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Sep 3, 2020

A hero’s journey: 30 days without social media

Six point five hours.

That is how much time I was staring at my phone. And that’s on average. Per week. Pandemic or not, it was time for an intervention.

The idea to halt my social media activity came very soon after I received a notification on my phone a couple of months ago. It kindly informed me that my average daily screen time for the week clocked in at six and a half hours.

While my average had been slowly increasing over the years, the weekly update had never given me cause to worry – until now. 

I took a step back and analysed my down-time. Normally, I spend my spare time furthering my studies in design, practising meditation and tackling the growing pile of novels I wanted to read. Since March, I’ve been spending more time circling pointlessly and endlessly between YouTube and Facebook, mindlessly scrolling. After years of trying, they had colonised me at last.  

So, I dived into research which always comforts me. Studies have shown that phones and social media platforms have addiction purposefully hardwired into the design, using the same logic as that used by poker machines. For example, conscious design choices such as the swipe-to-refresh feature mimic the pull of a slot machine lever. The warm colours behind notifications are scientifically more inviting than cool colours, making you want to open the apps.

These tech giants employ legions of PhDs in behavioural science beavering away at making their apps as addictive as possible. Presumably said PhDs couldn’t find a more meaningful way to spend their careers.

So, I decided it’s not completely my fault that I’ve fallen prey.

I then decided on the spot to challenge myself to a 30-day social media detox.

The rules:

  1. No YouTube, Facebook or Instagram
  2. Stay ‘offline’ for 30 days

Simple enough, right?

Week one: Swift surprise 

On day two, a curveball – Taylor Swift dropped a surprise album, Folklore. My ‘Swiftie’ friends and I spent that evening enthusiastically scrolling through Swift’s Instagram to gush over the album cover and promotional pictures. No matter, I thought – onwards.

Following this minor setback, I stuck to the plan. I celebrated small wins, such as picking up my guitar instead of my phone or watching a film with parents rather than YouTube videos alone. I made a point to leave my phone in my room when going on to the shop or walks. 

Throughout the week, I was unsettled by how badly I wanted to use my phone. Without it, I felt uneasy. What if my friends were trying to call me? What if there’s a work emergency?  

Week two: Ticking boxes

Week two was an improvement, which saw me kick one of my goals.

The novel “Conversations with Friends” by Sally Rooney had been my companion for months – racking up miles of travel with me to my office and coffee shops – but I had not even started it. Thanks to my challenge, I was out of options. Once I began, I couldn’t put it down, finishing the book in four days.

Only two weeks in and my subconscious desire to pick up my phone was fading. 

Week three: Mindfulness and determination

Another important goal I had set was to practise mindfulness. From Monday to Friday of Week Three, I meditated every morning with the Headspace app to centre myself and focus my mind for the day ahead. By Friday, I was impressed with the positive effects on my mental health. I really enjoy beginning my day this way.

Upsettingly, it was that same Friday night when my determination started to crumble.

First, a friend sent me a link to a YouTube video, analysing the motifs in Hamilton, that I couldn’t help but watch (I am an avid theatre buff nerd). Then another friend tempted me with an interesting Facebook page (it’s only polite to check it out, right?), which led me into some mindless scrolling. This caused a relapse that lasted the entire weekend.

However, by Monday morning, I had pulled myself together and was ready to try again.

Week four: Finding balance

The last week of my challenge was a return to form. I was running more than before, I began reading a new novel (“The Island” by Victoria Hislop) and I had begun sketching regularly again. I reached a point of peaceful clarity in my routine, finishing the challenge with a strong run home.  

In conclusion…

Prior to this challenge, I viewed social media as an unproductive use of time, and had become resentful of my phone’s dominance of my down-time.

However, I’m surprised to conclude that cutting all social media out of your life isn’t necessarily the answer. The answer is to focus more on the social, and less on the media.

Cutting yourself off hinders you from connecting with your loved ones and engaging with your interests. It’s embedded into the fabric of our society in way that is now hard to avoid.

Having said that, my perspective – and my habits – have changed, permanently. I’ve learned to moderate my use of social media in a way that is far more enjoyable, and better for my wellbeing. It turns out that “everything in moderation” is a useful saying. Who would’ve thought it?

If you find yourself reading this post and thinking of creating a similar change in your life, I recommend this challenge. It’s like hitting the reset button in your brain – start fresh and regain control of your life. You won’t regret it.