A month ago I decided that I was going to spend the entire month of September off of social media. It sounds much more dramatic than it actually was, but I found that after 30 days, I really loved my time away from the internet. That isn’t to say I wasn’t online ever - I gave myself a few cheats rather than cutting off cold turkey, but overall I really didn’t spend that much time online.
The few stipulations I gave myself were as follows. First, I allowed myself to check my Facebook (mainly so I could look at my memories every day - I’m deleting all my really annoying posts from like 10 years ago don’t judge) and to check my Instagram DMs. I didn’t scroll through either of those apps - I just mainly wanted to be able to communicate with people for my business if I needed to. Second, I gave myself two options for “scrolling” if I actually felt like I needed it - Pinterest has always been more of an inspirational site than a social site for me so it was a place I went to find design inspiration for my book and to relax at the end of the day when I was bored. Even though I didn’t post on YouTube or check my comments/subscriber count, I also allowed myself to check my subscriptions page and watch videos if I felt like it. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t watch a lot of videos, but it was nice to see who was posting just so I could feel a little more connected to the world. Lastly, I did check my email religiously (and I used Spotify and a little Goodreads). Otherwise, I didn’t scroll or post on Instagram, Twitter, or Tumblr. And it was such a blessing.
A lot of people have asked me if I was more productive this past month, and while that is a bonus of not spending time on social media, that’s not really why I felt the need to get offline. I don’t have a problem with lost time on my socials because not only do I find a lot of inspirational art/posts on there, but I also use that time to connect with people online and forward my business ventures. I gave up on being “productive” a long time ago, so it doesn’t bother me now if I spend copious hours scrolling the internet. All that to say, I did delete all those apps so I could readjust my mindset and figure some things out mentally. I found that for most of this year I was creating art to share it, and more than that, I was keeping up with my social media accounts because I felt obligated to do so. I think I was posting to Instagram to make sure people didn’t forget about me. And I was posting to Twitter because I thought I needed that outlet, to let the world know how I’m doing. I’m a compulsive online oversharer and I felt that it had become a problem for how I was faring mentally. So I decided to give it up.
Quick background on my social media accounts - I joined the internet about ten years ago on Facebook, and basically ever since then, I’ve been online consistently for almost every day of my life (except for a week or two here and there). I go on the computer/my phone literally every day, and I run a number of accounts for both personal reasons and business. Social media is quite literally my life. When I felt the pull on Aug 31 to get off my socials for September, I was scared. I thought my business was based on Instagram and so I’d lose a lot of freelance photoshoots opportunities. I thought my life revolved around the videos I made on YouTube and the free books I got as a result of those videos. More than that, I was afraid people would forget about me and not care that I was gone - heck, I even thought I’d lose tons of followers just because I was inactive for a few weeks. I was really scared. But I felt God pushing me to do it, so I did.
All of the things I was afraid of literally don’t even matter anymore. And I’m not joking. I probably lost a few followers, but I don’t remember where my numbers were last month anyway so I can’t tell how many. (But the ones with analytics told me that I actually didn’t lose many…I gained some.) I did not in fact lose business - I actually had more shoots this month than I have in a long long time. And I had a bunch of people schedule me for the next few months at that - via email & texting. (Who knew!!) More than all that, people did actually notice I had gotten off. I didn’t have waves of people lamenting that I had disappeared, but I got a number of really sweet texts from people asking if I was okay (I felt kinda bad because I was literally just doin my own thing haha). And let me be clear - I didn’t do this for attention or numbers or external reasons - that’s kind of why I didn’t make a big deal when I got off on September 1st. I just wanted a month to myself to sort some things out and see what I was actually doing when I didn’t have my social media crutch to balance me.
So what did I do? Honestly, it felt like a lot of nothing, but looking back I was incredibly productive. The first week of the month I had a major reading marathon and read like 2000+ pages in a matter of days. I went on to read a total of 5 books last month! Not only that, but I also managed to watch 6 seasons of The Office (first time through and I am loving it!). I went to the gym a record number of 8 times last month (for me that’s a lot) and I managed to get my mile time down to 11:26!! I visited some family for a weekend, spent a lot of time with my roommates, and took a bunch of business photos. (I hardly took any iPhone photos because surprisingly when you have no Instagram, there’s much fewer things to photograph in the world on a regular basis.) But above all, the thing I am most proud of is that I finished another draft of my poetry collection. I’ve officially worked on that book for 9 months now, and I spent most of this last month trying to figure out how to design the interior of the book. (No spoilers, but it’s gonna be awesome) I really had a nice month, especially since this month last year was a hot mess.
