A reprieve from social media for a month has me using words like “effervescent” in everyday conversation. Reading Einstein and Paulo Coelho. Listening to public radio again. Experimenting more with essential oils. Maybe these things would have happened with no hiatus, but I doubt it.
In the beginning, there were moments of shame/embarrassment/disappointment when I (re)discovered my apps missing. Within a week those feelings were unnecessary because the flick of my thumb had ceased and I started leaving my phone in other rooms. Just in time for the holidays, I gave myself the gift of presence.
Sometimes I was bored. I didn’t know what to do with my reclaimed time. I slept more, read more, watched TV here and there. I got through hundreds of old emails. Sometimes it felt like I was missing entertainment; sometimes it felt like I was missing community. But I gradually realized that browsing isn’t how I want to be entertained. And photos on Instagram - or even inspirational or activist videos on Facebook - are not my community.
My real community was alive in the Christmas cards I sent and received. In daily text messages and birthday gift shopping. In family gatherings and mom meetups and late-night cuddles. In the simple wondering (but admittedly rarer asking) of how someone was.
It was harder to reach my community - it took more effort from me and from others. If I wanted to know how somebody was, I had to ask. If I was invited to an event, I had to be singled out instead of invited with the rest of the group. In a world of 2.3 billion active Facebook users, I asked for special treatment. The really great thing is: I got it.
I’m not sure what I expected, but a return to social media looks different than I imagined. I’ve been curious - even hungry - for the ease of “checking in” on people I care about. For the wifi-enabled messaging across oceans and continents to people I love in other parts of the world. For the support and beauty of global movements empowered through the internet. For the intrigue of following a stranger’s life.
But I have a hesitation now. It may be the same apprehension that spurred this interlude in the first place. It doesn’t come from a desire for more privacy or even a dislike for the unending comparisons drawn while I consume and engage social media. I honestly believe I have the tools to meet those challenges. It comes from a place deep in my psyche. It’s a visceral need to just. be.
With years of practice, I had mastered the art of always being “on.” Of writing short and pithy things other people might care about, or trying to get the best light for a photo, or sharing things for the reactions, not for the simple joy of sharing. In the beginning, I didn’t know what to do when I wasn’t performing like that. And a month is not long enough to unlearn what was in adolescence permanently etched into my soul. But it was long enough to consider the idea that I don’t have to be anything for anyone but me.
So I came up with a guiding principle to frame my use of social media in the future:
I don’t work for you; you work for me.