Sommer Panage

iOS Engineer | Accessibility Specialist | Manager

One Month without Twitter

tech social media

It wouldn’t be a social media “cleanse” if I didn’t write a blog post about it, would it?

Jokes aside, a month without social media was a fascinating experience for me…both in how mundane it was and how extraordinary. I’ll start with the mundane.

I had more time to do things I liked

In news that will shock no one, not being able to doom scroll meant that when I reached for my phone, there was nothing to do. At first, I wasn’t quit sure what to do with myself, but soon enough, I started reaching for other things instead. My book. My journal. Music. Or just nothing at all. Sometimes I just let myself sit and do nothing. Overall, when I took away a default behavior, I found that I was more intentional about how I filled my down time.

I was more efficient with my tasks

Without my phone abuzz with notifications and without worrying that I might “miss something,” all of the sudden, I found myself a lot more able to focus. Though this was entirely expected, I will say that I was surprised to the degree to which I was more able to work for long stretches of time undistracted. I’d never considered checking my phone a “problem,” for me, but the degree to which I was able to focus better during the last month implies that…well, perhaps it was.

I was less anxious

These days, it seems like there’s rarely good news. So flooding myself with it, and everyone’s hot takes about it, everyday, unsurprisingly, put me more on edge. Between global warming, wars, COVID, politics, and so much more, I’d be lying to say that I do not feel that the world is burning down in ways I cannot control every single day. Yet, it turns out, I don’t actually need to steep myself in it all day in order to be aware of what’s going on. Much like any tea, steeping a human all day also results in bitterness. Instead, I limited myself to 2 news podcasts per day, a grand total of 20 minutes in the morning while I was getting ready—one for local news and one for world. That’s it. And, that was enough. I didn’t feel the slightest bit out of touch with the events of the days. I did, however, feel less overwhelmed by them.

I did miss social media, but not much

After a couple of days, I really didn’t notice much of a difference in many ways. I didn’t miss the constant barrage of info and options and curated photos. I didn’t miss being plugged in all the time. I didn’t miss the feeling of FOMO if I didn’t check my phone. But, I did miss a few things. When it came to Instagram, it was seeing the stories of my closest friends and sharing my own with them. I could still keep up with them via text, but I’d enjoyed the visuals and sense of constant presence in each other’s lives, especially in light of the COVID-era. In regards to Twitter, I missed being able to share and chat about accessibility/dev/etc. Frankly, I was glad I missed something from these services, since it meant I really was getting some value from them to begin with.

I’d say everything I experienced above was in line with what I expected. Overall it was a refreshing experience, and it certainly provoked some thoughts about how I use social media in my day to day life. There was something, however, that I didn’t see coming.

My phone itself was the “addiction”

When I was tired or had a rough day, I found myself still reaching for my phone. And even when I was well-adapted to life without social media, I’d still reach. I’d scroll my messages. I’d surf through my Safari tabs. I’d flip through podcasts. I’d search library books. I’d just do…anything…anything to do something. I’d become so adapted to quieting my brain with my phone that, in the end, it didn’t matter what I was looking at, it was the act itself of staring at a screen and going into autopilot that my body-and-or-mind didn’t want to stop. Upon noticing this, I started keeping my phone on charge in a cupboard. I wanted to see if I could break the habit of “phone as pacifier,” and, it turns out, it was FAR harder than deleting social media. A little background thread in my mind would find any excuse necessary to check my phone: what’s the weather? what’s on my calendar? etc. etc. There was always something to check—more to know.

So, I experimented. I set a rule for myself. I gave myself 4 phone checks per day + my Duolingo time (how else is a gal gonna learn some Finnish?). I could check my phone after breakfast, after lunch, after dinner, and before bed. That was it. I’d use that time to respond to texts, personal emails, etc. I also had to leave my phone in strict DND with no notifications and no badges. It was hard, but it worked. As I write this, I’m still doing the 4 checks per day. I’m not always perfect. Sometimes I need to get a 2 factor code and before I know it I’m shopping for shorts, but, overall, it has reduced my usage massively with little to no negative impact.

