How I Quit Social Media For 6 Months and What It Taught Me

How and Why I Quit Social Media

The date was November 30th, 2017. Vancouver was experiencing its first wet, slushy snowfall of the year and my family and I was racing to the airport to catch a flight to Argentina. We planned to spend two months in a small mountain town with my brother. So many related things should have been on my mind, but instead, my fingers were twitching and, like a bad caffeine headache, my mind was pulsating with a mad desire to post something.

Of late, I’d found myself all too often asking the question of whether or not my current situation was shareable on social media. That perfectly liveable moment was all but ruined. Poof! Gone. I was sucked away by the desire to share instead of enjoying the pure present experience. Then, I thought of all the moments at home—at the breakfast table—when I was just scrolling through newsfeeds or re-checking emails, while across the table my children ate their waffles, pretending not to notice their dad’s lack of presence.

I’m no stoic so temporarily walking away from social media and limiting the use of my phone wasn’t a cold-turkey endeavour. But when I first realized I had a problem, I did start mentally planning my hiatus. A trip to Argentina seemed like the perfect time to say goodbye to technology.

So I did! I deleted all the apps, switched off the notification settings and unsubscribed from most of my daily email newsletters. After a week or so of Instagrammable moments remorsefully passing me by, and the dopamine rush of “likes” all but gone, I quickly realized I didn’t miss social media one bit. Was I surprised? A bit, I guess. Like you can be when … you feel like you’re missing out, or falling behind, or not being heard. Because “they need to know, dammit!” was my usual attitude; but I guess they didn’t!

I don’t particularly love social media (or my phone), but I certainly recognize its importance and benefits. I’m now back on social media but, during the 6 months I spent away from it, I redefined my personal rules for digital engagement.

Let me stress that these are personal choices I’ve made to suit my own life and work and not a condemnation of those who post on social media daily. Furthermore, some three billion people use social media, and that number isn’t getting smaller; I don’t plan to be a Luddite but just to try and thrive on the fringe as best I can.

The Ugly Side of Social Media

There’s an abundance of research out there about the negative ways social media affects us. No question the research is relatively new, with many long-term unknowns, but from what I’ve read and for what it’s worth, I’ve personally felt these effects to varying degrees. So, with that said, let’s get the bad and the ugly out of the way first.

Social Media and phones are addictive. Social Media can conjure up feelings of isolation, jealousy, anxiety and sadness. Not to mention, phone use can be rude, distracting, anti-social and can just plain fuck with our relationships.

Here are four great articles that outline the effects of social media on our wellbeing:

Everyone waiting for train and on their phones checking social media
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

How Your Phone and Social Media Influences Your Environment

You can’t talk about social media without including your smartphone use in the conversation. Research suggests some 80% of socializing is done on the phone. Further to that, the number of smartphone users is expected to grow from 2.6 billion to 6.1 billion by 2020. Now, for me, I find it so damn easy to always “just be checking something on my phone” and, more often than not, checking for a good restaurant leads to “just checking” something else, and so on and so forth. In 2017, statistics showed the average American checks their phone 82 times a day; if you’re over 18, you likely spend about three hours on your phone every day.

As an entrepreneur, I work a lot and, yes, that work requires a phone. But I also have a family, and being on my phone at home, especially when my family needs my attention, has been no good. When I’m on the phone at home I’m teaching my children not to be present, to not make eye contact; I’m failing to teach them the human connection and essential intimacy. Worse still, I’m showing them that something else on that tiny screen is more important than they are. It’s the contemporary version of the traditional “absent father.”

5 Things I Do To Help Keep My Phone Use in Check

As a millennial, I’m genuinely concerned I’m part of a generation in need of constant stimulation. But despite the fast-paced and technology-infused world we’ve created, it doesn’t mean my children have to suffer the same affliction.

Sure, sometimes you have to take work home. Sometimes there are urgent calls or things you need to research quickly. So, during my time away, I developed a new set of personal rules for the using my phone at home.

  1. Unless I know I need it for a call, when I’m home, the phone goes away. It’s on a counter just out of sight and out mind. Just before dinnertime on weekdays, I turn on the “do not disturb” button.
  2. Use Bluetooth, I use my drive to and from work as a chance to call friends or colleagues so that I’m not doing it when I’m home with the family.
  3. When I need to use my phone, I try to explain to my children what I’m using my phone for and why so they don’t feel I’m ignoring them.
  4. If I’m out and about during the workday, and something urgent is going on, I’ll respond to emails on my phone. Otherwise, I schedule time in my day to check my email on my computer.
  5. If I can avoid it, I’d prefer to stay late at the office than bring my work home.
    Checking social media is done in the privacy.

Evenings and Night Time with My Phone

I love my sleep. Not only does having my phone beside my bed stress me out, but being on it keeps me up. Studies show that the increase in sleep deprivation rates has, not surprisingly, coincided with smartphone use. Why? Because, well one reason is the light from our devices is “Short-wavelength-enriched,” meaning it has a higher concentration of blue light than natural light and the blue light affects the levels of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin more than any other wavelength.

