My Relationship with Social Media

My Relationship with Social Media

Everyone who participates in social media has a different relationship with it. Games, groups, soapbox rants, prayer requests, memes and/or family photo sharing are just a few ways people relate online. Earlier this year, I gave up social media for 40 days. A complicated relationship we had, I bordered on addiction to it and didn’t like the articles I read about what it was doing to my brain.

My very first day away, the third deadliest school shooting in U.S. history happened. I didn’t find out from someone’s comment attached to a link, how I regularly received news. Instead, when my fingers mindlessly searched for the blue “F” app on my phone, now deleted, I turned to Apple’s news app for a feed to scroll, then learned on my own accord.

After clicking on the first article I quickly realized how tough it would be to fully abstain from social media without literally living under a rock. As the page loaded, all I saw was a series of Twitter posts. I closed the tab to contemplate the rules of “giving up” social media. Not trying to completely isolate myself from the world, I decided Twitter in news articles was not the equivalent of licking the icing spoon when you’ve given up the cupcakes.

So conditioned to reading opinions in 45 second intervals spread throughout the day, I continued to think about the politics that followed any major news, who was probably sharing what, my thoughts to presumed posts, and even wrote a long note on my phone which seemed irrelevant by the time I plugged back in.

Another developing story during this time was Facebook’s privacy policy mishaps and confirmation of robot accounts affecting what we see and saw during democratic elections in countries around the globe. Robert McNamee articulated it in one article as “...the plot of a sci-fi novel: a technology celebrated for bringing people together is exploited by a hostile power to drive people apart, undermine democracy, and create misery.”

Any doubts about my decision to be anti-social media for a while subsided as I analyzed the amount of my own data that was in a database somewhere. A member of Facebook since 2006, I felt like the last to join at the time. My peers had been on MySpace, Friendster, and other now obscure sites for years before I felt a desire to participate. When I “finally” set up an account, my college e-mail was required to get started. I had a profile and friends could write on my wall. Status updates were a fill in the blank sentence that started, “Megan is…”

I’m not going to reminisce over it being so much greater back then because the site’s evolution brings pros and cons as with any change. In the years following my introduction to Facebook, I’ve added Pinterest, Instagram, and SnapChat to the mix but now was happy to refrain from them all.

As days passed, my digital cleanse felt a lot like new health and fitness routines I commenced over the years. Day 1 is somehow easy because it’s new with a lot of mental prep. Day 2,3,4, etc. are slightly harder because the reality of what you’ve given up has set in before enough time has passed for the benefits to really kick in.

The difference is this wasn’t going to lead to tangible results I could see in side by side photos. While I wanted to believe this would lead to a whole new me, there wasn't a climatic moment with crystal clear lessons just in time to chuck the popcorn bucket and seek relief from the XXXL soda downed for only a quarter more. What I found was a noise void in my head without it.

Social media addiction is all but officially listed in the current DSM as far as the affect it can have on mental health. I emphasis “can” because I don’t think everyone who uses it is addicted. Notifications from likes, comments, etc. releases dopamine in the brain, which in itself isn’t bad, but when too much time “using” takes over your life, there’s a problem. This isn’t new news, and actually the latest buzz is tracking tools to help fight bad social media habits. While I appreciate this proactive effort, I’m not sure anything would have changed my overuse better than time away.

By day 5, I was aware of the amount of books that existed in the world compared to how few I’ve read, so I got a library card to fill my new free time and head space. Reading clear, logical advise provides a mindset toward goals set to be better than I was yesterday. Watching too much television paired with social media A.D.D. fills my head with drama and analysis of my own life in comparison to something scripted or scarcely shown. Both affect my thinking; one more positively than the other.

Notorious for starting books and never reaching the end, I’m proud to say I finished 13 books since logging off and developed a good habit of reading first thing in the morning (along with prayer, exercise, breakfast, and coffee to start the day on the right foot). I'd been doing all these things, but without the chance of posting about them or seeing what everybody else was posting, my energy was really put into mindfully enjoying this quality "me" time.

Ultimately, I needed that 40-day fast for a clean reset. Not a new person, I somehow emerged the experience feeling more myself. While I was out, I reconnected with who I am without comment or thumbs up. I’m back now with less interaction because, frankly, I make less time for it.

Grateful for the chance to share art and "see" friends far away, I focus on living a moment before thinking about sharing it. If there was one take away from my time away, validation I give myself is hands-down stronger than any like or comment I can receive online.