I’ve struggled off and on throughout my life with spending too much time on social media, and consuming low quality entertainment. It’s never something I intentionally set out to do, but rather, it’s something that sneaks its way in slowly. It sits there like a little monster on my shoulder convincing me to watch just one more Tik Tok compilation on YouTube or to scroll through just a few more photos on Instagram.
More often than not, at some point I look up and realize that I haven’t created anything in months. I end up feeling robbed with nobody to blame for my mugging but myself.
Last year I deactivated my Facebook. I think it was February. I deactivated it rather than deleting it so I could maintain a group chat with a few friends that we’ve had on Facebook’s Messenger platform for a number of years. It was deactivated for over a year and I didn’t even miss it. Once I’d acknowledged it was no longer an option, once that temptation wasn’t on my phone screen, once the tab was no longer hanging out at the top of my Chrome window, it ceased to matter to me. Now, what does that say about it? To me it says it was never all that valuable to begin with. I found newer, far more productive ways to use my time. I started writing again. I read a lot more than I had been. I watched a lot of documentaries. Essentially, I did about a thousand things far better for my brain than scrolling through a Newsfeed designed to be addictive and filled with advertisements.
I reactivated my Facebook to help out a family member and I figured I’d stick around for a little bit to see if, I don’t know, it would provide me some kind of joy to be back on the platform. I posted a few things. I clicked the like button a few times. About a week ago I deleted it. For good this time. Because not only did I find the Newsfeed to ultimately be just as vapid as it always was, but the group chat with friends was more of the same. Nobody talked in there anymore, just shared memes and links no news stories but without discussion. We weren’t communicating in a meaningful way.
After deleting Facebook and Messenger, I did an experiment. I decided to track the amount of time I spent on my phone in a day. Just one day. I wrote that number down (it was about 140 minutes) and calculated what that would amount to if the times were about the same every day. In the end, do you know what I learned? I learned that in a single year, more than a month of my time is spent on my phone, and that’s a really low estimate, because the day I tracked? It felt like a lighter day for me. It felt like I wasn’t on my phone much compared to other days.
I’ve decided I have no right to assert that I don’t have time for things. If you hear me say I don’t have time to write, I want you to punch me in my face. And writing aside, how many more books could I have read in a year where an entire month was spent scrolling through endless feeds on my phone?
Enough is enough Past Me. I need a shift. I need to prioritize, to align my values with my actions. For the last week I’ve been waking up at 5 in the morning on purpose so that I can have two solid hours of writing time before my family wakes up. And you know what? It’s been working. I started a new novel and it’s flowing amazingly well. I’m developing a good amount of clarity for my writing which wasn’t possible with all the distractions of the day.
I’m committing to leaving my phone the hell alone. I’m allowing about 15 minutes a day to check or post to Twitter or Instagram and that’s it. And you know what? I feel so free. I’m taking charge of what goes into my brain so that I can improve the quality of what comes out of it.
I want to put out a challenge to you, reading this. Track how much time you spend on social media for a day. Track the number of minutes you scroll through Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, whatever else you use, and then multiply it by 365. Then take that number and divide it by 60 to get the number of hours, then divide that number by 24 to get the number of days you’ve spent doing something that doesn’t contribute to your personal growth, skill set, or help you reach your goals. Assuming, of course, that your goals aren’t social-media based. Then, please, I’d love to hear your numbers in the comments. Maybe it’ll help me feel like I’m not the only one struggling to find balance in this digital world.
Featured photo by Ross Findon (@rossf)