If you’re struggling to stay off social media, this post will speak to you.
September 23, 2023 is a milestone date for me.
It’s not a special birthday.
It’s not a special anniversary.
It’s not a health goal I achieved.
September 23, 2023 marks the six months since I quit social media.
It was my Projector bitterness that was the red flag which set the stage. (If you don’t know who a Projector is or what “Projector bitterness” is, simply follow the link and read more)
I gave myself a month to get off social. There were three reasons why that time was important:
- In that time I did some research, both internal and external. The external research involved me learning what my options were to do business without social media.
- The internal research was me journaling and uncovering the deeper reasons why social media had begun to feel icky and why I no longer wanted to stay on it.
- I also wanted to be intentional about my exit and carry my community along as I moved toward my decision. I had no desire to “ghost” my followers.
Soon after I placed this confusion in the hands of the Divine and asked to be led to the perfect resources, a book showed up. It was a copy of Digital Minimalism: Choosing A Focused Life in A Noisy World by Cal Newport. In this book, the author goes into great depth and detail about how addictive devices and social media have become and how and why we need to practice digital minimalism.
I read it like a thriller. When the time is right, you’re just open and available to the message.
The next book I read was Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention–And How to Think Deeply Again by Johann Hari. All of a sudden I’d become very interested in brain science, the research behind attention and concentration, and how digital distractions were creating havoc with our ability to focus.
I’m currently reading another book called Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in A Distracted World, also by Cal Newport.
There’s a ton of useful information these authors present in these books so I’ll just limit myself to sharing one piece from each of their books that blew me away.
- What solitude really is: In DM, author Newport convinced me that solitude is not what I thought it was. Solitude isn’t what we do when we read a book, listen to a podcast, or scroll our social media feed even if we’re all alone while doing it. Solitude is a state where I am alone with my thoughts. It is a state where I’m not taking in inputs from anyone else. I’d never thought of it like that. It convinced me that the longer I stayed on social media, the longer I was compromising my solitude by constantly taking in information others were feeding me.
- We’re being programmed: In SF, author Hari refers back to an experiment performed on pigeons by B.F. Skinner, the famous American psychologist and author. Skinner placed a pigeon in a cage. Then he installed a bird feeder in the cage. Pigeons wander a lot, so every time the pigeon jerked its head or spread its wing it touched a button which activated the feeder to release a seed. Over time the pigeon learned that doing these actions meant the reward of a seed and began to obsessively jerk its head and spread its wing. All these years later, the designers of Instagram mimicked the idea. They realized that encouraging people to take a selfie and rewarding them with hearts and Likes meant they would keep coming back for more. Genius.
- Fragmentation vs Focus: Newport explains that when we’re doing a task with concentration we’re digging deep brain grooves. In other words we trigger a specific neural circuitry. As these neurons fire together over time, the circuit is strengthened. We get good at focus. However, what happens mostly is this. You sit down to write a blog post or a book chapter. You write 3 sentences. You can’t think of what to write next. In order to alleviate boredom you open Instagram on your phone. Someone you follow has posted a 5-minute video. It’s just five minutes. I’ll watch it. Then you return to your writing but it takes even more effort to pick up the thread. Suddenly your phone pings. A text from a friend. You read it and respond. When you set your phone down you remember that the wet wash needs to be moved to the dryer. By the time you find your way back to your blog post, your brain is fried. Your neural circuits are fragmented. Doing this over and over affects your ability to focus.
I had to ask myself three very important questions:
- Do I want to trade my solitude to constantly absorb others’ inputs?
- Do I want my brain and behavior to be programmed by the designers of Instagram?
- Do I want to live a fragmented life and be constantly overwhelmed?