not knowing earlier or being able to lend a supportive comment in a timely manner. Maybe this doesn’t matter ultimately, but it didn’t sit well.
- I watched two documentaries with my husband and didn’t pick up my phone once.
This was one of his favorite side effects.
- People I told about it wanted to try it, too.
At least three people joined me on the fast and reported similar results.
- I DEFINITELY had more real conversations with my immediate family members as a result.
Turns out, you listen better when you aren’t doing two things at once.
- I was markedly more efficient at my work.
How did I find time to look at so much social media and still produce my work? (Lindsay, don’t read that one. I am always SO PRODUCTIVE.)
- I thought more deeply about topics I encountered.
Thinking is good! We should do it more often. I wonder if my brain looked different after the 31 days of less distraction?
I am sure there were other observations along the way, but those were definitely the top 15.
The burning question is–what am I supposed to do now?
As a marketer, I wholeheartedly believe social media is an important tool and connector. But as a consumer, I also know how it personally influences me in not-so-positive ways.
The truth is, I don’t really know what I am going to do yet. I think the answer lies in moderation for me but I am going to have to tweak what that looks like. Screen time limits and boundaries seem to be the way to go, but perhaps returning to the fast again later in the year may be required if it gets out of hand again.
Ultimately, my goal is to be the best wife, mom, and TealHaus marketeer I can be–in that order. And if that means taking a break from the influence of social media from time to time, it just might have to happen.