Social Media Sabbatical: Observations and What Now?

ss sabbatical

For the month of July, I was off social media.

Mostly.

I deleted all social media apps from my phone.

My job includes managing the social media accounts for my organization, so I still had to look at Twitter and Facebook on my work computer. And I admit, I posted to my personal Twitter a couple times.

But no Instagram. Only the tiniest bit of personal Facebook engagement (our garage clean-out meant selling some things on Marketplace).

Facebook and Instagram are easily my biggest time-sucks and attention drains, and can definitely have a negative impact on my mental health. Giving myself a timeout from these networks was necessary.

So, now it’s August, and technically my sabbatical is over. I’m still digesting what I’ve learned and how to proceed. Honestly, I’m feeling anxious about coming back online.

Some observations:

  • According to my phone’s Screentime app, I looked at my phone far far less. And when I did, it was usually to read a text, take a picture, or use Google maps. I feel a lot better about that than I do about picking up the phone to mindlessly click through Instagram stories.
  • I read four books in July totaling 1,679 pages, and I’m a couple chapters into a fifth. Being on vacation for five days was part of that, but that’s quadruple what I usually read in a month. One of things I’d hoped to get out of this month was a shift to other (better!) uses of my time. I feel good about this one (and also depressed about all those wasted scrolling hours of the past).
  • The word sabbatical was important. Focusing on the positives of spending time in other ways is energizing. This wasn’t a punishment or a detox, but a choice to make time to intentionally recharge, reflect, and engage in deeper activities.
  •  Healthier habits. I have been much much better about going to bed at 10:30 and waking up early to fit in a run or a walk. Also: I’ve started running with no music, no podcasts. Embracing quiet seems to be a side effect of this sabbatical. It’s lovely – who knew?
  • I missed seeing what my friends were up to. I did more one-on-one texting and it was a good month for seeing friends, but I did miss the little glimpses into daily life, keeping tabs on what my loved ones are up to. I felt a bit out of the loop. That said: Many of those one-on-one conversations went deeper and were more meaningful than “liking” their most photographic moments. Of course.
  • Social media gives me a false sense of social fulfillment and connection. I felt like I was keeping in touch with loved ones by seeing their posts, but was I? Is commenting on a photo the equivalent of being a good friend? Eliminating social media made me realize how much I want and need more meaningful time with the people I love and don’t see enough of. More good conversations, silly laughs, dinners to linger over, summer evenings, simple real life connection. And I can reach out and make the time for those things.
  • It’s harder to keep up with community events without social media. That’s both good and bad. I find out about a lot of things through FB and Instagram, and without that connection I missed a lot. (But that forced slow-down isn’t all bad. The FOMO anxiety quiets down a lot when you don’t know about the eight events happening this weekend.)
  • I really don’t need to tell everyone about everything. And I don’t need to know everything or see every post.  It should be obvious, but I forgot that I don’t need to know who went to dinner last night or what everyone thinks about a certain movie or every moment of an acquaintance’s vacation. And, likewise, I don’t need to share it all. I’m going to be more intentional about sharing less, keeping some things just for those close friend and family conversations, embracing more privacy for myself and my family. It’s so easy to fall into the “share everything” habit, or to start thinking of your life in terms of posts, and of course to start the dreaded comparisons. I fell too deeply into that, and it didn’t feel good.
  • As Cal Newport predicted, I started using other apps that refreshed. Like the Weather app. Oyyy. Habits are hard to break. Especially in the beginning, I still had that craving for hits of new information. Every morning, TimeHop was a treat. I started checking the weather more frequently. Yikes, digital withdrawal is real and I’ve become conditioned by my phone in so many ways.
  • People noticed? I was surprised how many people told me they missed seeing my posts and/or asked about how my offline month was going. There’s something sweet about that, about knowing that things I share can make others happy, about acknowledging the shared world we create on those networks and our power to influence that world. It’s something to think about, along with the above. So much of it is about the intention behind how we use these networks.
  • July is glorious. And it was nice to experience it offline. My garden is bursting and bringing me so much joy. Our time at the lake was impossibly beautiful. My kids have spent the summer getting dirty and sweaty, swimming and dancing, making things and being with friends. We’ve spent time with our extended family. We took in shows and music and art together. We spent time with dear friends, shared ups and downs, celebrated and supported. Taking the time to show up, look up, and notice the little moments is always worth it and much easier to do without unimportant distractions.
  • Sometimes I want to share interesting things or crowdsource answers. I missed the social medias for that.
  • Look around, look around. Everyone is on their phone. All. The. Time. I knew this, and still, the amount is shocking. Put your phone away, close the computer, engage.
  •  My 8-year-old noticed a difference. Oof. Yeah. She noticed that I wasn’t looking at my phone much. We talked about it. We talk a lot about screen time, about what other kids do and what our family does. We are a low-screen family when it comes to the kids, but we talk a lot about technology use. This was a wake-up call to practice what we preach.
  • What now? This is the big one, and like I said, I’m nervous. I’m good with keeping the Twitter and Facebook apps app off my phone and occasionally using the desktop versions. Instagram is a tougher one. I generally like Instagram, but I don’t want it to dominate my brain and I don’t want to fall right back to old habits. The desktop version is very limited and almost unusable. Can I put the app back on my phone and limit my use? Do I have the self-discipline for that? It’s an uphill battle against an app that’s engineered to keep my attention, but I’m going to try. To start, I’m again cutting the list of those I follow, and scaling back my own posts.
  • I’ll be doing it again. I needed this. It’s silly how much this technology has impacted my habits, my brain, and my well-being. A social media sabbatical every few months (or when I need it) would be a good thing.

I entered this month knowing I needed a break, and inspired by some things I’d been reading and listening to.  If you’re interested in trying it, here’s some inspiration:

1 Comment

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One response to “Social Media Sabbatical: Observations and What Now?

  1. Mickey Nieman

    Nicole, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your July detox and the things you learned about yourself and your family. Keep up the good life-work!!!

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