Updated: Dec 28, 2019
My month off social media felt a bit like going on vacation and coming back to a dirty room. I kept trying to clean it up, but my friends and random strangers kept coming by and throwing more clothes in it. My social media feed felt cluttered. I tried to clean it up by scrolling, but my friends and random strangers kept coming by and throwing more clothes in. Everything was pilling up.
I left social media for a month as a result of being unhappy with the way I spent my time online. I was not using my internet in a way that was beneficial to my personal growth. It felt like algorithms kept me scrolling for hours. John Green said in a video, one month into his year away from the internet, “the weird thing about social media for me is that it made me feel very itchy in a way that only social media could scratch.”
I am not going to claim that a month away from the social internet will lead to a life-changing epiphany, or that it somehow makes you a better person. My time away, for the most part, made me anxious. I spent the first two weeks mindlessly picking up my phone out of habit, swiping to where apps should be, not finding them, getting frustrated and trying to find something else to take up my time. That social media itch was painful.
In my first article on this subject, I said I wanted to learn how to be bored again. Gradually, I regained some of this skill, but it was not without struggle. I found myself getting extremely annoyed whenever I compulsively checked my phone. I had no reason to do this – nothing was there. My inability to go five seconds without seeking some new form of stimulation was infuriating.
According to a study done by Microsoft Consumer Insights Canada in 2015, our average attention spans have shrunk from 12 seconds in 2000, to eight seconds in 2013. Keep in mind, the average attention span of a goldfish is nine seconds. I became aware of this shortened attention span in myself as well as in others around me. I could be talking to someone and the second the conversation hit a lull they would reach for their phone. Normally, this would not be a problem. Usually, I could also hop on Twitter for a few seconds until the conversation picks up again. I found myself becoming more comfortable with boredom, but others were not.
It is not about focusing on one thing at a time. We can all listen to music or a podcast while we drive, but when the weather turns bad or we are trying to make our way around an unfamiliar area, we reach up and turn the music down. This is what cognitive psychologist Anne Treisman, proposed as the “Attenuation Theory," which is basically how we are selective with our attention.
A major takeaway from this past month was that I need to be more selective in my attention. I am actively choosing to continue limiting my social media use because I do not feel good after using it. I am downsizing the number of people I follow as well, prioritizing the quality of the content I intake rather than the quantity. If it doesn’t spark joy, why keep it?
It is not news to anyone that we spend most of our time staring at screens. Technology is not evil, it is new and fascinating and we are still learning about it. We must learn to use it properly. I would recommend to anyone looking to improve the quality of the content they consume to check out the CrashCourse series on navigating digital information.
It is not necessary to take a hiatus from the social internet to find a more fulfilling way to use the internet. It is not a rebirth or a magical experience. It is just a break – a break to enjoy your clean room and learn how to be comfortable in your head.