My Break Up With Social Media (And What I Learned In the Process)

why i broke up with social media detox and what i learned

It’s been over two months since I broke up with social media.

I wish I could say it was intentional, that it was part of some noble plan to be more mindful.

But it wasn’t. It was apathy.

Honestly, it was a lot like the end of every other mediocre relationship you stay in too long out of habit. Until one day, you wake up and you simply don’t have the energy to care anymore.

Like all relationships, the love affair with social media started out so promisingly.

The idea of being able to stay connected to the daily lives of friends and family regardless of geographical distance was revolutionary, much like email had been 10 years earlier.

And how incredibly useful it was to be able to both disseminate and receive information instantaneously. We were on the forefront of every current event. We could crowd-source all of our dilemmas.

On a more personal level, we shared a lot of things with each other. We became real to each other, even to people we didn’t know in real life. And when people become real to each other — even to people they don’t know in real life — their problems become real to each other as well. I’m no sociologist but I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that this phenomenon was fundamental in the rapid social changes that have occurred over the last 5 years.

Unfortunately, just like in all relationships, all the things that were quirky and cute in the beginning started to become irritating.

The building of a wider community that was meant to make people feel more connected? It lulled us into thinking we were tending our relationships with the click of a mouse or the swipe of a finger instead of real conversations. Social media made it exceedingly easy to turn all of our relationships into virtual ones instead of real ones.

That real-time dissemination of information which had previously exposed us to new ideas and new viewpoints? It has fostered a climate where being the first to share something “newsworthy” is the only thing that matters, even if you’re wrong.

And that sharing of personal stories that broadened our horizons while making strangers feel like friends? It exacerbated our culture of comparison and created an obsessive need not just to be heard but to be affirmed. And that turned an entire generation of people into salesmen.

People were selling actual things of course. But what was worse was the people who felt compelled to sell a fake, filtered, edited version of themselves, of their relationships, of their lifestyles. The people who were selling their opinions disguised as facts. Their activities as proof of their popularity. Their wealth as proof of their happiness.

The problem wasn’t the selling per se but rather the hostility, the aggressiveness, the . . . disingenuousness that accompanied some of it.

The problem was the disparity between what people say and who they really are when no one is looking.

One Tuesday morning, I woke up and just didn’t have the energy for any of it. I didn’t have the patience for any of it. So I pulled the plug. No Facebook, no Instagram, no Twitter, no nothing. Social media and I went cold turkey.

It was just like any break up. At first, I felt prettttyyyy good. I was riding high on the satisfaction of having purged a negative time suckage from my daily routine.

And I did have more time. I watched a lot of basketball. I played it too (pretty badly). I read words on pieces of paper – books, newspapers, magazines. I arranged flowers.

Chrysler Museum flower guild arranging museum flowers curly willow

I lingered with the boys at bedtime when they asked me to stay for 5 more minutes. I painted.  I collected orange shells and saw orange sunsets.

Orange sunsets drive to Charlottesville uva basketball

I wrote letters. Real ones. On orange and blue note cards. I noticed how my handwriting had deteriorated, but more disconcerting was how my writing had deteriorated.

I am so accustomed to writing contemporaneously, without editing, that I had forgotten how to organize my thoughts in advance of picking up a pen. As painful as those first few notes were, it felt good to force my brain to think and filter and choose words with purpose.

Orange blue note cards monogram

After the initial post-breakup elation wore off, I felt … lonely. I missed it. I missed the feeling of being part of a community. I missed knowing things. I missed people knowing things about me.

Without that virtual connection to everyone I know, I felt a void. I knew I was missing birthdays and anniversaries, medical diagnoses and deaths, school plays and new jobs, vacation pictures and first steps.

It was the ultimate fear of missing out.

But then I took a deep breath and remembered what life was like before we were seduced by the illusion of having 1,432 “friends.” It was smaller, more intimate, more genuine.

