Monday, April 2, 2018

Don't You Know That You're (De)Toxic?

Okay, I'll be real. I wanted to use that play on the Britney Spears' song since I knew this would be a post, so I'm glad I got to do that.

Now, that we've got some humor out of the way, I've got to get real with y'all. I knew I needed to take this year's Lenten season to address a problematic relationship. Social media has been a somewhat regular part of my life for the last fourteen (14!) years since that fateful day I first joined As we enter the adolescence of our time together, something had to give.

As 2018 began, I realized what a drain this part of my existence had begun. There was the time aspect primarily through mindless scrolling. Rather than filling my time with what and who I enjoyed, I was filling my space with an endless skim. It was also draining my energy. There was the feelings of FOMO as I saw what I wasn't doing or experiencing. There were the feelings of comparison as I felt like I didn't have this or that. You know it's funny I know I am able to (and do) filter my online existence. However, I rarely take that into consideration as I evaluate what others have chosen to post. In all honestly, the space where I connect with those I love who are scattered all across the world had became the place that had started to separate them from me. All the connections I professed to love on social media had been strained to the point that I legit loathed the time I spent online.

With Lent, I decided to cut back. I would only use social media (So for me, that's Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. I didn't count Snapchat because I use it primarily as a messaging tool) during hours where I was at work. To be clear, when I say at work, I mean it's something I would check in on to start my day, during breaks, etc. Given I work at a computer and evaluating the positive aspects I still could glean from using these, this seemed like an arrangement that would work better than an all-out separation.

Staring the process was quite the jolt. There was one moment where I just stared at my phone as that literal black mirror it is (in case you didn't get the show title, NOW YOU DO! #mindblown) because without social media I didn't know what to do with it. I had that craving cultivated by intermittent reinforcements (For those who aren't familiar, it's the urge to do something because it could be positive, but not a guarantee. Thanks to How To Break Up With Your Phone for teaching me that one). With time, that faded. In fact, I actually felt a sense of relief some days when I could disconnect.

Here's some other happenings of note:
  • I started texting people for their birthdays and/or sending cards like I always want to do, but never actually do. I still want to get better on this, and I've now taken some steps in the right direction.
  • When I had to wait somewhere, I just sat there, and I WAS TOTALLY FINE. Those five to ten minutes of quiet were actually quite enjoyable as I people watched. I've missed that.
  • When I knew I was going to be somewhere and have a little bit of time to fill, I took a book, and then, AND THEN, I just read that book.
  • Facebook needs to settle down. When you don't log on regularly, they do all they can to cultivate the FOMO in you. This included sending me emails to see if I'd seen what random friends had posted on other friends' statuses, popping notifications in about things friends had posted that were unrelated to me, and/or reminding me to check out something that I hadn't seen. Honestly, y'all, it was a weird (and needed) look at the man behind the curtain. Taking some time away from the algorithm, I realized just what the heck they're doing, and I don't like it.
  • I got really annoyed that Instagram doesn't have a chronological feed. Seriously, fiiiiiix it.
  • Speaking of Instagram, they also need to settle down. They emailed me to make sure I wasn't having problems logging in? No, I got it. Thanks.
  • The only thing of note I nearly missed was that Target is going to have a line of Hunter boots. Y'all that could have been a catastrophe, but I find out through word of mouth, so crisis averted.
  • I had more time to cross-stitch. I have some projects I am really jazzed about right now, and I loved just spending my evenings crafting like a boss.
  • Dustin and I enjoyed a vacation without sharing a moment socially, so I guess technically we have no proof it happened. . .but y'all, it did, and it was great. 
  • I had even more time to read. Yes, I know that I already read more than most. It was great to end my workdays by stepping away from the screen, curling up in a chair, and just getting lost in a book.
  • I spent time looking at the relationships others had with my phones. I don't want to go all Judgey McJudgerson, but not having my phone to stare at allowed me to gaze at how others engaged with theirs. I was amazed at how many people opted for the glow of the screen versus the things that were happening in the literal moment. I know I've been there, and it's not a look I want to continue.
When all was said and done, I actually found an arrangement that I will (mostly keep) going forward. The growing number of alerts in that top right corner stopped bothering me a few weeks in, and it doesn't have the Pavlovian control over me it once did. 

As someone who works from home and has friends and family spread all over, I find social media to be an important way to connect. However, as Uncle Ben (not my Uncle Ben, but Peter Parker/Spiderman's) would tell us all, "With great power comes great responsibility." A few years back I read this piece about quitting the like button (Check it out) and did spend about a month trying it out. Admittedly, I then regressed back to old habits, but I've never forgotten this read. As I begin this new season, I've been thinking about it again and hope to re-integrate it into my habits once more.  Connection isn't made by seeing each and every item in my feed. Rather, connection comes in taking those moments to read the words and see the pictures that are posted. If this social media thing is going to work for me, I have to mindfully engage. I also need to keep in mind that I do have the power to opt out (and should!) when it becomes an not so great space for me. 

I'll admit that it's hard to sit and reflect on how I let technology become such an unhealthy part of my existence. It's especially hard given it relates to choices I made along the way. However, I also am thankful I gave myself the last forty days to re-evaluate, and redesign how I connect. It's still a work in progress, but I start this April feeling the best I have about this all in a long time.

Now if only they'd bring AOL Instant Messenger back. . .