I don’t know quite how to explain how this month off social media changed me. I still think I’ll be posting and spending my time scrolling through apps when I’m bored, but I feel different. One thing I noticed at the beginning of the month was that I felt incredibly unburdened when I deleted all those apps. People say that a lot I think, but honestly it was weighing on me to wake up every morning and check my notifications. Sadly I did disconnect from the news as well as my feeds so I didn’t get to see what was happening in our government, but even though I was uninformed, that was still a nice thing to take a break from. It was also nice because I think I unknowingly put a lot of my self into posting. I spend a lot of time going through my day thinking “Oh, I should take a photo of this because it’ll look good on Instagram.” or “Oh yeah, I need to share that I’m watching this show because other people will probably want to comment on it and ask me questions.” I just felt so free when I didn’t have to share - and I didn’t have to see what other people were sharing.
One of the things I disliked about this whole thing was that I felt so distant from everyone I love online. I have tons of friends on Twitter and Instagram who don’t live near me (and who are awful at texting - sorry guys) so I spent the whole month without hearing from people I cared about. I didn’t see one of my friends announce the birth of her daughter. I didn’t see what anyone was reading or watching or where people travelled. I missed being in the loop and seeing my friends doing fun things just because that’s kind of how I stay connected to people. Which brings me to my main point, and the big thing I learned about myself this past month.
At the end of the day, as weird as this sounds coming from someone who doesn’t offer herself up freely in real life, I found that I have an intense craving for deep human connection. Why do I post so much of my life on social media? Because I want other people to ask me about it so I can share those details with other people. Part of that is because I feel like I don’t get to do that a lot in my real life, but mainly it’s because I don’t want to do that in real life, face to face. I have this problem where I choose to withhold information about my life and my feelings in real life conversations until another person specifically asks me a question pertaining to what I’m doing. I do it not because I don’t want to share or because I don’t want to connect with people, but more because I don’t want other people to be bored by what I’m saying. I personally dislike when people talk at me with pointless little stories about their day, and so I fear that I shouldn’t do that to other people because they won’t care about it either. Thus, as a result, I don’t share, I don’t connect, and more often than not I zone out when I should be present. It’s a real problem, and I noticed it more this month than usual because I didn’t have social media as an outlet. I couldn’t yell into the void anytime I wanted someone to comment on something happening in my life.
I heard a really cool sermon this past week at church - and honestly I hardly remember what it was about at this moment - it made me think about what do you really want? The pastor kept telling us to dig deeper, to go beneath our surface level wants and desires and dive into the parts of our soul that really long for something. On the surface I want people to comment on my life, but I think more than anything I want to have serious deep conversations with people about my passions…and that just doesn’t happen as much as I want it to. And not having social media as an outlet made me a little more lonely than I usually am. It showed me that I’m not so much dealing with creative burnout, but I have been consuming far too much without letting any of my emotions and thoughts and feelings out in a productive expression. I can type a thousand words or film a hundred videos or record a million voice memos about my life, but if I’m not trying to connect to the people I care about and I’m not letting my voice be heard in the presence of others, then what’s the point in creating? This also goes along with The Good Place (which is finally back by the way and I’m so happy) which deals with ethics and philosophy and the idea of “what do we owe each other.” I think it can be very easy to see social media as a platform for us to interact with other humans (hence the social), but somehow we still manage to make that social aspect about ourselves. At the end of the day, I choose to share because I want other people to pay attention to me and I want to be able to connect with them over certain parts of my life. And I need to realize that as much as I want that connection, as much as I think screaming into the void will make that happen, real connection doesn’t happen exactly when I want it to. It happens when I get out of my comfort zone, when I start being present, when I put other people first. And the best way to do that, is to stop isolating myself in the real world.
I can already feel my brain slipping back into its old tendencies, and I fear that this month will eventually be forgotten like every other thing I do in my life. Obviously social media is here to stay, and I can’t really just delete all my accounts, but I have noticed that my priorities are shifting. I don’t think it’s quite so big a deal to worry about followers or posting or all that stuff. I also kind of feel like I follow way too many people online anyway. Maybe I’ll learn from this experience, but even if I don’t, I know I can do almost anything for 30 days, and I know that I’m more capable than I thought I was. Here’s to new beginnings and real connections. Here’s to another month.