Read more about this here: Your Smartphone may be Hurting Your Sleep.

When I’m not working into the evening, I’m unwinding. Low light, non-caffeinated tea, relaxing music, candles…damn straight! Come evening, my place feels more like a damn wellness SPA than anything else. Heck, we even diffuse lavender in our house.

BUT, I’ll be unapologetic about how high maintenance that seems. Our bodies and minds need rest; binge working right up until sleep is like rolling out of bed and doing burpees. Just like you need a warm-up to ready your body for burpees, you need a wind-down to ready your body and mind for proper sleep.

Things I’ve done to counteract using my smartphone at night are:

  • Read-only actual printed books at night
  • Take notes on an actual paper notepad (that lives beside my bed)
  • Turn my phone on a blue light setting after 7:00 p.m. (should I need to use it I turn on Night Shift for a warmer, less blue, screen light)
  • Put my phone on a table away from the bed. This way I resist the temptation to reach over for a quick scroll session—and I’m less affected by the EMFs.
  • I’m considering getting a good old-fashioned alarm clock.
  • Turn off Notifications

3 Major Things to Consider Regarding Smartphones and Social Media

Here are some other rules of engagement when it comes to the phone and social media.

books instead of phone on a bed
Photo by Felipe P. Lima Rizo on Unsplash

Create Boundaries: Your Personal Code of Communication

Personally, I’ve come to believe that just because we have the technology to be reachable 24 hours a day doesn’t mean we should be. For me, being reachable all the time is likened to the law of diminishing returns. The first time you reach me I’m present, but come 8:00 at night, when I’m trying to put my kids to bed or spend time with my wife, I resent the interruption and you may so you won’t be getting my best self.

When you develop and maintain your own boundaries, people will eventually come to know what to expect when it comes to communicating with you. If you respond to every email and text just as fast as they’re coming in, then don’t be surprised or exasperated if that’s the response time people continue to expect.

  • Pick your platform. If you are an email user then, by default, as someone once explained to me, you’ve signed an unwritten communication contract to respond to email. My advice here is to just be clear: whether it’s an automatic notification or a line in your signature, just inform people as to when they can expect an email back from you. Don’t feel compelled to offer this consideration to spammers and cold callers.
  • Try not to be available on all platforms. For me, I no longer respond to Facebook Messenger or Instagram. I’ve already signed communication contracts, so to speak, to communicate via phone calls, text message (including Whatsapp), Slack and email. Additional communication access points are just too much to keep track of. So, my apologies if you don’t hear back from me!
  • Using Slack or internal communication platforms and chats are great ways to streamline team communication, but don’t let these become all-consuming. Just because we have a phone with notifications doesn’t mean those notifications should always be on.

Here’s a great Blog Post on communication: I’m not responding to your text message right away. Here’s why!

2 people relaxing without social media or phones at sunset
Photo by Harli Marten on Unsplash

Posting & Scrolling Philosophy

A wise saying is written on a T-shirt: “When I die, delete my browser history.” The same could be said for the dumb shit you posted when you first got on Facebook…or even last Friday night. Your social content is accessible to just about any employer out there. So, despite your best efforts and working those privacy setting, to be online is to accept this. My view is that if you’re on social media, in one way or another, you’re developing your personal brand.

That’s now how I treat all digital social platforms…

I’ve decided to only post content, be it Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Linkedin, that relates to my business and brand. Furthermore, unless I’m researching or looking for something specific, I no longer scroll through other’s posts more than 1x a day. Which I do behind closed doors. Why? Because when I’m at work, the gym or doing anything else like that, I’m focused, and when I’m at home, if I’m scrolling in front of my kids, I’m being a shitty father (I’m still repenting for the times I did scroll or check email while my daughter or wife was talking to me).

Admittedly, I wrestled with whether or not it was kosher to be on social media but not be all that “social.” After much internal agony, I have come to terms with it. Not scrolling has nothing to do with not liking other people’s content; it doesn’t mean I don’t want to see your wedding or baby pictures, it just has to do with time management and focus.

Finally, I no longer post photos in the moment. As I said, accessing real-life moments to determine how they played digitally was ruining everyday events for me. It had to stop. Yes, I still take photos, but I no longer snap and post. This is also why I don’t do many Instagram stories, Facebook Live or have Snapchat. Sure, it makes my profile less interesting, engaging and “social,” but it keeps me more present in the moment with whomever I’m with.

