Around the beginning of 2022, I saw posts from a few friends and “social media influencers” stating that they were going to take a 30-day hiatus from Instagram. After a busy first holiday season with J. Margaret Weaver and the sense that I was spending way too much time passively scrolling, I decided to follow suit and take a 30-day break from all of my personal social media. I planned to post to my business accounts, but to spend less time on it and to eliminate, as much as possible, mindless scrolling.
This isn’t new for me. In November 2017, I did my first screen-fast and posted about my experience here in January 2018. It resonated with people; more than anything else I’d written to that point. A year later, I published an update here on how addictive social media was and my goal to eliminate it as much as possible.
That worked until I started a business and saw social media as an important marketing tool. And it is - social media platforms are powerful engines of connection that can highlight your brand story to people around the world with zero cash outlay. But – because nothing is free – it was costing me my time (and my sanity, some days).
My unofficial time audit showed that my biggest offense was on Instagram - I thought I barely looked at it, but when I looked at my screen time reports, I realized it sucked me in every day, especially before bed at night. This was on both my personal and business accounts. And while I rarely post on my personal accounts, I realized that I was spending hours scrolling through reels or stories under the guise of searching for “inspiration”. I had a renewed sense of appreciation for how addictive social media platforms have become.
That concept was reinforced in an interview I listened to with Tristan Harris. Harris, head of the Center for Humane Technology and a former Google design ethicist, has become a prominent critic of the ways social-media companies harvest and profit from user data, abuse their market power, and encourage self-reinforcing information bubbles that lead to extremist positions. Harris’ critiques form a key part of The Social Dilemma, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival before launching on Netflix on Sept. 9. I learned a lot listening to this interview as I have not seen the Netflix documentary (still not watching much TV).
In the interview with Harris, he talked about how the addictive qualities of social media are driven by their business model which is based on time spent in the application, which correlates to higher advertising revenue. Harris makes the comparison with a casino, where the entire atmosphere in a casino is to keep you inside, gambling, as long as possible. Conversely, I talk about the importance of intentionality, and I had to come to the realization that I was not being intentional with my time when it came to social media.
When I tried this experiment four years ago, it was more about being present and content with my own life. Now, it’s also about spending more time on the things that are important to me and getting out of this self-reinforcing information bubble.
The benefits have been numerous, including:
Better sleep because I read or talk to my husband before bed instead of scrolling. I also go to bed a little earlier, responding to my natural sleep drive rather than fighting it when I pull out my phone.
Less emotion about current events. I stay informed by reading the newspaper, but I am less inclined to get sucked into controversial topics.
More time to read books, relax, and work on things that I enjoy.
I continue to experience greater happiness and contentment with my own life when I disengage from screens. Rather than seeing what everyone else is doing and comparing it to my life, I stay focused on what is in front of me. I did my fast during the winter in Kansas, which is not exactly a coveted place to be unless you like single-digit weather, snow, and the plains. But I didn’t have to see pictures of people’s warm-weather vacations or outdoor activities - I could just live and enjoy the winter season, knowing full well that it will be 100 degrees and humid in a few months.
So what’s my plan moving forward?
At first, I thought I might set a time limit on how much I would engage on social media, but I really do not miss it. In fact, I will probably severely limit my time spent on non-business related activities in the future if I choose to re-engage at some point. While I do not think technology is inherently bad or that everyone needs to take a similar stance as me, I want to be level-headed and objective in my attitude and perspective on how unintentional use of these platforms can be distracting or unhealthy. As a small business owner who uses social media as a marketing tool, I’m still navigating what balance here looks like in the future. Ideas are welcome.
What about you? Have you tried something similar, and how do you manage the influence of social media in 2022?