Technology, like money or fame (or the presidency) brings out and amplifies what’s already inside of you.
Why I Took a Social Media Break
You’ll see it out there, and you can probably smell it through the screen: there are people whose lives are dictated by the photos they can share of their social media persona. Their experience of something lasts about as long as it takes to snap the perfect pose and get the most flattering light--the most likes. Capturing and posting about their experiences puts them in pursuit of the prettiest-looking food, the coolest backdrops, and a perfect #plandid pose that says “What? I stand like this all the time…” Also a “plandid” is a real thing, you guys—a cultural phenomenon wherein someone “plans” to look “candid.” To me, this mishmash word represents the ACTUAL void that exists: It reveals that all someone really wants is to live a life so exciting, so beautiful, so full of energy (or so cool and brooding) that SOMEONE ELSE feels inspired to capture it—and you can’t be bothered to stop for a SECOND to take a photo, you are just so entranced in your living. (And if your life gets too #real, you’re not wearing a brand new outfit or brunching at the hottest new avocado toast establishment, you can just #latergram something more plandi-glam.)
I think the kind of joie de vivre we’re posing for does actually exist—I know it does—but there’s no plandid way to experience it. I think we all need to stop for a beat and decide what we’re doing with this thumb-twiddling tool.
I’ll be the first to admit: I absolutely love Instagram. I’ve met some of my closest real-life friends through this bizarre channel. I’ve connected with inspiring mentors. It has had such a positive impact on my actual life that my husband and I have discussed what kind of strategy I might need to employ in the future to maintain this valuable gold nugget of social media. We’re a military family and we move a lot, but wherever we go my social media experience has connected me to women who have become my life-long friends. I don’t intend to just let that go.
However, there are aspects of it I’ve taken some much-needed time to re-evaluate.
I started to notice my own trends, the ebbs and flows, of my social media experience. I started to see where the image I was preemptively curating in my mind was beginning to dictate my real life experiences. ("That _______ would make a great Instagram post.") It was innocent at first. I loved taking pretty well-lit pictures of the food I was making (I still do!), and I was keen to share recipes and encourage others in their own kitchens. Then I would start thinking to myself “I can’t make that for dinner, I just posted about that 4 days ago…” and I had to come up with something new and novel that I could post on Instagram. And then the #fitspo started. I was taking photos of myself on a timer at the gym. And at home--like flexy ab photos. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I was more concerned with getting the “right” angle, the “right” filter. Sometimes it took 5 or 10 shots to get it right.
Oh, and this is KEY: to make your narcissism seem less narcissistic, you just have to add some kind of inspirational message or quote. (Or make fun of yourself. Either works.)
For my first “boom” year on social media (back when having 1,000 followers was a big deal), my husband was deployed. Staying connected on social media made me feel less alone, but it also welcomed some of these more embarrassing self-photographing narcissistic behaviors that I wish I had the wherewithal to reign in at the time.
I felt really uncomfortable the first time I agreed to do some blogging and photo-snapping for a company—a company I was actually really excited about and not in any way conflicted about working with—but when the contract was scanned over to me and we set some deadlines in place, it used language like “the influencer will…” and I realized what I had become: a “social media influencer.” That held a lot of weight for me because not only had I now earned the title of something I rather detested, but I now realized my responsibility. I have influence. What I do, what I say, the pictures I share and the words that accompany them have weight and impact on other people’s decisions. What kind of influence should I have? And why do I have influence at all? Is it because I’m attractive, or because I’m knowledgeable? Is it because I’m easy, or because I’m valuable? It was then that I decided I wanted to approach this with a little more integrity.
In the years since, in addition to the positive aspects of social media, I've found it to be a bit of a thief of my creativity. It can certainly be used as a tool for creativity and inspiration, but every tool can be wielded as a weapon. In Women Who Run With the Wolves, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola-Estes says that if we’re gasping for creativity, something’s not right: “Perhaps one so admires the gifts of another, and the seeming benefits earned or received by another, that one becomes expert in mimicry, sadly content to be a mediocre ‘them’ rather than developing ones own unique gifts to their absolute and startling depths. Perhaps one has become caught in a hyper-fascination or a hero-worship and has no idea how to mind their own inimitable gifts. Perhaps one is afraid, for the waters are deep, the night is dark, and the way is very long; just the right conditions needed for development of one’s own original and precious gifts.”