It required presence.

Presence is tricky. Social media lets you spread your love far and wide in a relatively short time frame with little to no effort. But presence requires more.

It requires effort. It requires emotional investment. It requires you to make someone else a priority, even if that wasn’t on your to-do list.

Presence requires a lot more than I have been giving. So I’m slowly trying to make up for years of being more of a virtual friend than a real one. There’s a hefty backlog but I’m working on it.

I’m working on phone calls. Sending real birthday cards and homemade Valentines and notes for no reason. Showing up to everything I physically can. Supporting my friends in their endeavors.

I’m working on being present.

Not only did I have to figure out the people and things that were the most important to me but I very quickly discovered whether I was equally important to them.

It is eye opening. It is cathartic. It is incredibly liberating. It’s a lot like being 8 and 10 actually.

Part of writing this blog means I can’t break up with social media forever (unless everyone subscribes and then I really could) but I’m enjoying this sabbatical while I can. If and when we do get back together, the relationship will be different this time.

One thing won’t change. I’m kind of an open book in case you haven’t figured it out. My pictures and stories and emotions are always real, all of the time.

They’re not part of the story – they’re the whole story.

The good, the bad, and the ugly and everything in between. Because life is good and bad and ugly and a lot of stuff in between. At least mine is.

I make mistakes. I burn batches of spaghetti sauce and spill coffee on myself. I say too much and I say it too loudly. My house is always messy and I’m perpetually 5 minutes late. Okay 15. I struggle with how to grade myself in a world where I don’t get report card anymore. I forget important things and I can’t let some things go.

I don’t hide any of that. And I don’t want to.

But I love really really hard, for better or worse.

And I’m trying to do more of it in person instead of just online.

#LoveHard

#BePresent

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13 Comments

  1. This post was spot on! I regularly break up with Social Media and it is so beneficial. It is hard as so many of my “real” friends “only” communicate via social media. My last hiatus was for a year. What amazed me in that journey was how few people stayed in touch the old fashioned way (visits, phone calls, letters). Love your blog!

    1. Thank you Lisa! I feel the same way. It’s so hard to go back to the old-fashioned way of doing things when most people do not. It definitely takes a lot more effort and I feel like I’m dropping the ball a lot but I know I’ll get there eventually. Thank you for reading ❤

  2. My first thought was to send you a text to tell you how much I loved this. But then, I realized that I will just tell you in person with a big hug and a cup of joe. Keep writing. I’ve missed it.

  3. I call it ” Social Media Overload Syndrome” and as a retiree it seems to crop up in my life when the subject matter on the radio, news, t.v., and people’s lips focuses upon a few people, events or topics. It’s at that point that I need to get away. And fortunately when I travel to remote locations where the news doesn’t follow and the people are concerned about the simple realities of day-to-day living that I regain my sensibilities, I relax, and I recapture a more balanced view. All to say, I believe that a contented existence doesn’t have to be an “All or Nothing” choice.

    And B.T.W., I find your eloquence to be calming in itself. Thanks !

    1. Thank you so much John – what a lovely compliment! You are absolutely right – it does not have to be an “all or nothing” proposition but I think I needed that complete break to reset my perspective and my balance. It is awfully hard to maintain contact without it I’m afraid so I suspect I will be back soon but for now, it’s a vacation I’m thoroughly enjoying 🙂

  4. I’ve had similar thoughts but boy, you express them in such a lovely way! I find social media to be a bit like a drug – when I feel like it’s overstepping, I try to reign it in. For example, Facebook is now on my third iPhone screen so I have to swipe a whole two times to access it. So far it’s working out as a solid deterrent for my lazy thumb 😜

    1. Thanks Alison 😘 A drug is a great way to put it and in fact there is some research suggesting that there is a dopamine high we get from hearing the ding on our phones or seeing a like. I hadn’t planned on taking a step back but I’ve really enjoyed it.