I went off the social grid completely for the last 30 days. I deactivated Facebook at the start of November 2016 and removed Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat from my phone on January 25, 2017.
I initially thought of doing a year long experiment of deleting all social media. It was going to be one of my New Years resolutions. I was discussing it with a friend towards the end of 2016 and we couldn’t seem to find an argument for any of the potential downsides.
The strongest argument we could come up with for not deleting it was FOMO. What would I miss out on if I wasn’t as connected?
So instead of jumping into a full year, I decided to see where I was at after the end of 30 days. That day is today.
It is to be noted, all of my social accounts were still active (I didn’t fully delete them, except for deactivating Facebook). This was because of various logins with social accounts that I couldn’t be bothered setting up with new emails. Also because I wanted to leave myself an out if I ever wanted to come back to the services at the end of 30 days.
I also kept using all of my internet-connecting devices (Mac, iPhone, iPad). I just deleted the social apps in question, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram from all of them. For the Mac, I just had to exhibit some level of control to not go on the web versions of the services. Facebook was easy because it was deactivated over two months prior so I’d almost forgotten about it.
Why did I do this?
I had been hearing and reading about some of the people I admire had taken technology sabbaticals. Also, I wanted to minimise distractions while I embarked on some new projects, what better way than to go full hermit mode*.
So I wanted to try an experiment. 30 days. No social media. I had already done this partially last year but removing the apps from my iPhone. But then I’d just go onto the web browser versions of them, so that doesn’t really count. I’m right into all or nothing.
Where did all the pretty colours go from my screen?
These apps were already hidden from my home screen in folders on the second page (to minimise usage). I also don’t have a single notification turned on for anything except messages and calls. And to top it off, my devices are virtually permanently on do not disturb.
Even with notifications completely turned off, I found myself consistently reaching for my phone and bypassing the built in road blocks I had set for myself to use these apps.
How many people watched my story? How many likes did I get on that last post?
These questions had to be answered.
The first few days of the month without social media I got to see how much of an addiction I had formed to the services. Especially Instagram and Snapchat.
Even though the apps were no longer on my phone, I would unlock my device and unconsciously scroll and tap into the folders where they used to live.
I had developed a habit. This caught me off guard. I didn’t realise how badly I needed a hit of Snap or scroll of the gram.
Twitter was easy, I didn’t really use it much before deleting it. I still had access through a web browser but I didn’t crave it like Snapchat or Instagram.
No Facebook had already become a part of my routine. Friends would constantly tell me that they couldn’t tag me in posts or videos of people dubbing the latest hit over a video of someone moving weirdly. I would then inform them that I had deactivated Facebook. This was a shock to some people.
A girl I met from Sweden even told me that I was the first person she encountered on her travels (~2 years) that didn’t have Facebook.
I was proud of that.
Suddenly it was weird to be off social media. I’m young but I remember it being weird to have an Instagram account AND a Facebook account. Why do I need photos in two places?
After the first week, it had become routine. I didn’t charge my phone for three days. I still had contact with all of my closest friends and family through iMessage or Messenger (I kept Messenger because of international contacts).
The addict cravings were still there, though. I started to notice how much everyone around me was engaged with social media. I’d sit at the lunch table at work, with my phone in my bag and I was the odd one out.
Rather than scrolling through pictures of food on Instagram whilst eating my lunch, I was looking at my actual lunch.
After two or so weeks, having no social media became natural. It was built in my routine.
Something funny happening? I would laugh and enjoy it rather than trying to Snapchat it and share the moment.
I took a cool photo? I’d show it to a friend in real life and I’d tell them a story behind it.
A friend is having a birthday party and they can’t invite me to the event because I don’t have Facebook? I need to be a better friend if I’m forgotten about because my name isn’t scrolled past on a 1000+ friends list. I figured if there’s anyone I’ve built a relationship worthy enough of an event invite, I’ll get it.
If not, oh well, life goes on.
I found myself with an abundance of time. I managed to read half a dozen books in the last month, complete multiple online courses on programming and web development and become much more aware of how I spend my time.
The relationships I had with people outside of social media have become deeper than ever. Partly because I’m an extrovert at heart and require some kind of human contact every day. Because I didn’t have social media, the interactions I valued the interactions I had in real life so much more.
It’s been a month today since I used any social media. I still get FOMO. I still sometimes look over my friends should when they’re watching Snapchats or scrolling through their feeds. Then I realise I don’t need that.
I missed and still miss Snapchat the most. That was the app I had the most fun with. I also like it because I feel it emphasises creation rather than consumption. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are all heavily based on consumption and sharing. Snapchat opens straight into the camera so you are more inclined to capture a moment in your own life rather than consume someone else’s.
I love making short 10-second highlight reels with Snapchat. If I was to get one of the applications back, it would be Snapchat.
As for the rest, I’m still undecided. Maybe I’ll just keep going without them for a while.
I downloaded Snapchat this morning and viewed all of the snaps I had built up. I felt guilty. I felt as if I could’ve been spending my time better somewhere else.
For now, I have a few goals that I’m working on. None of them requires social media to complete. Sure, they’re a great tool and would probably help with some aspects but after reading Deep Work by Cal Newport, it made me start to question what gives me the most value in life.
Social media gives me some value but I don’t want some value, I want the maximum value I can get in exchange for my time.
I’m not writing this as a rant against social media or to start any kind of revolution for people to get off these services (maybe whilst we’re having a conversation, any other time is fine). They’re all amazing. It’s where the world is moving. I know that.
For now, I’m still off the social media grid. Maybe I’ll get Snapchat back or try Twitter out for a bit, I’ve heard good things about it recently.
If you want to keep it touch with me anywhere, my handle is @mrdbourke everywhere. I haven’t deleted any of my accounts but I can’t promise I’ll be responsive.
*I kept using Facebook messenger and iMessage, so not entirely full hermit mode.