Social Media Mindfulness

Recently, a friend and I attended a networking event together and were catching up. She asked me what kind of opportunities I was interested in and as I started to answer, she reached into her sweater pocket and pull out her phone. I continued talking while she started scrolling right then and there. Though it didn’t feel great, I was too surprised at how she was completely unaware of what she was doing to be offended. I just felt sorry for how natural this obviously was for her.

On some level, I’m sure you can relate to this scenario since it’s almost a given that this is the new normal. I don’t want it to be my new normal though, so after logging ten years on Instagram and Twitter and twelve on Facebook, I want to do something about the build-up of some negatives side effects I’ve been feeling from social media overuse. Around the middle of last year, I felt the cons started to outweigh the pros and decided I’d go social media-less in 2019. My first ever New Year’s resolution! I’m leaving my accounts intact but getting back to my first love, storytelling, at home on the ol’ blog.

Sharing the News

I’m not anti-social and want to keep in touch with my family and friends of course, so leading up to New Year’s Eve, I let the people I see and speak with regularly know about my plans to unplug. Everyone was supportive and understanding, though some were surprised that I was “quitting cold turkey” and for the whole year, which I think is telling of its addictive nature (more on that later). Most people gave me props and told me about their own negative experiences with social media, some were inspired to do the same, and others asked me to write about how living social media-free goes. So, here goes!

The only question was, “How on Earth are we going to plan parties and invite each other to local events??” One week in, I’m thrilled to report that we already made plans for Superbowl LIII, Galentines, and Mardi Gras so I think we’re A-OK keeping the group message alive (albeit on mute from time to time). The one drawback I saw was missing out on my two favorite Facebook groups, The Solo Female Traveler Network and a secret network for minority writers, two excellent examples of healthy and empowering online communities that I’ll never leave if I can help it. I’ve bookmarked both so I can still check out what’s going on from time to time.

Though I’ve seen others do it well, I didn’t want to post an official, “Goodbye, world” and make a grand exit when it’s possible that, say:

  1. No one cares.
  2. The unlikely happens and I change my mind, coming back full swing with my Boomerangs by July.

Instead, I typed out a short but sweet message and slid it into the DMs of long-distance friends and those I don’t connect with as often but there’s enough of an effort between us to know what’s up, if only in the comments section. I made sure my contact info was visible to friends on my profiles, including a link to the blog, and updated my bios to let more infrequent visitors know I was going off the grid and how they could get in touch. Also, due to the Facebook privacy policy update that restricts any publication from posting via profiles, I created a Facebook page that’s linked to my blog so that friends still on the platform can get updates there every time I publish something new.

Y Tho

Besides while in vacation mode, when I’m usually traveling and less inclined to check social media, I’ve never considered doing a digital detox but maybe I should have. Like diets, the concept of short-term change hasn’t really interested me in the past but reading into it more, I see how doing so mindfully could lead to lasting changes; at least enough to establish more healthy habits like limiting how much time you spend looking into the black mirror. If you’ve given it a shot, please let me know your thoughts in the comments!

At the beginning of last year, I started feeling anxious as I used social media more, mainly with Instagram. Facebook is no biggie. My feed consists of yoga videos, pictures of my aunt’s intricately carved prize-winning gourds, and my favorite babies growing up in the world. I’m sitting this one out on principle. Then insomnia crept in. Sometimes I would stay up to 1-2 AM like any other millennial, 3-4 AM like apparently most high schoolers, or 5-6 AM like a crazy person. Just scrolling endlessly, down the Explore feed rabbit hole for, couldn’t tell ya, no good reason at all. I can tell you what makes me feel truly #blessed though, that by some miracle I don’t experience any social media-induced body dysmorphia because that is a real and terribly common thing. Several people have told me this would be a major reason they’d also take a break from social media.