To avoid some issues, I made a few tweaks. I allow-listed a few key apps that needed to be able to send me pushes like Instacart or two-factor apps. I also allow-listed a couple people that I knew might need to reach me quickly. Once I’d done that, I realized that every other message/email/etc could be treated as async communication and if someone did need to reach me quickly, they could hit that “notify anyway” button at the bottom of iMessage (which I had to figure out how to re-enable). I kept my phone on charge except when I went out or was doing one of my 4 checks.

It was hard, but it made a big difference. I slowly stopped reaching for my phone. Instead, I noticed that whenever I wanted to reach for my phone, I was actually uncomfortable. I was feeling something I didn’t want to feel, so softly and lightly that it would have been hard to notice if I didn’t stop in that moment and tune in. But it was there. It was that low-grade, permeating anxiety that I think I’ve lived with my whole life. Existential dread sounds too fancy, dark, and formal, but I suppose that’s what it is. For me, it just felt like “low-key ugh.”

What was also interesting is that sometimes, if I sat with it for a bit, I could actually name the “ugh.” It would peel like an onion. It would start as, “ugh,” and then, “I really don’t want to go to bed,” followed by, “I just feel like I didn’t get anything done today,” and then, “I feel like life is just passing me by and I’m running out of time and getting nowhere.” I’ve gotta be honest, I didn’t expect quitting social media to cause me to dig this deep, but I digress. Anyway, at the bottom of the rabbit hole, there’d always be something real though - a real feeling about myself or life. And in a way, it was comforting. Comforting because it gave me something to work with. Instead of scrolling until 2am, as I might have done, I could sit with this feeling, and (usually) come to the realization that staying up late staring at my phone might not actually help me capitalize on my YOLO dreams. That maybe rest and energy tomorrow would actually feel better.

Now before I sound like I’m on a soapbox taller than my own head, let me clearly state I refuse to moralize any of this. We all have ways to cope with the world and with life. It might be via work or scrolling Twitter or food or all or none of the above. I think we have to cope because even a life well-lived is hard. And I think we all have to sometimes go into auto-pilot. It was just nice actually step outside of the vehicle and to see how it all worked. It was nice to see that, if I wanted to, I could have a choice—I could take the wheel in moments where I thought I couldn’t. Auto-pilot-coping is an option. And so is something else.

So what now?

Well, like I said, I didn’t really think it’d get this interesting (to me). But, I will say I learned a lot about myself. About how I use social media and, even more so, about how I used my phone in general. After this experience, I’ve made a few changes. And I’ll try to stick with them. And I’ll see how it goes.

  • I’m only going to check/post to social media on my laptop. Probably once / day. Maybe less. (I’ve set my Instagram to 2 min per day of Screentime on my phone so I can post to my story, since that’s not possible on a laptop.)
  • I’m going to continue batching my phone checks into about 4 / day and living in DND. And I’m not going to beat myself up on days I don’t succeed. I’m going to keep trying it for a few more months and see if it sticks.
  • I’m considering getting an Apple Watch to reduce my reliance on my phone even more. I noticed that almost everything I actually need my phone for can be accomplished my an Apple Watch with cellular + AirPods (planning/emergency phone calls or texts while out, Apple Pay, music, tracking a run, navigation, podcasts, audiobooks), while the tiny screen size is far less alluring to me for scrolling and surfing. I’m planning to buy the next Apple Watch (whenever it comes out) and see if this theory is accurate. My goal would be to only bring my phone with me if I’ll need (a) complex navigation or (b) to take photos/videos.

I think in the end, the tl;dr of what I found is this: My phone is a tool–a tool for so many things in my life: communication, news, navigation, music, books, friendship, and so much more. But I wasn’t using it as a tool. I was using it as duct-tape and windex—a blunt force means of solving every uncomfortable moment. So, my goal moving forward is to return it to its status as a wonderful, helpful tool. One that I bring with me when I need it and leave behind when I don’t. One that I pick up to tell my friends a great story and keep on my nightstand when there’s nothing to say. I don’t know if I’ll pull it off, but I’m excited to try.

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