On the last day of 2016, I made the impulsive decision to go social media free throughout January. I gave myself no time to think about the implications or to talk myself out of it and as the hours ticked by and the hands got closer, not only to 2017 but to the time of my self imposed ban, I frantically scoured Facebook and Instagram to make sure I got the most out of them both and wasn’t missing anything important. At 11.40pm I deleted the Facebook app from my phone but still stayed live on my laptop, constantly refreshing, just in case. I’d decided that rather than delete my account I just wouldn’t go on it, that way I could still keep messenger and still be in touch with friends should I or they wish to. At 11.59pm I signed out of Facebook on the laptop, deleted it from my ‘Favourites’ and deleted Instagram from my phone.
Now, I know that in a true social media free arena I wouldn’t be using a blog, Youtube, Blipfoto or anything else that may come up but my two big weaknesses and my two biggest time consumers were Facebook and Instagram so those two had to go while blogging would stay (because writing is breathing as far as I’m concerned), Youtube is music and Blipfoto was going to be my storage place for a 365 photography project I’d vowed to do two weeks previously. None of my preferred sites were time thieves and so keeping them in my life wasn’t an issue.
Yesterday morning I awoke at 8am, reached straight over for my phone, checked the time, checked my emails and looked for the Facebook button. It was missing. My brain caught up with the day before’s events, I put the phone down and picked up a book instead. I read for an hour before the house began stirring with life. Ithe n got out of bed, got Annie ready to spend the day with her Dad and thought about how I would spend my free time. Once Annie had left the house I got back in bed for several hours of writing but, the first piece crafted, finished and published I wanted to share it with my friends. I wanted them to love it as much as I did and get the message that I was trying to impart but that wasn’t possible. I had no medium to share, other than Messenger, and so I shared the link with one friend who had asked earlier to read what I was to write.
I sat back and I thought about this inability to share. I’ve been writing and sharing my blog posts for ten years, in fact, it’s ten years to the day since I began writing a blog so keeping it to myself was challenging. In the early days I shared via email but I didn’t want to go back to that so instead, I didn’t share. I left it there, in the ether to do what it will, to be seen if it’s meant to be and not if it isn’t and I stopped worrying about it. Actually, I found myself feeling quite freed by it and several hours later I suddenly realised that I’m sick of sharing myself in that way. What started out as a blog that close family read, soon turned into a watered down version that was visible to all. My writing, which originally was mostly for me, over the years, became for others. It lost its authenticity and I lost a part of myself in not being true but here’s the thing, I couldn’t be true because I was sharing stories about mine and my children’s lives and I didn’t want that out there, or at least not the real stuff. I wanted the polished version only and by not sharing, I realised that I didn’t even like that version. What I liked was writing for me. I think from now on that blog will be private, honest and raw. The unpolished.
After this I went on to write another piece but I didn’t publish it, I kept it for myself and because of that it lost its picture perfect bullshit. It was much better. And then curiosity of what I could be missing rolled in like a wave crashing on the shore and before I could ride it, I’d signed into Facebook and was scrolling through to see what I’d missed ~ a friend request (which I ignored and will continue to ignore until February), a few notifications on the last thing I posted on my wall and a barrage of Happy New Year messages and photos which made me wish I hadn’t succumbed. This isn’t because I hate new year, I quite like new year as it goes, but what I hate is the way so many people think that to celebrate a new year starting they have to drink themselves stupid and have to be out ‘partying’ and be surrounded by people, friends or otherwise. I celebrated new year indoors, in my pyjamas, with the kids watching Tangled for the first part of the evening, and alone for the second part, manically flicking on Facebook constantly! Apart from the flicking, it was my idea of the perfect New Year’s Eve. It was quiet, calm and didn’t end in being sick, fighting or a headache today, plus I’m really very comfortable and happy in my own company, more so than in a crowd.
I signed out of Facebook and became aware of a general feeling of shitness. Not because I’d failed on day one, but because it jarred and it infiltrated me in some way, the same way it has been doing for the last year or so. That is how long I’ve been feeling as though social media and I may be splitting up, the love affair just hasn’t been working but I didn’t feel as though I could leave. I’d invested so much; in August 2017 it will be ten years of my life, I didn’t feel as though I could divorce it now or even give a trial separation a go. I was committed even though it didn’t feel right anymore and it hadn’t for a long time. I didn’t sign in to Instagram.
I put the laptop down, picked up my book and began to read. I’d set my 2017 reading challenge to 65 books so I thought now would be a good time to get started. It was the perfect time. No pinging of notifications on my phone to distract me and no wondering whether Susie had her new kitten or how Ben had spent the first day of 2017.