There are some truly positive, truly inspiring, informative, funny, real-life light-emanating movers and shakers online. We love them. We need them. We want to be them. They show us what social media is capable of. And then our photos start to look like theirs, our language starts to traffic in the same vocabulary and meditate on the same themes. We start to use their life as a shopping guide, as a staging tutorial, as a mind-masturbator. It can get dark fast.
I don’t want to fall prey to that. Even more, I don’t want to BE that to anyone else. Here's what I DO want, and I'll let William Henry Channing sensuously stroke your brain with these life #goals:
"To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich; to listen to stars and birds, babes and sages, with open heart; to study hard; to think quietly, act frankly, talk gently; await occasions, hurry never; in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common--this is my symphony."
I can't be content to live with small means when I'm bombarded with advertisements online. Instagram is a breeding ground for "seek[ing] luxury" and "fashion." How can I "await occasions" when I'm candidly-planning them for a post on social media? How can we welcome "unbidden" adventures into our lives if we're always posing? If we're always posting? If we're always postponing actual life?
How to Take a Social Media Break
You might need a social media break if any of the following symptoms and traits describe you:
- Spending too much time on your phone
- “Text neck,” and other poor postures
- Physical anxiety about forgetting your phone, responding to notifications, performance of a post, etc.
- Physical anxiety and depression from comparing your life and your popularity to others’
- Habit and muscle memory have you clicking into social media apps at stop lights, in check out lines, and other short but frequent opportunities.
- Poor sleep (from LED/Blue light exposure, especially at night
- EMF and radiation exposure, especially in pregnancy and around children
- Taking pictures, posting, and scrolling instead of being present
- You're the 45th President of the United States
- Distraction from family and friends
- Making life, travel, fashion, and food choices based on their potential appeal to your social media following
- Your social media usage affects the behaviors and expectations of others around you
- Reliance on social media for news and information
- Conflicting interests with business & personal life (needing social media to make money)
- Using your social media influence as a measure of your character
- Relying on a number of “likes” to feel important, appreciated, and “liked”
- The branding or persona you nurture online is distinctly different from who you are in reality
- Feeling stress about not keeping up, providing content, and meeting demands imposed by social media
I decided I was going to take a break when I heard my daughter say, "Mom, you have to put your phone down so you can watch me." I was taking a picture of her--I was proud of her for scaling and scrambling up high on something, I thought it fit well with some kind of themed message about letting kids take risks and be independent. Good intentions, I thought. But misguided. Distracted. Not present for my kid. I was inspired to take the leap listening to Katy Bowman's podcast episode about this very topic. She describes all the steps for doing it effectively. You can listen to it here Episode 75 - A Social Media Break and check out Episode 80 - Social Media is Shaping Your Body.
Here's a fun 3 minute blurb, too. (Are any of you reading this on your phone?...)
In addition to that information, here are some steps I took to make my own social media break successful, and some helpful tools to help you create a new framework for reconstructing your relationship with social media.
1. Delete the app entirely - Get it off your phone. Make it difficult or impossible to access it elsewhere. Have a friend change the password for you until your break is over if you have to.
2. Put something else--something better--in its physical place - Wherever you used to organize the app button on your phone, replace it with something else. I highly recommend the app "Moment" which tracks the amount of time you've spent on your phone each day, and also records the number of times you pick it up to activate the home screen (the national average is over 100 times). The paid version will allow you receive reminders to log off or set daily limits, which is great to model if you have kids or teens using devices at home. We can't kick the habit and the addiction of social media if we just put something equally time-sucking in its place, whether it's reading the news, playing games, or scrolling through your photos. Let's change the actual behavior around the device.
3. Be mindful - Consciously evaluate and keep track of your mindset. Do you feel like you're missing out? Why? Do you find yourself thinking in social-media-speak or wishing you could post about something? Why? What do you do with the time you're not online? Do you feel any sense of relief? How does this change affect your productivity, your relationships? Take stock of ALL of it.
4. Have a plan for your return - Set some clear boundaries for yourself. Establish specific goals. Curate your experience to remove the anxiety-triggers and symptoms you might have identified with in the above list. Ensure you won't backtrack to old behaviors.
I'm working on that last one right now.
See you soon,