I took a break from social media for seven days over the holidays.
Yes. I know others have taken my longer breaks from social media, so I realize my fast won't seem all that novel. But for a guy who regularly writes about connecting with others via Facebook, Twitter and other platforms, and regularly preaches the virtues of online relationships, this was kind of a big deal.
I originally planned to stop using social media for four days, but instead started late Christmas Day and rejoined the online social world after New Year’s Day.
Following recent columns in which we explored the notion of “quitting” social media, I heard from readers and friends who were contemplating life without social media – “like giving up smoking,” one friend wrote.
Like them, I craved a brief respite from daily posting.
So, in order to give advice about “what to expect” during a social media fast, I started my own break, not knowing for sure what would happen.
It’s important to know what I did (and did not do):
1. I did not give up technology. I still used email, surfed the web, but avoided references to social media platforms as best I could. It wasn’t easy.
2. I deleted social apps from my phone to remove any temptation. This included deleting Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social apps.
3. I started in the early evening on Dec. 25 and rejoined Jan. 2. I chose these dates because I thought for sure the lure of sharing holiday pictures would be overwhelming.
Alas, I survived.
Here are a few excerpts from my journal:
Day 1, 6 p.m.: I deleted Twitter 30 seconds ago. It was the last app to go.
What have I done? I’m not sure I can do this.
It was pretty easy to dump Snapchat and Instagram because, well, I’m not a daily user. I look at other people’s posts, but I only post my own images a few times a month.
LinkedIn didn’t hurt because I don’t plan to work much over break, and LinkedIn feels like my social media “work” app. Facebook and Messenger kind of hurt.
Already thinking this was a bad idea and feeling withdrawal symptoms.
Day 2, 7 a.m.: I took a few pictures on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. Surprisingly, I didn’t take as many as I usually do, probably because I knew I was doing this fast and wouldn’t be posting images.
Also, I’ve had a few random thoughts about the football games I’m watching and sports in general that I would usually post. Does this mean my thoughts are inconsequential, or that I’ll forget I had those thoughts?
This is so weird.
Day 3, 8:30 p.m.: I’ve been distracted by my wife and kids all day. I use the word “distracted” because I wonder if they’re helping me to forget about social media. As expected, I feel more connected to the people around me when I’m not lured away by my smartphone.
Maybe it's the holiday break. Maybe it was the ease with which I deleted my social media apps. The first days have felt fairly painless.
Day 4, 6:30 a.m.: Checking email is a challenge. I get daily updates from Facebook and other platforms about new activity. If I’m tagged in new posts, getting friend requests or new followers, Facebook and Twitter tell me, albeit via email.
I’ve avoided social media, but it feels like they’ve come looking for me.
In a strange game of social media hide-and-seek, I’m hiding while Facebook and Twitter are searching.
Not sure who is winning.
Day 5, 4:15 p.m.: A friend has been in the hospital for a few days. She was providing updates on Facebook, but now I can’t look for updates. I don’t know if she’s out of the hospital yet, and I don’t have her cellphone number.
I could ask my wife to check Facebook, but that feels like cheating.
Am I a bad friend?
Day 6, 10 a.m.: Hanging with my family for New Year’s, and my brother-in-law says (in a very accusatory tone), “I thought you were off social media. But then you posted a picture the day after Christmas. You didn’t last very long.”
I’m freaking out. Did someone hack my account?
He digs a little and finds that the picture was actually posted a few days before my fast. As is common on Facebook, when someone comments, the post is suddenly reignited, moving it to the top of some news feeds.
Day 7, noon: I’m back on social media today and, to be honest, I really feel like I could go another week or two. The lack of drama has been good for me, both psychologically and socially.
As I wade back into social media waters (dipping my toe into Facebook first), what did I learn?
Are you thinking about taking a break from social media? Share your experience with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about communication and relationships, parenting and sports. He writes a weekly column for The Vindicator newspaper on social media and society.