“Whatever happened to my hobbies?”
I asked myself this question after yet another night of coming home from work, making dinner, plopping on the couch, and mindlessly scrolling through social media. When I was younger, I filled my free time with sports, music and books. But as an adult, I’ve wasted it away.
So this past summer, my husband and I conducted a little experiment. We deleted all of the social media apps from our phones. (The only exception for me was Instagram because I manage accounts for work, and there’s no way to post on Instagram from a computer.)
I ended up deleting Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Snapchat and Slack.
And for a couple months, we didn’t miss it.
But we couldn’t hide off the grid forever. I mean, we may have moved to the suburbs last year, but we’re not old fogies. I believe that social media is good when used intentionally, and a recent study supports this thought:
“Somewhat surprisingly, we found that teens who didn’t use digital media at all were actually a little less happy than those who used digital media a little bit (less than an hour a day). Happiness was then steadily lower with more hours of use. Thus, the happiest teens were those who used digital media, but for a limited amount of time.”
So I re-downloaded Twitter and made a sweeping New Year’s Resolution to spend less time on my phone. In the first month of 2018 I retrained my brain to use social media as a tool, versus a pastime. Here’s how it went.
Week 1: January 1-7
My first step in this process was to remove the sense of urgency caused by push notifications. It’s so hard to ignore those little red badges on your screen, screaming for your attention. And the worst part is that they often lead to nothing of importance. (No, Facebook, I don’t care that my old neighbor is interested in an event near me tomorrow.)
Removing notifications helped me to check each platform on my own time, not when it commanded me to.
The second step was to establish a specific purpose for each social media platform, and tweak my feeds to help me use them more efficiently. Here’s how I broke them down:
Facebook: Keep tabs on my friends and family back in New York.
Instagram: Follow my favorite bands, food bloggers, and bookstagrammers for inspiration.
Twitter: Stay up-to-date on public relations and marketing news for my job, connect with local media, and share news related to Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Charlotte, Junior League, and my husband’s New York Islanders meet-up group.
LinkedIn: Share professional updates and connect with people I meet at networking events.
Week 2: January 8-14
I kicked off the new year by removing barriers to one of my favorite pastimes: reading. My wonderful husband got me a kindle for Christmas so I could continue to take advantage of our library system here in Charlotte without having to plan my Saturdays around picking up and dropping off books.
The basic kindle model has no apps or notifications to distract me, and it’s small enough to fit in my purse. By always keeping my current book on me, I was able to replace screen time with reading.
Instead of checking blogs on my lunch break, I’d read my book. Instead of watching everyone’s Instagram stories before bed, I’d read my book. And instead of scrolling through Twitter when I got to Junior League or PRSA meetings early, I’d read my book. And it worked! I read my first book of 2018 within four days.
Week 3: January 15-21
From the start of this challenge, I made an effort to pay attention to what triggered the urge to pick up my phone and start scrolling. By no surprise, I found that it was often either when I was feeling bored or overwhelmed. I was using it as an escape. So to combat those urges, I reintroduced my other love: music.
I updated the artists I was following on Spotify so I could stay on top of new releases and always made sure I had my headphones to help me stay focused throughout the day. (I was one of those weird kids in college who couldn’t write a paper unless she was listening to music. My go-to was Panic! At the Disco.)
I also made an effort to keep my phone in my purse at all times, unless I absolutely needed it. That old adage is true: out of sight, out of mind. This was especially important to me when I was spending time with friends and family.
Week 4: January 22-28
I’m going to call this week “the backslide.” I’m not sure if I was just tired, but I was like a dieter on cheat day, gorging myself on animated gifs and helping that girl get 500k retweets so she can take her prom photos at Citi Field (#CalliesMetsProm).
Whatever it was, it was clear I needed a break. So on Friday night I invited some girlfriends over for wine and a few rounds of ““What Do You Meme?” And laughing with friends over memes in real life was way more satisfying than staring at them on a screen.
What I learned
I’m still going strong on limiting my social media apps to Twitter and Instagram. These are the most practical apps for me to have on my phone in order to do my job. But everything else – Facebook, Facebook Messenger, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Snapchat, and Slack – I’ve since realized they never warranted being checked on the go. When I need them, I access them on my laptop, but I’m now seeing that I need them less and less.
I think that managing how we spend our free time is very similar to how we manage our diets: make good choices easily accessible, and have everything in moderation.
A recent article stated that in the time the average American spends on social media each year, they could read more than 200 books. And I believe it. Just one month into my experiment and I’m on track to finish three books, whereas previously I was lucky if I finished one book per month.
But if I didn’t spend any time on social media, it would be harder to keep in touch with my friends, I would be less informed (about news and my interests), and I wouldn’t be nearly as good at “What Do You Meme?”
So am I cured of social media overuse?
Well, at the end of this first month I can say that I use social media less, and that I got my hobbies back, which was my ultimate goal. But as with building any good habit, I think it’s going to take a series of good choices every day in order to continue this progress.
I started a new journal where I keep track of the books I read, music I listen to, and activities I do instead of spending time on social media, and I haven’t regretted a single second of it.
Photos: Caitlin Ryan