A few weeks ago, I found myself scrolling through Facebook for what must have been the twentieth time that day. I stumbled across an article about Aziz Ansari and clicked on it. Within the interview, he admitted that he’d deleted all social media, news apps, and even his internet browser from his phone. Basically, as the article stated, he was living like it was 1999.
I remember sitting on the couch as I finished reading the interview, iPhone in hand, wondering how much time I spent on my phone throughout the day. I hadn’t conducted a scientific study of myself, but I knew the answer was measured not in minutes, but hours. I shuddered, horrified at the thought that I was wasting so much of my life on something that provided no tangible reward. Don’t get me wrong, I think social media and the internet are pretty amazing, but I was definitely headed down the path of addiction. It was sucking away valuable time without me even realizing how often it was happening.
I knew I had to do something.
Within minutes, I’d deleted my Facebook, Instagram (my biggest weakness), Pinterest, and Twitter apps.
I made a couple of exceptions for myself: I kept the Facebook Messenger app and email alerts in case someone was trying to contact me, and I also kept the Facebook Pages Manager app because I manage a few business profiles and didn’t want to miss something for work. I also kept a single game for myself—a Crossword app that at least engaged my brain and never felt mindless. It’s also probably the least addicting game ever, because when you get stumped, you simply sigh and walk away. (Just me?)
So here were the rules, I told myself:
- I would try my experiment for a minimum of two weeks.
- I could get on the internet on a real computer at night for no more than 30 minutes to check social media, read the news, and browse the internet. When the 30 minutes were up, I had to shut it off and walk away.
- When I got into bed, I would only play my Crossword game or read a book. That was it.
So, you’re probably wondering, what happened? Did I wither away and die? Or did it radically change my life? Well, here’s 9 things that happened as a direct result of this experiment.
- My productivity increased dramatically. I’m not saying I became Wonder Woman overnight, but the things I normally put off until “later” were suddenly getting done. If the dishes were dirty? Instead of distracting myself with my phone, I just…well, did them. The junk around my desk got organized. The editing project I’d been putting off was finally happening. Simple tasks seemed so much easier because I didn’t really have another option.
- I honestly thought I would miss Instagram the most. I loved scrolling through the latest posts from my favorite accounts (most of them complete strangers), checking on what they were doing, and watching what I thought were hilarious and interesting “stories.” But when I cut myself off from this constant feed of images and videos, I didn’t miss it at all. You read that right. AT ALL. It was the easiest app to give up, because it was the most superficial of them all. When you added up all the times I checked the app, I was literally spending hours every week seeing where complete strangers were traveling, what new veggie burger they were eating, and what face moisturizer they were using. The saddest part? I was often doing this whilst sitting beside my husband, wasting moments I could be sharing with him and instead focusing that attention on the phone in my hand. The more I separated myself from my phone, the more connected I felt with my husband. During my experiment, I was sharing more of my thoughts, listening better, and just flat-out engaging in our relationship. Which leads me to my next point…
- I became a whole lot more social. Like, actually social in the old-fashioned sense of the word where you meet up with friends, call loved ones on the telephone, invite people over, and spend more quality time with your significant other. Before my experiment, it was easy for me to feel connected to my friends, family, and acquaintances through social media, but it was merely providing a false sense of a social life. I found myself more willing and excited to go to parties and grab lunch with a friend because my “social” box hadn’t already been artificially checked 15 times that day. I also didn’t have my head buried in my phone, so I often found myself lost in fun conversations with strangers.
- I slept better. Try it—you’ll feel like a new person. I got sleepy at like 9 o’clock every night, tucked myself in with a book, and was snoozing approximately ten seconds later. You’ll also get out of bed faster because you’re not scrolling through your app of choice in the morning.
- I’m now a firm believer that being bored is not a bad thing. Our “millennial” generation is known for needing constant stimulation, and I was totally guilty. But getting bored is awesome. It allows your mind to wander to the best places. I was coming up with new ideas for my writing, I felt in-tune with my emotions, and if I got really bored, I cleaned the bathroom. Win-win.
- Remember how I said I would give myself 30 minutes every evening to get on the internet? I usually forgot about that caveat. I was too busy reading, having a glass of wine with my husband, walking my dog, or practicing some form of self-care (for me, a face mask + a bath). Life became a whole lot more relaxing.
- I stopped comparing my life to someone else’s—and was happier because of it. Period. I couldn’t feel inadequate anymore, because I was thankful for my life and the people and things within it. I didn’t need more because I already had enough.
- Traveling was pleasurable in an authentic way. My husband and I flew to Kansas City to see the solar eclipse, and the entire weekend I felt liberated and at peace. I didn’t need to constantly update my Instagram to make sure everyone knew what we were eating or which art museum we’d visited that day. We just…wandered. I took photos for the fun of it, we ate amazing barbeque, rode the streetcar, and experienced the beauty of a total solar eclipse on a high school football field in the middle of the Missouri farmland. And not once did I update my social media while it was happening.
- I read a lot more books. Like, two a week. From the library. Take that, millennial stereotypes.
Okay, I bet you’re curious if it stuck. After the two weeks, did I keep going?
Full disclosure: I re-downloaded my Facebook app after our trip to Kansas City so that I could upload the photos I’d taken. But I didn’t re-delete the app immediately, and I found myself sucked into its clutches once again. I swear, these apps are designed to make you an addict. Moderation clearly doesn’t work for me and social media.
So I bid my apps adieu again today, and I’m hoping to get back to that peaceful place of true connection, relaxing evenings, and a simpler, more productive life.
To anyone out there wondering if they should try an experiment like this, I have only this to say: What do you have to lose?
Photo by Mikaela Shannon.