Quitting Social Media

Photo by Tracy Le Blanc on Pexels.com

Hello!

My name is Abby and you should NOT follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat. Why? Well because you can’t, I don’t have any social media.

As a 21 year old college student, this is a fact that often surprises and can sometimes disappoint people. Peers sometimes act as if our friendship is somehow missing something fundamental when they realize they can’t share Facebook posts with me.

Now to clarify, I’m defining social media as social platforms with a feed, I don’t consider messaging apps to be social media the same way sending a text isn’t social media.

I’ve been off Instagram for about two years, off Facebook for about two and a half and off of Snapchat for about six months. There are no other social media platforms I’ve used consistently so I won’t discuss them.

The Why

So, why would you quit social media?

For me, the main motivation was to be more mindful, particularly in how I use my time. I’d often be on my social media while walking, waiting for classes to start, in lines, and in the bathroom. I’d toss my bag down when I got back to my dorm and reflexively open up my phone and scroll through feeds for 45 minutes.

On days when I was feeling depressed or anxious I might scroll through for hours at a time.

I knew that social media was not a good way to pass the hours,  and always beat myself up for getting sucked into it. So when I felt down, I’d reflexively kill time on my phone because it was the easiest knee jerk thing for me to do, get sucked in for hours, beat myself up for doing so, and then end up feeling worse.

Facebook was the first platform I axed. Every time I opened up my feed I was frustrated by the intentionally incendiary and divisive political content flooding my feed. Many of the jokes and memes shared had sexist or racist undertones, the bulk of this content came not from the pages I’d chosen to follow but from the people I friended.

The original reason I made my Facebook account was because all the student orgs at my high school used Facebook groups to manage themselves. Once I left and went to university, Facebook no longer had a utilitarian purpose for me and was only a source of frustration, so I quit Facebook.

Instagram was a different story, the content didn’t frustrate me, just the opposite in fact, it mesmerized me. The discovery page was full of oddly satisfying content, tasty videos, and beauty guru tutorials. It all looked perfect and amazing and I struggled to pull away from Instagram’s polished and beautiful videos.

Snapchat was a bit more complicated. Because I’m a slightly obsessive compulsive type of person, I felt obligated to watch the stories of everyone I was friends with or at least click through them. I don’t know about your Snapchat friends, but mine aren’t exactly videographers. It was often hard to tell what was happening in the videos because the audio was so bad, or people would post just completely random and uninteresting things.

Maybe that sounds harsh, it’s not that I’m not interested in my friends lives but I think we all know what I mean when I say Snapchat stories are not the most polished and thought out content on social media. Plus we all often end up with people who are not important to us on our friends list and I didn’t really need to know about the parties the one kid from my math lecture was going to.

I also got sucked into Snapchat’s explore page, the content didn’t actively upset me like Facebook and I wasn’t mesmerized as with Instagram. It was the content equivalent of white noise to me, not good, not bad, just filler.

I hated the idea that a huge part of my day was just filler.

The Benefits

So, how has life been since quitting social media?

I will start with the pros.

My main goal of being more mindful of my time was accomplished. I was less distracted by the notifications and content on all these applications so I generally had less reason to unlock my phone in the first place. When I do consume web content on my phone it’s now tailored to my interests, instead of random and potentially upsetting things shared by friends.

 However, I will say quitting social media didn’t magically get me my time back and make me a super efficient wizard.

Youtube and Netflix still sing their siren songs to me and it has been a separate effort to cut back on my online video watching off of social media. Social media makes it easier to waste time, but I realized it wasn’t by far the main reason I wasted time.

Boredom, apathy, anxiety, and depression are the real reasons I personally waste time. But with social media out of the way I could attack those issues more clearly with a bit less distraction.

