It is that time of year when writing out the date feels strange. 2014. Happy New Year!
For me, the past two weeks have been experimental… and fulfilling and freeing and so much more. My husband and I took a road trip; we visited the South Carolina shore line. And during that time, I decided to partake in somewhat of a digital detox. It is sort of funny, sort of ironic – me, the public relations and social media professor and a person who has two small businesses that require these communication channels – deciding to give up most digital media. But maybe that is why it felt even more necessary to test these waters, especially during the holidays.
I read something recently that made a lot of sense to me: “Those of us who are social media-savvy suffer from a burgeoning problem that constantly threatens our ingenuity. If we fail to acknowledge and solve this problem, our brilliant ideas may never see the light of day.”
This really resonated with me. How many hours are wasted getting sucked into mindlessly scanning news feeds? How much of our time is really spent being productive, bettering ourselves, having fun, and being in balance in all areas of our lives?
According to a study by eMarketer, U.S. adults spend an average of five hours and nine minutes a day consuming digital media. That includes online, mobile (non-voice), and other. This does not include other forms of media such as television and radio.
I approached this experiment practically based on what I thought would work for me. I tried to pare down email use (tried being the operative term). I also did not use any social media for two weeks. That is, no: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, WordPress, Etsy, Youtube, etc. etc. The first two days felt as though I was really in withdrawal. I did not get the sweats and shakes, but it was close.
Why did I do this technology detox? Honestly, my soul was crying out for help. I just wanted to let go of the constant cell phone use and checking, checking, checking, and that reactive communication. Because God forbid that someone has to wait a day for an email reply. And what about all those notifications on Facebook I would ‘miss out on’. The thought of that gave me anxiety! It is sad, but true, and I know many people who are in the same boat.
According to the Pew Research Center, “Six in ten cell owners between the ages of 18 and 34 say that they have slept next to their phone so as not to miss any calls, texts, or other updates during the night; and three quarters of cell owners in this age group say that they check their phone for messages even though they did not hear it ring (indeed, 25% of young cell owners say that they do this ‘frequently’).”
Have we all lost our minds? That study was shared in 2012, so it is definitely worse now. Are we zombies or lunatics?
What I Learned from Letting Go of Social Media for Two Weeks was not something I expected. I learned that I am happier without social media and limiting technology use. Yes, happier. Does this mean that I am going to throw my hands up in the air and run away to the wilderness to live with wolves? No. But what I do know is that I am really learning what is virtual clutter for me verses what is necessary, enlightening, and enriching.
I know how many people are completely attached to the internet and their smartphones. (Me too, by the way.) But for our health and happiness, it is essential that we take a step back and figure out what is cluttering up our lives and what is worth investing our time on. For me, I know that blogging and writing are two areas I would like to focus on more, because I see value there.
Some other important discoveries thus far:
1. Life goes on. If it takes me 24 hours to reply to an email instead of 15 minutes, the world keeps moving. It is not a big deal.
2. Social media affects our emotions. There are many studies pointing out this truth, but I did not realize how much social media affects my own emotions until I tried this experiment. I suppose the abundance of low-context content – often which is repetitive, annoying, or useless – can easily affect our thoughts and feelings.
3. Board games, the 1950s-60s version of The Twilight Zone, reading books made from paper, crafts, spending distraction-free time with family, writing, and being outside are all worth doing.
4. With limited distractions, I can be extremely productive, and this is an amazing feeling. My house has never looked better.
5. I want to keep experimenting. My next phase: no iPhone for two weeks. Let’s see what happens. My eyes are already twitching.
Overall, my social media, internet, and technology usage is going to be much more utilitarian and productive. This will allow me more time to explore the areas I love about social media and teaching the subject, while setting healthy boundaries and really living life to the fullest.
I highly recommend unplugging every now and then. I think everyone should do this more often. We should create new norms.
Three Tips to Simplify Your Virtual Life Now:
1. Unsubscribe from email newsletters, coupons, and mail lists that no longer serve you. How do you know if it serves you? If you delete or never open the email repetitively once received in your inbox, you are not using it. It is clutter. Another alternative is to set up a ‘junk’ email account for maybe-someday coupons, alerts, and newsletters. This is not for me, but other people might find this to be a great option.
2. Organize emails into folders. Only keep emails that you really love or absolutely need (i.e. an email from a close friend that warmed your heart, donation receipts for your taxes, etc.). I got my email accounts to where there is nothing in my inbox. When something is in my inbox, that means I still need to get to it. Otherwise, everything is sorted into labeled folders. By using this method, checking my email has gotten to be more refreshing than daunting.
3. Only follow media that brings you joy, inspires you, or educates you. I also like to limit too much repetition. For example, following 50 nutrition-related accounts got to be too much for me, and most of it was regurgitated content anyway. This is something to really think about. The internet can be a stressful and negative place, or it can be informative and fun. The choice is ours. I choose to only follow and subscribe to my favorite blogs, pages, and companies online. This has helped me filter out a lot of nonsense.
Regarding my getaway overall, it was magical hearing the ocean crashing on the shore, and the wind whispering, and the birds cawing. The fresh air and the sunshine did me so much good. But my favorite part was the sand beneath my feet and between my toes. That and the fact that I did not feel the need to take pictures and post them online as I was experiencing them. Each minute was my own. I lived in the moment and I loved every bit of it.