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CONVERGE | Technology

My Five Week Facebook Detox and What I Learned

Taking an extended Facebook break is an easier and more rewarding experience than you might imagine.

 

By: Jessica Roberts

The decision, like so many key moments in life, was made in the bathroom. I was literally looking in the mirror when I realized in a flash: I had to reclaim my time. Facebook had to go. For the next month, I had to log off the world’s largest social media platform.

Within ten minutes, I had changed my profile and header pictures to “see you next month” and cleared my cache. No passwords, no memory. In one fell swoop, I was done. Can’t imagine? Well, neither could I, before that epiphany. But for the past five (almost six) weeks I have done the seemingly impossible: I broke-up with Facebook.

Here’s how it went.

Like many of us, Facebook is the daily portal to the various and far-reaching eras and phases of my life. Thanks to the ingenious scroll, no matter where life takes me, I can still support my high school mentor, see photos from former coworkers or cheer on the success of grad school friends. Knowing life before and after social media, I appreciate the miraculous sea change it has brought to our lives: Graduation, a new job or a big move no longer means cutting ties. Now those transitions mean simply seeing life from a digital distance. A goodbye is no longer forever.

SO WHY TAKE A BREAK?

Because ten years of daily use equals a lot of hours that weren’t always keeping me closer to people I cared about. The endless scroll was bringing less joy and more unease; updates from the friends who have now become loose connections seemed to underscore the shift in our relationships, rather than enhance a new era. Because while I didn’t want to say goodbye, an extended holiday was in order to re-evaluate my digital ties and assess my relationship with social media. And, honestly — I wanted to make sure putting down the phone was possible.

HOW HARD CAN IT BE?

Staying off was surprisingly easy. Perhaps because the rewards were instant and substantial. Within a few days, my productivity and attention span increased dramatically. The habitual half hour of morning screen time was replaced by a painting — a long-held dream. The sense of accomplishment from completing my first canvas will last a lifetime.

WHAT WILL I DO WITH MYSELF?

Anticipating the inevitable urge to “check in” I replaced Facebook with an app for free online courses, to divert my attention (and helped me avoid going cold turkey). Four weeks later, I’m eligible for a certificate in the history of graphic design!

WHERE WILL I GET MY NEWS?

I’d forgotten the countless ways to learn about the day’s events! All those daily news emails I’ve subscribed to over the years, but never read? Opened. (And fascinating!) The Nightly News? Watched. (How you doing, Lester Holt?) Tapping into a slower and less customized stream of news was a relief I hadn’t known was needed.

HOW WILL I CONNECT WITH FRIENDS?

Most surprising was in increase in actual phone calls from friends. Without the regular updates to approximate “catching up” I found myself on long chats with girlfriends, engaging in much more satisfying conversations than a heart or like could ever convey. A handwritten letter or two even made their way into the mailbox, an old school hello that pleases and surprises friends far more than instant messenger.

Those conversations made me examine how I can make my online experience more fulfilling . I think we should all consider how we show up online as we — and the platforms — mature. What we share is a valuable contribution to those who have made our lives rich and meaningful.

Now, logging off isn’t going to cure you of all modern ills. But for the time I specifically chose to move my attention elsewhere, another world opened up. Until I walked away, I didn’t fully understand the mental toll of sharing my attention so freely. Refocusing my energy into other online areas offered excitement and fed my curiosity, which was truly a gift to myself.

OKAY, HOW DO I START?

If you are so inclined to reclaim your time, I’d suggest some key strategic practices:

1. Give notice Turn your profile and/or cover image into an “out of office” sign to let friends know you aren’t checking Facebook. Using a text overlay app (like Canva or AfterPhoto) you can quickly create a profile saying you’ll be back on a certain date. Ask friends to email or call with big news instead.

2. Make logging-in difficult: Delete the app, clear all the memory for the app and block it from your browser, if you expect to feel strongly compelled to check-in.

3. Don’t trade in one scroll for another: Limit your social browsing to a predetermined amount of time or for a specific use. Get mindful!

4. Notice the urge to check in: Also, have a plan for how to divert that energy. Pre-determining a use for those newly spare hours can help tame the beast: In my case, I opted for two gardening apps and Coursera for online courses.

5. Send birthday notices or event RSVPs ahead of time: If the idea of ignoring birthdays makes you cringe, use the “Upcoming Birthday” tab and send your greetings early — and more personally. Similarly, RSVPs to events and manually add them to your calendar.

WHEN THE EXPERIMENT ENDS

Logging back on brought a surge of elation thanks to the gigantic number of notifications. The dopamine was pumping: What wonderful news was about to come my way? The thrill of connecting was palpable — almost like in the early days.

Stepping away from my feed, I remembered something important: I truly appreciate my digital year book. I would gladly pick up any of my Facebook friends from the airport and I genuinely adore their kids, pets and progress. Five weeks later, I am certain that our original bonds will always be strong enough to survive some virtual time apart.

And yours are, too.

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