April 7, 2014

Put Down the Phone & Walk Away: My Social Media Detox Experiment. ~ Francesca Harris


Day 1: Admitting You Have A Problem Is The First Step

I realized today I have an addiction to social media.

People have been telling me for a long time now that I am a “Facebook addict,” but I truly didn’t think I had a problem. I am certainly not the only person who checks her Facebook account everyday, am I? Or three times a day? Or more?

But something happened today that made me realize that I needed a detox from social media: I posted a complaint about work.

You’re probably thinking, “And, the problem with that is…?”

I pride myself on not bitching on social media. I try to post uplifting or funny things. Basically, if you are following me online, I am trying to make your day better.

I follow plenty of “Debbie Downers” who use social media to bitch about everything from Dunkin’ Donuts getting their coffee order wrong to our crumbling economy (complete with annoying anti-Obama memes). That just isn’t my style.

So, today when I bitched about something to 400 people who follow me on Facebook, I went to the dark side
of social media. I used it to spread negativity and all around bitchiness and I subjected a few hundred people to all of this. My behavior gave me pause.

It was at this point that I began assessing my relationship with Facebook. When I thought about it, I realized how truly dependent I am on social media. I don’t just check my Facebook account once a day—I check it (at minimum) three times a day: when I wake up, usually around lunch time at work, and then again after work/before bed.

But if I am having a day where I am really sad, really bored, or really anything, I often check it more times than that. I am a person who uses social media to escape real life on a fairly regular basis.

Also, I now realize that I think in Facebook posts.

What does this mean?

It means that every witty thought that pops into my head, every picture I take of my kids doing something fun, every super excellent experience I have and every inspiring notion that drifts through my little brain immediately becomes a Facebook post in my mind. Without fail, everything I say, think and do becomes a potential post to share with my friends.

It has gotten to a point where it feels like my need to share so much of myself online is interfering with my ability to have genuine experiences in real life. Instead of Facebook being a fun thing to pass time or connect with friends, it is now playing a starring role in my life. And that is just not cool.

So, I decided to challenge myself. I am starting with 24 hours and will then take it hour by hour thereafter to see how long I can go without using Facebook. I am also avoiding other forms of social media during this “detox,” even though Twitter, Instagram and some of the others out there really aren’t my “drug of choice.” I do worry that I might transfer my addiction to one of these other social media sites while I am not allowing myself to use Facebook, but hopefully that won’t happen.

I am going to use this blog to document my experience with this experiment.

How long will I last? What will this detox feel like? Are there night sweats and hallucinations associated with coming down off of social media addiction? I really have no idea.

I will share all of the findings here so the readers out there will know what to expect in case they too decide to detox from social media. I’ll be your guide in this spiritual journey. And hopefully we will all be a little more awesome at the end of this.

Day 3: When Will The Cravings Stop?

I am on Day 3 of my Facebook/social media detox. Well, technically I am 68 hours into my sobriety, but who’s counting?

I’d like to say I feel freer and cleaner and my life is better without that proverbial monkey on my back, but that cravingswould be a lie. I thought I was doing great, went out with some friends last night and didn’t once “check in” or post a picture on Facebook, and I believe that avoiding social media last evening really enhanced my experience of being out socially in real life with people.

I totally felt like I was doing great 48 hours in and then I got an email—from Facebook. It said something about how because I haven’t logged in for a couple of days I am missing some fun things online—I have 14 notifications and one new private message.

I have never received an email like that from Facebook before, probably because they only send it to people who aren’t accessing their site. I am usually a somebody who is constantly accessing their site. It was like a drug dealer trying to entice me to get back on drugs three days into detox. I sent a text message to a friend who is acting as my “sponsor” in this little experiment of mine. He told me to hang tight, stay strong, don’t give in. And that’s just what I did. But it wasn’t easy. I told my “sponsor” that maybe I would log into Facebook tomorrow, but not today. As the folks in recovery say, “one day at a time.”

I’d like to see myself go another 24 hours without accessing social media. I feel confident that if I keep at it, the cravings will lessen and I will truly feel freer and cleaner. I also feel kind of ridiculous for being this dependent on social media for love and acceptance. I always brag about how much I love spending time alone but am I ever really alone if I can get onto Facebook or Twitter with the tap of a finger? Clearly, I haven’t really spent a lot of time “alone” if I have been hanging out online all the time. Now I have a chance to really be alone, and get comfortable with it.

Easier said than done. We’ll see what lies ahead.

One day at a time.

Day 5: Facebook Made Me Stupid

I am now on my fifth day without accessing any social media and I am thinking about it less and less.

Today was the first day I woke up and didn’t immediately reach for my phone. I usually make this move every day. Upon waking, I check my text messages, play Words With Friends, check Facebook, and then check Twitter. All this before I have my first cup of coffee every morning.

Today, I woke up and got my coffee, then watched a movie with my kids, then later when my phone buzzed, I checked my text messages. Releasing myself from the ties of social media has made me a little less dependent on my smart phone.

But only a little.

I am not going to pretend I am ready to throw my phone away or anything like that. I am only five days into my social media detox and no one could be completely reformed in just five short days. But yesterday I actually shut my phone off for an hour and a half while I was doing homework and even though it irked me a little bit, I didn’t get the shakes from the withdrawal. I am realizing that a dependence on social media goes hand in hand with a dependence on other types of technology.