Even so, constantly seeing the entire world’s wannabes, luxury gifts, humble brags, etc. definitely factored in over the years. It’s residual. *Hey, I meant to find a pecan pie recipe, how did I get to a Shed Those Last Ten Vanity Pounds infographic?* Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about what my friends are posting. I’m HAPPY my aspiring model friend from college got on an American Apparel billboard. I might covet my neighbor’s très chic Goyard bag that she got on her anniversary (I want one in green) but I’m happy she has a husband with good taste who knows what she wants. And you better believe I’m happy my friend who goes to the farmer’s market on Saturday mornings enjoys buying flowers and arranging them into pretty bouquets. I love her flowers, flowers ARE happiness.

But the world is a big place! We’re not meant to speculate where we rank next to everyone, let alone fret over it. It isn’t fair to ourselves or healthy and we have no idea what’s really going on in someone else’s life. As others have likened it before, we tend to compare our “behind the scenes” moments with other people’s “center stage” performances. Meaning we’re often our worst critics, measuring our lack of greatness against someone’s unrealistic greatness, or possibly something truly great that’s maybe the highlight of that person’s year, not their everyday life…We should be focusing on our own lives and those important to us in it without all that mental clutter.

There have been many studies that have concluded that social media addiction is real. There are over 2 billion Facebook users worldwide, about 500 million tweets are sent daily on Twitter, 95 million images are uploaded to Instagram daily and on YouTube, over 400 hours of video are uploaded per minute. Those figures alone should tell us something. In fact, all social media is addictive by design. –Forbes

Not Alone

A friend told me that while she never felt too drawn to social media, she left Facebook after having kids because apparently getting comments like why you’re posting photos of one child and not the other get old. I can only imagine. Another friend let me know she also doesn’t feel addicted to social media, but it’s still a stress point in her life too. “I feel like there are so many people vying for my time and attention, so many comments to respond to, so many messages, so many texts, so many work emails after hours, so. Many. THINGS.” I wanted to tease her and say it sounded like a good problem to have until she added, “There’s a handful of friends who get pissed if I’m not available 24/7…It seriously started giving me anxiety and ALL of my online interactions suffered because of it.” She told me she recently abandoned her phone for a whole weekend, she was so overwhelmed. “Sometimes social media feels like another job in and of itself, trying to keep up with everything.” Can relate.

Though my biggest problem with social media isn’t so much with too many or unwanted discussions (or d*ck pics, as a lot of my single friends deal with), it’s dealing with it as an annoying deterrent from in-person socialization. Some people aren’t even bothering to give the quick, “Sorry, I just need to get back to this person…” to finish a text these days. Now, people will blatantly check out of gatherings to check their Instagram feed just to pass the time between singing Happy Birthday and being handed a slice of cake.

nowifi

It’s not only affecting women. A few months ago, I hosted my annual international dinner party where I introduce friends to other cool people that I think everyone would have fun meeting and getting to know. It’s a multi-cultural celebration and everyone brings a dish or a drink to share that’s representative of their roots. Halfway into the night, I saw two friends were sitting off to themselves on the couch, heads down, scrolling on Instagram. I skipped over to the guys with my drink and asked if they were having a good time. Without looking up one replied, “Yeah!” and glanced at me, “Why do you ask?” then returned to his phone. I looked at both of them, faces glued to their screens, and explained, “Because it looks like you’re not really enjoying the party” and pointed my glass towards them, then across the room to where everyone else was telling stories around the dining table, or explaining their recipe in the kitchen as they helped someone with seconds. He laughed and looked up to say, “It has nothing to do with that…” and returned again to his phone with, “It’s an addiction.” Now, these guys are young, socially adept, successful dudes who chose to come over. They’d been to the inaugural dinner the year before, so they knew what to expect and supposedly joined to socialize, but I guess – as the quiet one quipped when I returned to my other guests – “Gotta feed the addiction.”

The Good

I have the most fun with photography, writing, and playing with both to tell interesting stories. When social media became available, I linked my blog that I’ve had since 2003 to my profiles and initially used them to share updates with loved ones who live around the world. With a public Instagram account, I also made a few fans and friends with the right hashtags because globalization isn’t always a bad thing. It was awesome at first and I really liked seeing people respond to what I was putting out there. It was at one time a healthy way to share my photos and writing and yes, it was a self-esteem boost. Insert social media addiction findings here. But seriously:

Simply put, when you first sign up and get ten or twelve likes for your first few posts, it’s exciting. A few months in, getting dozens is nothing special and you are checking back for a heart-count in at least the mid-twenties to feel that same kind of tingly. After getting used to reaching more, you seem to need an even higher number of likes to feel, well, liked.

