My Social Media Hiatus Taught Me A Lot, But Here's What Really Stuck With Me
When my editor asked me to take a social media hiatus for a week, à la Gigi Hadid, I didn't think it would be that difficult for me to do. And to be honest, it wasn't that difficult for me. I don't actually like social media that much, nor am I constantly posting on any of the usual outlets, even though I definitely do use it pretty regularly. What surprised me the most about my social media hiatus, though, was just how many positive effects there were when I chose to intentionally and completely step away from it for a while — so many, in fact, that I'm planning to extend this hiatus a few days longer on my own.
Again, while I do consider myself to be pretty amateur-level as far as social media users go, it's actually a much larger part of my life and my everyday experiences than I had previously thought. I also realized that I use quite a lot of brain power to consider the kinds of things I would post, if I someday got my sh*t together to maintain a "better" social media presence.
As of now, I have a Twitter upon which I mostly post one-liners, but scroll through often for news and other people's opinions, an Instagram I use almost entirely to look at other Instagram accounts, a Facebook profile that now seems more or less like a personal shopping outlet, and a Pinterest with, like, three pins.
But I believe more and more that the habits I've cultivated with social media seem to affect my everyday life in ways that ultimately feel more negative than positive. And research definitely shows that we not only receive validation from being "liked" and constantly watched by others; we receive an actual dopamine high from it, the same way one does when they take a drink or a hit off something.
Recently, former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya spoke out about what he believes to be the very destructive reality and impact of social media globally.
Palihapitiya told The Washington Post,
It literally is a point now where I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works. That is truly where we are.
The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works: no civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem. This is not about Russian ads. This is a global problem.
My own little social media hiatus brought about many of these kinds of conversations about the nature of social media, too. I happened to be on a media trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming with some Instagram influencers while I was doing this experiment. That's right, my travel companions during my social media hiatus were literally people who create their livelihoods off of social media. With 700 million global users, "Instagram influencer marketing" is now a one-billion-dollar industry. To state the obvious, it doesn't seem to be going anywhere.
For me, the amazing thing about social media is how it makes it possible for all kinds of different people to have nuanced, important, difficult conversations that would not be able to take place otherwise. But I do often wonder how to toe the line between the positive and the negative when it comes to daily use of these outlets.
So, to make a little more sense of it all, here are a few things that came to light when I said goodbye to social media for a week.
1. I Can See Beauty, And Not Post About It
At the beginning of this experiment, I happened to be in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, which is a place of incredible natural beauty. In other words, pretty much everything around you is "Insta-worthy."
To top that, while I was on this trip, I had the opportunity to go on a flying tour of Jackson Hole with a scenic tour company called Fly Jackson Hole. If that doesn't sound Insta-worthy, I'm not sure what does. In fact, even the owner of the business told me that I would be taking some of the best photos of my life.
My pilot, Dave, had been flying for over 30 years, and brought me up into the air in a small plane over the Teton Mountain Range. He knew just about everything there was to know about the terrain and the history of Jackson Hole. It was breathtaking (not to mention informative — thanks, Dave!), and more than anything, I felt so lucky to be able to see these sights with my own two eyes, without a phone to distract me or take away from the beauty before me.
While I did, indeed, take a lot of pictures, and shared those photos with people afterward, they had to gather around me with the warmth of their actual bodies to see them with their own two eyes, instead of through a filtered lens on Instagram.
2. I Was Able To Truly Observe And Take In My Surroundings
Regardless of where I am or what I'm doing, one of my favorite things to do is wander around, and it's something that, in the past few years, I have done less and less.
This past week, though, whether I was walking around Jackson Hole taking in some new sights, or just walking around New York City from place to place, I didn't have my nose constantly in my phone.
I felt like I could see and experience the world around me, and I noticed that that also resulted in my maintaining a much greater sense of appreciation and calm during my moment-to-moment existence.
3. No Social Media Made Me Less Apt To Text
Apparently, I don't need to be having eight conversations at once all day every day, and when I'm always scrolling through Twitter or trying to read the updates Facebook sends me, I'm also doing a lot of texting. I'm just in my screen, all the time.
Plus, this hiatus made me realize that, oftentimes when I'm lonely, social media is the first thing I reach for, and finding someone to text with is the next thing to follow suit. When that isn't my first impulse, when I have less "reasons" to look at my phone, I am less engaged with it in general. And it feels pretty damn good.
4. Social Media REALLY Wants Me To Engage With It
Maybe I was noticing it more, by my God, I get a lot of emails and push notifications from Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram!
Twitter literally started sending me full tweets, and reminding me of the same "brand new follower" multiple times over the course of the week.
I never even considered turning off push notifications in general, but I'm going to now because it kind of feels like being hit with a little ball of newspaper every time I get one — and not at all in a good way.
5. I Can Fall Asleep Faster And More Easily Without Social Media
When I started this experiment, I was staying at the SpringHill Suites by Marriott Jackson Hole that very literally has one of the most comfortable beds I've ever slept in.
At first, I thought that my four-night victory over my insomnia had to do with a perfect storm of comfort and a much-needed break from the city. But my improved ability to fall and stay asleep continued when I returned to Brooklyn — back to my apartment, located on my noisy street, with plenty of streetlights blasting through my window — and it was kind of mind-blowing. It turns out that the research you've probably read is totally right about social media's impact on sleep. We're probably all way better off without it.
6. My Most Enjoyable Moments Can Be For Me, And Me Alone
On Sunday night — about four days into my social media hiatus — I got to see saw my absolute favorite musical artist Perfume Genius at the Bowery Ballroom. I went by myself, and I wept like a tiny baby, because he just does something to me.
Yes, while being at the concert was, in a sense, "just for me," and I didn't need to post or share about it with anyone to feel happy about being there, I also consciously enjoyed being in a big sweaty crowd of other people who were there for the same reason I was, who were all really connecting to the music as much as I was.
7. I Was More Apt To Read Actual Stories
There I am in the library, folks!
While I am a habitual reader regardless of social media, this hiatus meant that when I was traveling or had an extra moment, reading was always my first impulse as a thing to occupy my mind. I read two books and a few short stories during my week off from social media, and it felt so, so good.
8. I Felt Less Lonely And Less Envious
Yes, on social media, some of my ugly side comes out, and there I am, emerging from the darkness.
One thing I've noticed about using social media is that I will often go down rabbit holes into other people's Instagram accounts or Facebooks, and at my worst, I'll compare myself to someone else online, and think about how much smarter someone sounds on Twitter than I do.
Enough is enough, guys. Disengaging from social media is helping me put an end to my toxic habit of constant compare and despair, and I really, really think it could do the same for so many other people.
So, are you ready to try it yet?