The other massive pro for me is just an overall decrease in screen time. For myself I’ve realized that the act of simply looking at a screen for too long, no matter the activity, even if I’m just watching movies with friends, has negative mental side effects for me. Including headaches, anxiety, sadness, boredom, eye strain, depersonalization, and derealization. If that sounds like a surprisingly long list of symptoms from just looking at screens (even if the content itself is pleasant and I’m with people) you’d be right. I was rather shocked when I realized just how much simply looking at  a screen affected me. I never would have been able to realize if I hadn’t stopped using social media and decreased my screen time overall.

The Cons

There are two main cons for me. One applies specifically to Facebook, one to Snapchat.

For Facebook, I miss that it helps me learn names. Unlike most people who say they’re bad with names but good with faces, I am bad with both names and faces. Facebook has been very helpful to me in the past by providing me an easy way to study names without worrying about getting them wrong.

For Snapchat, I miss out on what seems to be a vital step in relationship building for some people in my age demographic. I don’t know that this is true in other places, but is has been true for me in both Massachusetts and Ohio with other college students. There is a social convention to how intimate certain methods of contact are. Facebook is the least intimate, Snapchat is the next step up, and then direct texting is most intimate. I’ve realized that for many people, if you don’t have a Snapchat they will just never text you. The convention is that you should message on Snapchat for a bit before graduating to texting, so if you have no Snapchat some people will never feel comfortable to start texting you, or in some social circles snapchat has replaced texting.

It sounds silly but it’s true, quitting Snapchat had a significant impact on my ability to make new friends. I felt quite awkward about it at first and unsure how to handle it. That is why Snapchat is the app I quit most recently, I’ve re downloaded it a few times over the years when I felt like I needed to in order to break into a social group. Over time I’ve realized that if I break the texting ice myself it will put the other person at ease and not be much of a problem. But there really is no way to make up for missing inside jokes that are born and circulated within Snapchat group messages.

The TLDR Version

At the end of the day, the pros of quitting social media have more than outweighed the cons in my personal life.

Quitting social media has enabled me to learn a lot about myself ,my relationship with technology, and time management. I have fewer notifications and exposure to frustrating content meaning I’m less stressed out and a bit happier.

There are drawbacks, but they are minor when compared with the negative aspects of being on social media.

What do you think? Have you ever done, or considered doing a social media detox, if so, for how long? What did you learn? 

Let me know in the comments below!

Digital Minimalism for your Cellphone

Cellphones.

A modern marvel or a plague on society?

A bit of both I’d say.

Cellphones are of course amazing in many ways, they help us communicate more efficiently than we have ever been able to in the past. We are able to pull up maps anywhere in the world to navigate with the push of a button. We have access to the greatest single collection of human knowledge ever created instantaneously.

But there is of course a downside. Increased use of social media is associated with more anxiety and depression. Exposure to blue light from screens causes eye strain and difficulty sleeping. The average American adult spends just under four hours a day on their cell phone and teenagers get an average of nine hours of time online a day.

Ideally a phone is a tool you use to help you be more efficient, but with all the time phones take up it can really feel like phones are using us.

So, how do we turn this around? For me, the answer is digital minimalism. Now before I get into all of this let me say that I am not a perfect person, bad habits are hard to break and when my mental health is poor I still have periods in which I binge watch hours of content on my phone. But, the tips I’m about to share with you have helped me to reduce my screen time and stress.

Turn off Notifications

For me, opening my phone to a dozen or more notifications is very stressful. The stimulation is overwhelming and I feel compelled to check on every single thing. Even if I didn’t actually want to go on Snapchat, Instagram, or check my email I’ve suddenly spent a few minutes on each app and allowed myself to be dragged into mindless media consumption.

The only apps on my phone I now receive notifications from are messaging apps, phone calls, voicemail, download updates from Ecosia (my web browser) and the Google Play store, Google maps, my blue light filter, Daylio (a mood tracker),  and system notifications that I am not able to turn off.

So this means that instead of being prompted to use an app by notifications, I am prompted to use apps by just my own desires. Now my brain often desires to binge watch youtube videos, but it helps to not have extra reminders.