The Bad

What goes up must come down and those self-esteem boosts were no exception for me. Sometimes if a post wouldn’t get as many likes as I was used to, I’d wonder why people literally didn’t like it. Even high-quality heartfelt content, whether it was an amazingly timed photo or thoughtful caption, #nofilter and all. Having no real feedback, I just wanted to understand what was off about it. I’m relieved that I didn’t grow up with social media because that is one thought away from, “What is off/wrong/not enough about me?”

Ugh, though I will admit it bugged me when at the same time, let’s be real, utter malarkey on my feed would get hundreds of likes. Pettily, I know there are algorithms and all sorts of things that come into play like what day of the week and time of day you post, but I’m not tryna get strategic with what’s been a fun creative outlet for me. Let it be known I have zero delusions about becoming a social media influencer.

malarkey

The Ugly

At the risk of this next one coming off as a paranoid little rant, I sincerely found it vexing and share with the hope that I’m not the only person on the internet having this most trivial yet bizarre online experience. I’m not serving any tea here, it’s more like I just woke up and am struggling to empty the coffee grounds without getting any on my hands (because I’m sleep-deprived remember)?

While I could see that hundreds of followers would view my videos and stories, only a couple trusty dozen or so (and some bonus hashtag explorers) would actually like it. This went on for years. Always the same folks, which I think is so strange! Why follow me, clearly interested on some level, peeking in on everything I share, but never once acknowledge that you like it? It’s a reminder that some people I guess just kinda suck don’t really like me or don’t have any intention to actually connect with me and are just nosey? Sometimes it left me feeling used and exposed to people who don’t deserve to be let in on my life the way they have been. Thing is, I don’t care to find out why people are so weird but I don’t want to keep witnessing it either.

not entertained

The End

Living in the digital age, we are continuously experiencing mankind’s technological achievements as we pioneer them and contribute to the evolution of the functionality of different technologies as it changes how we move through the world. It’s a relationship and there’s no doubt it influences us. Did any of us know signing up for Facebook in the mid-2000s how users, marketers, politicians, or even countries were going to be using it one or two decades later? This extended “testing phase” if you will, that we’ve all opted into has given us a home screen full of apps enabled with unprecedented abilities to access nearly anything we want at any time. Our great big world has never felt smaller, which for many reasons has been a positively amazing feat to behold. But for all its triumphs, with more screen time we’ve become aware that social media is no exception to the old adage of having too much of a good thing. And it’s what we do with this awareness next that counts.

I always said I needed social media to stay in touch with my friends and family around the world but those relationships have always remained my closest regardless. We call, text, send each other mail and will probably keep in better communication now, for my part. Realizing this, I have nothing to lose from social media besides the distraction and I’m happy to be channeling my creativity here again! The people who want to get in touch with me, maybe months from now only after thinking, “Hey I haven’t seen her around in a while, wonder what she’s up to…” will at least always know how to get in touch with me when they want.

This year, my aim is to regain the headspace I unintentionally filled up with distractions and mental clutter to restore my peace of mind. After a couple decades of social media saturation, maybe zooming out the next three hundred days will reset my attitude and I’ll rejoin with an elevated state of mind. Or maybe I’ll be over it and maintain my accounts just for marketing-work purposes. Having no comment at watercooler conversations on the latest tech bug will be a first but social media updates are news these days, so there’s no doubt I can stay up-to-date if I so choose by simply swiping left on my iPhone’s home screen. If an employer thinks it an odd lifestyle choice that puts me at a disadvantage, I’d like to challenge that idea by pointing out how my productivity is likely higher than anyone else “working” on their phone and demonstrating how fast I can Google countless articles, timelines, videos, etc. to catch up on What You Need To Know in the business of social media for the year. In 2019, I’m back to minding the business of me and my big picture strategy.

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