At 7pm, Annie came back from her Dad’s. We sat on the sofa, we chatted about her day and then because old habits die hard, I pulled the laptop onto my lap and uploaded my photo for the day to Blipfoto. Annie wandered off, coming back a minute later with her tablet and we both sat glued until I realised that this wasn’t the point in giving up social media, to replace it with something else just as meaningless. I put the laptop down, Annie put hers down and we snuggled in together for a long cuddle. Annie began to cry and told me that she was scared about going away with her Daddy in a few months in case something happened to me while she was gone. This wouldn’t have happened if we’d stayed on our laptops. Once we’d talked it through, and not wanting the cuddle to end, I suggested seeing if there was anything on the TV to watch. We are not big telly watchers. We can go months without even turning it on but with no social media to distract I thought I’d see if there was anything on that we could watch together. Annie spotted a documentary about the Titanic and new evidence that had come to light which we settled down to watch (and pause every few minutes as Annie had so many questions she needed answering which the documentary was inspiring). Josh even came downstairs and watched it with us and we all ended up having a lovely discussion about the mechanics of the disaster as well as the emotional implications for all involved.
When Josh and Annie went up to bed, I quickly added my photo before picking up my book, heading to bed and having a blissful two hours of uninterrupted reading. No pings, no alerts, just as life should be.
Today, day two of the social media ban started by me picking up my phone, checking the time and my emails and then putting the phone down, relieved that I had more time to read my new book. I read for a couple of hours before getting up to shower. I’ve somehow managed to pull a muscle in my back which is agony and I woke with excruciating period pain so we decided we’d have a day at home, in our pyjamas. I had a phone conversation with my dad and I had another conversation with my mum and I felt as though I had more time for both. It made me realise just how much time I spent glued to my phone or laptop.
I took lots of photos of inanimate objects around me for my photo of the day and had a play with my new camera and I made some notes about my day because I want to keep a more detailed record of life ~ another experiment for January. I read some more of my book. Doing so made me really think about the time I have spent on social media sites. A decade of my life. Almost a quarter of my life and it’s not been done in a healthy way. Not at all. It’s been my drug. There was one point in my life, deeply depressed having left Tom, that my addiction took over my life. I ‘used’ Facebook from getting up to going to bed. Literally. I only stopped to take the kids to school, pick them up again, make dinner and put them to bed (which was done as quickly as possible). I was crying out for connection but instead of getting it from a healthy, genuine source, I was getting it from Facebook and I was hooked. That addiction, the strength of it, lasted a good year or so before I shook the depression and started making real connections, funnily enough with people I had met or got to know better via social media sites.
I digress… In the evening, I decided to watch a documentary on Netflix. Just two days without the distraction of social media and I’m remembering how much I love documentaries, reading, learning, photography, growing. I even signed up for an online course today. I’m digressing again. The documentary I chose was about minimalism and it was fascinating and really resonated. The key words that stuck out for me were Does this add value to my life? I started to think about my house, the cupboards full to bursting with crap. The boxes that I packed for a future house move that we haven’t needed to open for almost a year. The 200+ DVDs that we have on the shelves, the meaningless sites saved on my toolbar, just in case. The plastic containers that never get used, the jigsaw puzzles we’re never going to do, the clothes piled up in the utility room, the dresses in my wardrobe that might get worn but probably won’t. All of the hundreds of things in this home, in this life of mine, that don’t add value. They take it away because they cause me stress and they take away precious time. Every time I open one particular cupboard in the kitchen I then have to spend a further five minutes putting all the shit back in that has fallen out because it is literally crammed in, held only by the closed door. The TWO Christmas trees, the EIGHT bags of Christmas decorations at the top of the stairs waiting to go back in the loft. The loft full to bursting with crap.
I have opened a can of worms by banning social media. It was a can of worms that desperately needed to be opened. My life as it is, as it was, had little value. It was cluttered and stressful. During this period of learning about a new life it’s probably going to stay cluttered and stressful for a short while but it will change. Already I know I do not want to return to scrolling through reams of status updates on social media. I want to have real conversations in person. I want my friends to miss me, to wonder what’s going on in my life. I want to miss them and wonder the same. I want to meet up for a drink or dinner and have enough untold tales to fill an afternoon or an evening. I want the conversation to flow, for us both to pick up on the nuances of each others voices and detect that there’s more beneath the surface, happy and sad. We can’t do that on social media. I want them to add value to my life and I want to add value to theirs.
What I thought, just yesterday, was going to be a month off social media is fast turning into a life changing decision. One that I welcome.