Sometime around Labor Day of 2020, I decided to leave social media. Not in a high dudgeon way of cancelling accounts and severing ties with a bluster, but I had grown weary of the opinions and bad manners people displayed on friends’ posts. I was learning more about people than I wanted to know, and they were surely feeling the same way about me.
At first this exit was challenging. I ended up tapering off rather than going cold turkey. A week later, I received my weekly screen-time notification on the phone to say that I’d spent 19% less time on my phone. That seemed like a good number, but I was still peeking at social media each day without interacting. The next week I was notified that I’d reduced my time by another 23%, and I started to get that feeling when your diet is working. If I could reduce that much screen time simply by glancing at my newsfeed without reading too closely, imagine what my percentage could be if I used my phone only as a phone, for texting, and for reading three news sources rather than four.
I didn’t think of it at the time, but for approximately three months, I didn’t even use my social media apps. I missed out on the humor, the sadness, the politics, and the sense of connectedness during a time of international isolation, but I was able to regain my focus.
I’d like to say that I became incredibly productive and wrote another two books, read a dozen more, and let creativity feel the void, but I have very little to show for my time away. I spent some of the time doing video work and putting in some volunteer hours, but I barely wrote a word except for a grocery list. There’s nothing tangible to show for my hiatus, but I managed to avoid social media during a tumultuous election season. After reading the reputable news and watching reliable news sources, I found that there were so many things I wanted to say, but why add to the cacophony? Nothing I could say would change minds.
If someone can be incited by conspiracy theories and falsehoods, I’m hardly the one who’ll successfully sway their opinions. I have no patience for willful ignorance. The best thing I can do for the person is to let them run out of steam while I figuratively roll my eyes. In some cases I literally roll my eyes, but with today’s citizenry, one shouldn’t take the risk.
My screen-time numbers kept dropping during the weeks of Fall, but about six weeks ago I started making quick glances. There is just some information you can’t get without logging onto social media. I had known for years that life’s milestones are now announced on social media platforms rather than in newspapers and personal notes. In a year when there were, and continue to be, so many deaths and personal losses to people I know, my hiatus had caused me to fail in keeping up with several grieving friends unless someone reached out to inform me. I can only hope that people were not offended by what seemed like silent abandonment during a critical moment, but my absence was not meant to be hurtful.
In a year when isolation’s ill effects touched everyone except perhaps the strictest of introverted misanthropes, my media vacation allowed me to focus on the quotidian rather than my desires to captivate the masses. After a month away and no posts to check on, I lost the impulse to automatically tap an app and see how a post or a comment was performing, but around Thanksgiving I glanced at my newsfeed. I stayed committed to not commenting or reacting, but thought it best to make sure that I hadn’t missed anything important.
I was only glancing once or twice a week and never for more than five minutes, but during the week of Christmas, I started moving in the other direction. My phone couldn’t provide the steady lowering of screen-time percentage points like falling numbers on the scale. Instead, it notified me of how much screen-time I’d spent when all the holiday preparations had been made and all my deadlines had been met. On Christmas, I posted an actual photo, and today when I peeked at a friend’s post I couldn’t help making a comment, which made us both laugh. I know this because I checked back to see if he’d seen my comment and reacted.
The real danger of social media for me is checking back to see if a post or comment is performing well. I need social media because I am my own publicist, and my blog posts like the one you’re reading land on various platforms. Online traffic makes people aware of my books, and I definitely want to sell books.
I didn’t make any formal resolutions for 2021, but balancing social media with real life is an admirable goal. I’ll post my progress from time to time and check back regularly to see if anyone notices or comments.
© 2021 by Patrick Brown To find out more about my books, visit Amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_book_1