My recommendation would be to disable notifications for any app that you don’t specifically want or need the notifications for. For me the big notification distractions I’ve disabled came from email, social media, shopping and entertainment apps. My current practice is to disable notifications for all new apps as soon as I download them.

Set Quiet Hours

Now that you’ve gotten rid of excess notifications, you may find it enjoyable to take a break from notifications all together during certain times of the day. Both apple and android phones have built in features that allow you to receive no, or very limited notifications during specific hours. When I use quiet hours on my cell phone, I usually set them from 11:30 PM to 9:30 AM because I sleep 12AM-8AM, this allows me a half hour before bed and an hour in the morning with fewer distractions. 

I don’t always have quiet hours set on my phone though, only when I have been particularly distracted by my phone or am very busy in a given week and need to focus on managing time as effectively as possible.

Don’t Use Your Phone on the Toilet (For Quick Visits)

If you know that your bathroom trip will be a quick one leave your phone in another room (or inside your bag in you’re out and about). This one was surprisingly impactful for me, it may sound silly, but just a few minutes scattered throughout my day without extra stimulation really lowers my stress and helps keep me present.  However, if I’m sick and I know I may be on the toilet for more than ten minutes, I usually bring my phone with me because it’s nice to be distracted in that situation.

Try a Blue Light Filter

What is blue light? Blue light is a portion of the light spectrum that is produced in high concentrations by electronic screens as well as natural light. Blue light exposure is associated with needing more time to fall asleep, lower quality sleep, eye strain, and headaches. If you find that anytime you spend a lot of time looking at a screen you get headaches or have light sensitivity to other light sources like myself, I highly recommend this tip.

A blue light filter will make the colors your phone emits warmer and give your screen an orange or red tint. Adjusting to the new aesthetic can be a bit hard to get used, but after a while I hardly noticed the difference and it has been well worth the decrease in headaches and eye strain. Most phones have a built in blue light filter you can toggle on and off from your notification center, or you can download a dedicated blue light filter app to get more options. I use the Twilight app which is free for android phones.

Declutter Apps

Periodically review your app list and just delete any apps you are no longer using. Consider deleting apps you use regularly if that app has an easy to use mobile website, for example youtube. It can be nice to simply have less icons on your screen to look at. You may also want to delete apps you are overusing, such as social media and email and only access those accounts on your computer. For apps you don’t use but cannot delete, remove them from your home screen or tuck them into a folder together so they are no longer clutter.

I also recommend deleting any apps you use only to kill time but do not really enjoy, overuse or check compulsively. For me, these apps have included email, social media, and mobile phone games. I’ve found that instead of always looking at my phone when I am waiting in lines or have down time I enjoy having moments throughout the day to think and appreciate my surroundings.

If you aren’t sure whether you want to delete an app just go for it and see how it feels! You can always re-download the app later.

Organize Your Apps

Having a uniform system in place to organize your apps will make it easy to find them as well decide where to put new downloads without much thought. I recommend placing apps that are similar near each other on your home screen or putting them in folders together. I personally prefer the folders method so that I don’t have to flip between multiple screens, but I know many prefer not to keep every app in a folder so they don’t “lose” them. Do whatever works best for you.

Below you can see the categories I’ve organized my home screen into and the categories are largely self explanatory. Only the apps I use regularly have an icon on my home screen, there are several that only have icons in my app finder and I use the same folder system there. The podcast app is no longer in a folder because it was the only app  within its folder, and I just felt it looked nicer this way.

Simplify Your Keyboard

When I last got a new phone in January the out of box default keyboard settings included text prediction, auto correct, auto capitalization, a text to speech button, key press pop ups, and swipe typing. Many find these features helpful but for me all the extra movement is just too distracting and my typing is actually more accurate and faster without any of them. If you are unsure, just experiment with turning some features off as you can always flip them back on later. Plus, turning off your auto-correct may improve your grammar and spelling once you’re past the learning curve.

Those are my tips for digital minimalism on your cell phone!

Did you like these tips? Do you have some of your own? Let me know in the comments below.