As I have gotten savvier with my website analytics, I learned (much to my shock) that my article about giving up television and social media has been the most popular content since I published it last January. Apparently giving up television and social media are popular topics among people all over the world. Given all the interest, I thought I would do a one-year update on this experiment.
In a world that continues to increase its television and social media consumption and to broaden this audience to people younger and younger, I found the interest in the antithesis of it both surprising and encouraging. While social media can be an effective channel to share information, and television can be a way to share stories and connect people over similar interests, I have seen that - as in many things - the danger lies in the excess. The mindless scrolling through social media and the inevitable comparisons that result from wanting what someone else spotlighted in their feed. The television on in the background for noise and companionship rather than true interest in the content. And finally, the trade offs that are made, leaving less time for family and friends, fitness, work, goals, hobbies, or projects.
After going cold turkey by giving up television and social media in late 2017 when I was preparing to return to work after maternity leave, I have continued my plan with three exceptions: one TV show (This Is Us - thanks to my mom who got me hooked) and Instagram, along with starting to use social media to share content from this site (note: because of my experiment, I am a novice and appreciate your input on this site’s social media presence). I have had to be vigilant about these parameters, as my personality works best with black and white rules rather than an “everything in moderation” approach. For me, trying to moderate social media usage it is like eating a chocolate cake out of the pan. You take a bite of cake - or a quick peek at Instagram - and tell yourself that it will only be one bite (or a minute). Thirty minutes and the equivalent of two slices later, and you are baffled at how things went downhill so fast.
Through my experiment and my observations of others via Instagram or comments from my husband (he checks social media periodically), I have become much more perceptive about the role of social media and television in our world. As people put more and more of their lives on social media and become more comfortable with filters and editing, there seem to be fewer and fewer people who hesitate to post every detail of their lives. Beyond the productivity benefits that I have experienced, it has led me to wonder - why do we feel the need to share these monotonous details of our lives with strangers? Why is there such a psychological rush when we track our likes, friends, and followers? What prompts us to binge-watch a Netflix series on a Saturday afternoon rather than enjoy being outside with our kids or drink wine with friends?
I decided to investigate. Turns out, the addiction is real, and it’s psychological. The combination of humans being social creatures - wanting to be connected to others - with our need for validation and the “carrot” of having a method to boost our egos through attention, and we become immersed in social media. Add in FOMO - the fear of missing out” - and we keep coming back for more and more.
Over the past few months, I have started to use the “screen time” feature on my iPhone to help me regulate my “moderation” approach. At first, I was in shock of the statistics every week, particularly in spite of my tight parameters on screen time. While there were a few factors that artificially increased my screen time (my baby monitor and fitness app being the biggest offenders), the data was enlightening. Seeing my weekly screen time and comparing to previous weeks held me accountable to do better. I no longer felt any justification for mindless scrolling at the expense of something else - there was always a better trade off of something else to do than watch pictures and videos that other people are posting. It did not make me feel connected to them and it did not further any of my goals; in fact, it kept me from spending time on the things that were most important to me. Trying to use it as a relaxation technique before bed did not work, but reading a book certainly did.
My experience has shown me that eliminating these activities from my life has not only increased my productivity, but that either elimination or extremely moderate usage has also continued to make me more joyful. I no longer compare my life to what I see on social media, or multitask while watching a random television show. Instead, I find myself living in the moment more, making real connections with people around me and feeling like I belong in real, physical communities rather than online, virtual ones. When I find myself feeling a sense of discontentment, it usually stems from something I saw on social media or television. While I cannot predict or control how social media and television will be part of the world in the future, my plan is to continue with my current approach and to encourage others around me to try it, too.
So - are you up for the challenge? Try giving up social media and television for 30 days, starting April 1. How much time does this free up for you? How does it change your perspective? And, what do you do with your time now?