By Danielle Esposito
So I decided to give up social media for 30 days.
I arrived at this decision after coming across a series of photos from photographer Eric Pickersgill titled “Removed.” In it, Pickersgill showcases photos of people—families, couples, friends and children—in everyday scenarios, with one minor adjustment: All electronic devices have been removed.
The images hit me right in the feels. As I scrolled through and saw black-and-white snapshots of families at a dinner table all staring down at their claw-like hands, or gazed at three children on a couch focused on their laps, or a couple in bed, back-to-back, looking to their hands for engaging conversation, I couldn’t help but feel sad and guilty about my own actions.
I started to see the real world differently. I began to watch people and how they lived their everyday lives. How we are all so glued to our phones that we don’t have time to look up and see a sunset.
And then I was out one day before a New York Ranger’s game with my boyfriend. We stopped by a local bar to grab a bite to eat when I noticed something disturbing.
Now, the two of us are pretty good with keeping our phones at bay when we’re out, but there was a young couple sitting next to us, meals in front of them, who were both so individually lost in their phones that I wondered if they even knew the color of their date’s eyes.
It was really, really sad to see.
I started doing some more research into the effects of our phones, and mainly social media, to see what the world was saying. I stumbled across a bunch of articles on the negative mental effects that it can have on us and our relationships, so I decided the next step would be to witness these effects for myself.
Below are my findings of 30 consecutive days sans my personal Facebook or Instagram.
This is probably one of my favorite findings, because who doesn’t love a more consistent, balanced sleep? What I noticed was that because I wasn’t lying in my bed scrolling through my phone each night letting all of this nonsense build up in my brain, I not only fell asleep faster, but I wasn’t tossing and turning all night.
Before this experiment, I would stay up scrolling through Instagram or Facebook, put my phone down to try to fall asleep, and then when I didn’t, I would grab my phone again “for just a few minutes” and find myself wasting another half hour letting unimportant images and fluffy articles like “5 Signs You Went to a Catholic High School” seep into my brain. Before I knew it, it would be 2 a.m., and I’d only be further away from letting my brain shut down properly.
I HUNG OUT WITH MY DOG MORE.
I have a super lovey, mushy, sweet pitbull named Nala. She’s such a good dog. In the warmer months it’s easier to dedicate time to hanging out with her because I take her along on my runs, or to explore a nearby park, but in the winter I will admit that we spend a lot more time lying around and a lot less time playing. She’s really good at being down to do whatever I feel like doing.
“Oh, mom wants to lie around on her phone all day? DOWN!”
“Mom wants to go for a random midnight run? DOWN!”
She’s the coolest, but I realized how much I was taking advantage of her well-tempered, “Please, Mom” nature. I noticed that without social media to distract me and cause me to lay around for long bouts of time, I engaged with Nala more. Whether it was throwing a ball around the house (not recommended), snugglin’ up with her to a movie (she thinks she’s a lap dog), or teaching her some fun tricks (playing dead is our favorite), we spent more quality time together, and I could tell how happy it made her.
I READ MORE.
I used to read constantly. Any chance I could get. When social media emerged, I found myself leaning less toward stories and more toward status updates.
When I really think about it, it makes me crazy to realize that that happened. Where any extra time was once spent lost in love stories or murder mysteries, I was somehow sucked into reading Facebook debates on every topic imaginable (because something I’ve been realizing lately is that Facebook really is just a place for egos and people screaming to have their opinions heard). Without all of that extra clutter taking up my time and my mind, I was able to pick up a book again.
And it felt really nice.
I SPENT MORE QUALITY TIME WITH MY BOYFRIEND.
Though we are good at keeping our phones away when we’re out, I will admit that I was very guilty of editing, composing and posting my Instagram posts while he would try to talk to me during a car ride, or while lying in bed while he waited patiently for me to finish so that we could start a movie.
I have a fitness account in the Instagram community where I’ve begun to feel obligated to post a certain amount of inspirational and motivational posts per day for my followers—and don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love doing it and connecting with the people there—but I do realize how it cut into time with my most important person, especially when we both have crazy schedules and our time together should be more precious. Without the daily pressure of finding good quotes, writing inspirational messages or perfectly editing my images, we were able to get our time together started immediately, and without me constantly monitoring my phone.
I FELT A LOT LESS ANXIOUS.
I have a hard time dealing with negativity. I’ll admit that my heart is easily crushed by too many pessimistic outlooks or angry words. Seriously—I feel like negative people, words and opinions, weigh very heavily on me. Even if it has nothing to do with me, it shakes me to my core.
Facebook, I’ve noticed, has increasingly become a place for everything negative. Just a few minutes scrolling through my Facebook feed and I’ll feel like I just emerged from a war, constantly getting bashed over the head with negative opinions, snarky comments, rude images and just plain ole mean people. It’s as if humans use Facebook as a platform where the loudest and most obnoxious person is the most respected. It’s a place where anybody who disagrees with you will jump down your throat and spit venom in some of the most malicious ways I’ve ever seen, slapping labels on anybody who has a different viewpoint. It can get very toxic, very quickly.
Getting all of that shoved in my face on a consistent basis was beginning to give me anxiety, and without it, I just felt lighter, happier and more like myself. It felt really, really nice to be away from all of that.
I TOOK LESS PICTURES…
Interesting one, right? But I did notice that I didn’t take nearly as many pictures over the past 30 days as I typically would.
BUT I BUILT STRONGER FRIENDSHIPS.
It’s really exciting how much you have to talk about with your friends when you aren’t constantly plugged into their lives. The human connection of friendships is one of my favorite parts about them, and being able to go back to basics and genuinely mean it when I asked “What did you do today?” made for a more engaging conversation.
I LOVED THE WORLD AGAIN.
You see the world differently when your nose isn’t down in a phone the entire day. Without the need to constantly check in and announce my every move to the world, to stop a meal to snap a picture of my food, or to halt a “Cheers” in order to record it, I was able to actually live in those moments and soak them in through their organic, real beauty.
So I’m back on social media now, but I just don’t feel the same way about it as I once did. Those 30 days without it were some of the most productive, happy and all-encompassing that I’ve had since social media exploded onto the scene and digitally connected us 24/7.
I can resoundingly say that I refuse to go back to my old routine. That first morning check-in, that final scroll at night, and all those wasted moments in between—I can use all of that time for creativity, for true human connection, for playing with my dog and reading a book.
I will say, however, that Facebook is taking most of the heat from me in regards to the social platform that has historically dragged me down the most. Where Instagram, for me, is an inspiring epicenter where I go to converse, motivate and be motivated by other like-minded fitness-centered individuals, Facebook is more of a kindergarten sandbox with a bunch of bullies running around kicking sand and pulling pigtails looking for attention.
My plan is to keep the Facebook app deleted so as to not: 1) Get bombarded with notifications, or 2) Mindlessly click it and scroll through when I’m bored. I can instead log in consciously and on my own terms, rather than letting it dictate my every move.