I took a break from social media and this is what I learned

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Social media has taken over the world. There’s almost nowhere you can go where you’re not invited to like, share, follow, pin or snap. It has inundated all aspects of our lives, from dating, to school and even shopping. While social media can be incredibly useful, in certain contexts it can be a little bit overwhelming. I would end up scrolling through feeds for hours, completely absorbed by all the terrible things that were going on in the world, unable to escape the constant stream. This is why I decided to take a break from social media.

I started out simple. I deleted the social media bookmarks from the top of my web browser so it would take me more effort to get to the offending webpages while I was supposed to be working. Then I deleted the apps from my phone; Snapchat, Pinterest, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all had to go. If the apps weren’t readily available it was far less likely that I could get stuck. But it wasn’t that simple.

I started getting a barrage of emails reminding me that my friends had updated their pages and my followers wanted to see what I had to say. As they came, in, I hit unsubscribe to every single one. What I learned was that neither Twitter nor Pinterest follow the rules and their one click unsubscribe buttons do not actually work. I was forced to filter them out to my junk folder instead.

After the unsubscription, I thought I was safe and I could begin my experiment. I was wrong. Suddenly, Instagram started sending me text messages to remind me to check out their page. There was no “txt STOP to stop seeing these messages.” I had to log into my account on a web browser to tell them I did not want to receive text messages, which I don’t remember signing up for. Maybe that was one of the many daily e-mails they send that I hadn’t been reading.

And like that I was free. No more notifications to suck me in or annoying sounds from my phone at all hours of the night, reminding me that people are dying all over the world and the U.S. president is a monster. I had nothing to do on my phone. I read a book before I went to sleep instead. I got seven and a half hours of sleep that night.

When I woke up in the morning I didn’t have Instagram to scroll through for 30 minutes while I lay around doing nothing. Instead, I got up and ate breakfast. I did some reading for class. I left on time, was not in a rush and actually caught my bus. I listened to an audiobook and looked out the window at the changing leaves of autumn. When I got to school I was relaxed instead of stressed.

Over the next week, I continued to remove myself from the digital social world. My life changed in several important ways.

I talked to my friends more, face to face and via text. Without constant updates coming straight to my lock screen, if I wanted to know what was going on with them, I had to ask. I had actual conversations about what was happening in their lives instead of assuming based on a random Facebook photo.

Next, I got a lot more work done. Even leaving my ringer on all day long I found that the number of notifications I got were far fewer. The occasional text or call from my mom was about it. E-mails from professors with updates about classes did not get lost in the ping barrage. I did my reading for classes without interruption and handed in all of my assignments on time.

I also did a LOT more reading. What I would normally have been reading each day was news articles. Some of them were more like pseudo news articles, linked through social, or lengthy Instagram posts, and the occasional Twitter thread. My brain needed something to consume. I read an entire book in casual snippets between other activities, never reading for more than 15 or 20 minutes at a time.

One thing that happened is that I became completely disconnected from the greater world. If it wasn’t happening in my immediate social sphere, I didn’t know about it. People would mention something that had been happening out in the world to me and I would have no idea what they were talking about. Of course, that led to conversations with people about world events which normally would have amounted to little more than a like and a share on Facebook. But I looked ignorant and self absorbed to people who were unaware of my social media experiment. How could I not know about this? It was the most important thing happening in the world.

After 10 days social media free, I don’t think I want to go back. Some social media has been a useful tool for me, like Facebook Messenger for communicating with friends, or occasionally Pinterest for keeping track of ideas. But aside from that, I don’t need social media. My life has been better without it. I’ve got more sleep, read more books, completed more assignments and had far fewer panic attacks. Though it might seem like the world is now contained within your smartphone, as it turns out, there’s a whole world out there for you to live in. I’m going to live in it.

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