I also realized in these last five days that my dependence on Facebook has made me stupid.

I don’t know most people’s birthdays off the top of my head anymore. I rely on Facebook to remind me to wish people a happy birthday and then my brain doesn’t have to do any real work to remember information like that. It is one thing to not remember the birthdays of acquaintances but it is entirely another thing to forget birthdays of friends I see regularly. Unacceptable.

I knew a friend of mine had a birthday coming up this week and I had to ask around to find out exactly when it was since I am “off the Facebook” for the time being. But now I know her birthday and I wrote it in my day planner so I can remember it going forward without waiting for Facebook to tell me. And, I can even wish her a happy birthday in person instead of posting a generic message on her Facebook profile. I am sure an in-person birthday wish will mean more to her anyway.

Also, I rely on Facebook to get most of my news. When celebrities die or go into rehab or if some law has been passed in favor of gay rights, I find out on Facebook. I also read the newspaper but I tend to do more skimming of the paper than reading. I think this is a habit I picked up from using social media. When you are on Facebook or Twitter you scroll through a news feed and there isn’t really a lot of time for in depth reading, so you skim. As I was reading the newspaper yesterday I noticed I was doing just that, so I stopped. And I began reading articles in full instead of just headlines and captions.

I feel like I am regenerating brain cells by staying off of social media for a period of time. Facebook made me stupid, so now I am trying to get back some of my intelligence.

Day 7: Mindful

I am now seven days into Facebook sobriety and the cravings have finally ceased. mindfulness

The first three days were definitely harder than the last four days. It is amazing how easily your brain adapts to new habits. I have stopped immediately reaching for my phone when I wake up in the morning and I haven’t had to actively stop myself from launching the Facebook app during the days. I never realized before this little experiment how mindlessly I would go onto Facebook—sometimes launching the app without even realizing I had done it.

So far this detox has made me more mindful—mindful of life happening around me and mindful of some very bad habits I need to correct. It has also made me more mindful of what’s important and what isn’t. What started as a silly detox from social media has become an interesting journey.

Day 8: What I Learned From All Of This

Noon today marked one week of not using Facebook and other social media.

So, you might be shocked to learn that later in the afternoon today I actually logged into Facebook. Before you gasp with horror and start pointing fingers yelling “relapse,” please hear me out.

My grandmother died earlier this week (I swear this is not a ploy to make you feel bad for me, there is a point to this). The obituary was published online in the Boston Globe today and I logged into Facebook today to share the link.


Because I figured it would be much easier than emailing the link to individual people who kept asking me when the services were taking place. But when I logged into Facebook a funny thing happened: I saw I had 33 new notifications, three new private messages, and there was a ton of stuff on my news feed to read. What did I do? I sighed a big long sigh and then I logged out. I didn’t even end up posting the link to the obituary.

I was online for about a minute and Facebook actually seemed exhausting to me. Instead of feeling titillated by all of the new things to read online, I felt overwhelmed. If this were a week ago, I would have easily spent an hour on Facebook reading through all of the new notifications mindlessly scrolling through my news feed and sharing things that I thought were clever or interesting. But today I didn’t have it in me. I took one look at Facebook and it felt like a heavy burden. So, I logged out.

This is the part where I talk about the moral of this whole social media detox.

I am not saying Facebook is evil. Like anything in this world, if used sparingly and responsibly, it can be fun. But when it becomes a huge focus in your life (or even a distraction), then it becomes a problem. Everything in moderation.

If you are reading this blog right now and thinking to yourself, “But I can stop any time I want, I just don’t want to!” then this message is for you. Put down your phone, shut down your laptop, log out of Facebook and/or Twitter, and give yourself a break. Start with 24 hours and see how you feel. When I started this journey a week ago I was appalled at how difficult the first 24 hours were. I was that dependent on social media. How pathetically sad.

But the more time I spent off of social media this past week, the more I enjoyed time with the people I was with. I also realized some things about myself: mainly that I was using social media to escape from stress and loneliness. Not that that is a terrible thing, people do it all the time, but Facebook loitering as a coping mechanism is not really the healthiest route.

Plus, I was getting the reputation of being an “over-poster” and was beginning to annoy my friends with my constant sharing on Facebook. Nobody wants to be the annoying friend on Facebook. If you are now thinking to yourself that you don’t know what I am talking about, you might just be that annoying friend on Facebook. You may want to reflect upon this.

I have already allowed myself back on Twitter and Instagram since I no longer feel like I am in danger of transferring my social media addiction to these other sites. And starting tomorrow, I am allowing myself back onto Facebook too. I am going to set a limit on my access to Facebook. Going to start by allowing myself to log in once a day and set my time limit to fifteen minutes at a time.

Thanks to my detox this past week, I now feel confident that I can abide by these new restrictions without any problem. In fact, I don’t feel the urge to log in at all anymore. I am not saying I am ready to delete my Facebook account (please, I am not that reformed), but I anticipate I will be spending a lot less time online going forward.

I think I am now a slightly better person and probably a better Facebook friend overall by not obsessively logging in and posting anymore. I challenge anyone who logs into Facebook or Twitter or any other social media more than once a day or posts on these sites more than once a day to try staying offline for a significant period of time.

You don’t need to quit completely, just allow yourself a break, even if it is just 24 hours.

You’ll thank me for it.

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Apprentice Editor: Brandie Smith/Editor: Travis May

Photos: elephant archives

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Francesca Harris