Every time I blink my eyes, there’s a new app or social media website making its debut. As most millennials would agree, social media is entertaining—that’s why it’s so popular. You can relive your own memories or get a look at what everyone else is doing, eating, seeing, and where they’re traveling. It can also be overwhelming at times.
I was seven or eight years old when I got my first email address. My dad helped me set it up on his computer in the basement. It was the only computer in our entire house. For me, the best part was sitting in the black swiveling desk chair. Those of you who knew me from then until at least middle school probably encountered that first email address at one point or another: Jes1bunny. Just seeing it again makes me roll my eyes and cover my face in shame. What. Was. I. Thinking. Why did I spell my name with one ‘s’ instead of two? Why ‘bunny’? (It’s funny now that I have two bunnies, but the only pet I’d had at that time was our family’s Chocolate lab, Chip.) I do know, however, why I threw a number smack dab in the middle though. Someone else had already claimed the email Jesbunny! Like… What?! What was up with kids at the turn of the century?
Since then, I’ve had accounts on more social media sites than I can recall. (Plus all those years of instant messaging with like six different screennames on AIM.) From the days of MySpace and Xanga to Facebook to Twitter, Instagram, and more. One of my favorite things about the ease and availability of social media is its power to connect people. I have created friendships with people from around the country and the world—connections I never could have made without the Internet. It has also been essential in keeping up with friends everywhere from California and Canada to Ireland, South Korea, New Zealand, and beyond.
When I took my first sociology class in college, my professor challenged us to give up our cell phones for two days. (Don’t worry, we got extra credit.) Back then, my phone still flipped open and I never used the Internet on it, so it was relatively easy. I could still keep in touch with people through social media on my computer. I also took a Facebook hiatus for a few months during my senior year, but I still had access to other social media and the rest of my phone. Taking a couple of steps away was strange at first, but it was a welcome break.
I’d been feeling a little annoyed with social media lately, so it felt like time for another break. This time, I chose to use no social media at all. No Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram or Snapchat, or anything else. Here’s what happened:
Day One: I woke up in the morning and instinctively reached for my phone. After turning off my numerous alarms, I wanted to check my notifications. Except, there were none. Before I had gone to sleep the night before, I had signed out of my accounts so I wouldn’t be tempted to check. Or, slightly less tempted at least. Before noon, I had already opened Instagram twice, ready to scroll through picture after picture, only to be met by a bright purple log in screen.
Day Two: Still distracted by not using social media and feeling like I was missing something, I wasn’t as productive as I hoped I would be. I kept checking my phone for notifications that weren’t there and wondering what everyone else was doing.
Day Four: I couldn’t depend on social media to keep myself occupied, so I dug out the power drill to put together planter boxes for my mom’s vegetable gardens and spent the evening watching the rabbits hop around in the long grass.
Day Five: My friend Nicole took note of my social media absence and even texted me to make sure everything was okay. When I told her about my break, she understood why I thought it was necessary.
Day Seven: By the end of the night, I was really itching to get back on social media. I considered, for a moment, waiting until I woke up the next morning to log back into all of my accounts. The notion quickly left my mind though, because my week away from social media was enough.
Before the experiment, I had some idea of how much time I spent using social media. But at the beginning of my week “off,” I was faced with to what to do with that time instead. I couldn’t scroll through my newsfeed while I waited for something, or send five-second selfies (with everyone’s favorite dog filter) to my friends at all hours of the day, or even keep in touch with many of my friends overseas. Instead, I busied myself with many of the things I had added to my to-do list and forgot to actually do—which included some spring cleaning, lots of laundry, and trying to convince the rabbits to try bok choy. I listened to The Lumineers new album about twelve times a day. I took advantage of the week’s wonderful weather and spent plenty of time enjoying the sunshine and warmth.
When I signed back in at the end of day seven, I couldn’t check the notifications or the newsfeeds or the messages fast enough. I spent a couple of hours longer than I should have trying to catch up on everything, and once I did, that was that. I was happy to be “connected” again, but it wasn’t as fulfilling as I remembered. Yes, it was great to see what people had been up to in the past week—what they’d thought, done, and shared—but it wasn’t like I had really missed anything significant. The world kept spinning even though I wasn’t tuned in to people’s every thought or action at any given moment, or worrying about sharing those things about myself. And it was worth it.
It was refreshing to step away from my phone and to explore things a little more naturally. I’m sure I’ll take breaks again in the future, log out and step away for a couple of days, try to focus on doing things more than sharing that I’ve done them. If you haven’t taken your own social media break yet, give it a shot. Whether it’s just for 24 hours, a week, or even longer, it’s a great way to clear your mind and remember that there’s more to life than what’s on the screen.