5 Rules When it comes to Posting and Scrolling

  1. Delete photos you don’t feel represent you or your current values.
    Think twice before commenting on, or sharing, controversial content.
  2. Adjust your privacy settings accordingly.
  3. Ask yourself “Does this need to be shared right this very second or can it wait until I have a private moment to post.”
  4. This quote by Bernard Meltzer has never been more relevant. Ask yourself “Is it Kind, is True, is it Necessary…is it helpful? What if it isn’t? Then “maybe what you are you are about to say should be left unsaid.”
  5. Schedule or pick a few times a day that you scroll and watch viral videos. This includes news feeds, newsletters, and daily clickbait.
person holding phone on intsagram
Photo by Jaelynn Castillo on Unsplash

Focus on the work you’re doing, the people you’re with and the place you’re in.

Last summer my wife and I had a holiday in France. I kid you not, never once at breakfast, lunch or dinner did we see Parisians on their phones at cafes or restaurants.

Unless your job requires you to engage with social media, then posting, or just being on your phone when you’re at work, kills your focus. Personally, I’ve found it makes me dumber. I’m more distracted. Esquire agrees!

Hell, on weekdays I usually work right through lunch. Then, when I see myself getting too distracted, I take some time to refresh before diving back in for one final push. My focus ebbs and flows but I like to dive in while I can and turn off when I need to as well.

To do things well, people need time to think. With the pings and dings of notifications going off constantly, you just don’t allow the prefrontal cortex to do its job of keeping you focused.

Some studies say we really only have 4-5 hours of solid focused time in us each day. Use those wisely. Time to think isn’t time distracted by your phone or social.

Your focus (aka presence) also applies to the people you’re with, things you’re doing and places you’re in. Don’t disrespect you dinner guests by taking a call or even putting your phone on the table.

Ask yourself if you are with your guests or the rest of the online world. Because just by putting that little PED on the table answers the question. This also applies to meetings and being out in nature. Call me old-fashioned but, when you’re actually experiencing something awe-inspiringly beautiful or entertaining another person, trust me, it’s not as exciting to watch the experience on a tiny screen.

How to stay focused & present in a connected world

  • If you’re out for dinner or on a date, either agree to shut off your phones or if you are with your partner just take one phone. It can be useful in an emergency. Alternatively, there are phones (like the light phone) that call forward from your main line but don’t have all the distracting apps (except what you actually need like Uber, maps, etc.)
  • Set your focus times (social or work) and either leave the phone alone or at home. Great work and deep connection require our attention.
  • Enhance focus time by creating the atmosphere. Personally, I turn on relaxing study music and often diffuse rosemary or other essential oils and drink tea (similar to my unwinding routine in some ways).

Self Correcting Crackberry Habit Through Technology

Did he just say “Crackberry?” Yes, I know, no one has used that term since it was “word of the year” in 2006. But now that it is 2018, and I’m writing this blog, things have only gotten worse.

On the good side, smartphone technology has ironically implemented plenty of tools and tricks to help you self-regulate your usage. Use them! In one afternoon dedicated to planning your own rules for engagement on the smartphone and social media, you pretty much get yourself set.

The Good Side Of Social Media

I wanted to ensure I said at least one truly positive and powerful thing about social media on this blog. There’s certainly more than one, but among other things, congratulating other people on their success is made much easier thanks to social media. It’s a damn good practice to be genuinely happy for others. So, instead of being jealous or frustrated (even if you feel it), focus on being kind and gracious. But here’s my added challenge: don’t just message them on social media, use the post as a cue to call them up and congratulate them over the phone. Make it personal!

A Sneaky Trick To Help You Stop Using Your Phone

text convo about setting up auto responses to help disconnect
From Medium

Check out this little trick on how to disconnect from your phone: Disconnect and take a break from your iPhone by using this little-known feature.

What I Learned From Quitting Social Media

This blog wasn’t meant to be about not using your phone or not going on social media. Ultimately, it was about a personal experience of taking an extended break from social media that led to a few new ways to come back and engage in a different way.

It may be a pipe dream, but I like the idea that social engagements should keep the 80/20 rule—80% of them should be in person or over the phone. As much as you think you’re developing a connection online, a genuine human relationship in multi-sensory and is much more gratifying and powerful. I don’t need or want instant connection; I want a real connection. This means I’ll go get a coffee or a beer with someone. This means instead of seeing a million photos of their kids on Facebook, I’ll just attend the family reunion.

Whether family, friend, or foe, people “speak” differently online. Social media is like a mask that can hide our true nature and is void of context and emotion. For most, a Twitter feud happens a lot differently than face-to-face conversation would. Same with YouTube comments. Our digital reality should not replace our physical one; they need to coexist. For me, moderation on the phone and social media is a key to achieving this.

I could go on and on, but the journey is a personal one. What works for me may not suit your personal or professional needs and, with how fast the world is changing, they may not even stay with me forever. It was refreshing and personally informative to give abstinence a try, and I recommend you try it for yourself and see what happens.

Thanks for Reading, be well!

6 thoughts on “How I Quit Social Media For 6 Months and What It Taught Me”

  1. Well done Joel. Well put and extremely pertinent. There is so much info out there about how social media is ruining our lives as well as feeding and building AI which will, in turn, control our lives even more. Nothing replaces face to face contact and human touch.

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