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As someone with anxiety, I started feeling overwhelmed by the world. After hearing about it from a few friends, I decided to take a week-long hiatus from all social media to clear my head. Let me start off by saying that social media—Twitter specifically—has been a major part of my success as a creative person. As a musician, comic writer and freelance writer, I’ve used the internet as a tool to meet and eventually befriend people who were once completely out of reach and have even gotten many of my paid gigs doing so. While the positive side has been great, the negative side is fairly dark. I’ve felt consumed by having to be, “on” all of the time. If I wasn’t sharing my experiences, maybe I wasn’t experiencing them properly. It was constant stress and anxiety to consume and report at all waking hours. It sounds silly, but it’s all true. After taking (mostly) a week away from social media, I’ve learned a lot about myself.
FAUX FEAR OF MISSING OUT
The best realization after a week of not using social media was that I missed absolutely nothing. Maybe a few birthday reminders from Facebook or event invites of things outside of my state, but mostly notifications from apps letting me know that I haven’t posted in a while. Yes, automated message, I’m well aware and I did not miss you either! It seems that this fear of missing out was based on my daily routine of waking up, scanning through every timeline on every app and absorbing as much information as I could. I was also overwhelmed by all of the bad news going on in the world then realized that’s what happens when you follow a few dozen news outlets. I felt guilty not knowing the happenings in the world and in my friend’s lives. First, I went directly to news sites IF I wanted to see the news. Then I forgot I could just talk to people in person and get that same information about their happenings. Now when I see my friends, there’s more of a chance to have an engaging conversation.
THE HUMAN CONNECTION
“Did you see my post?” is the question that prefaces a story that most likely no longer needs to be told. Modern conversations in the social media age are usually based on the idea that you’ve already seen or heard about an experience then there are only a few gaps to be filled in the story. For a week I was able to reply, “No, I haven’t seen that. What happened?” Every time one of my friends would make a surprised face, then start the story from the beginning. It was a conversation. It was a reason to catch up with substance and not have to rely on empty small talk. It felt good to be human again.
One major thing that still irks me is getting upset when a friend either unfollows you or doesn’t follow you in the first place. If you’re friends in real life that shouldn’t matter at all. There’s a strange passive aggressiveness to it that is so pathetic if it’s ever intentional. I accidentally unfollowed a friend, went to readd him, felt bad that he would see it then just left it unfollowed. It’s a miserable and pointless thing, but I felt those chains of modern social media constricting me and I had to get out.
I noticed my cell phone addiction was reaching peak levels when I was trying to read a book. I love reading and I love the book I was reading, but my attention span has been dwindling thanks to the glowing magic rectangle in my pocket. After every page of a book, I would grab my phone and scroll through Twitter for a minute. There was no real rhyme or reason, but in a sad way, I was rewarding my brain for reading a whole whopping page of a book! That’s like taking a lunch break after working for ten minutes or drinking a protein shake without going to the gym. It was going from a necessary tool to an unnecessary distraction.
Right after you give it up, just like sugar, you can’t shake the craving. Maybe it’s less than a day and you open your pantry and stare longingly at that leftover pack of Oreos from a seemingly happier time. Maybe you just have one? No. Not today, snacks! You stay strong. You keep staying strong. After a long enough time, the reward is when you try a sugary treat--it’s now too sweet to enjoy. You only need a portion of what you used to devour. Your memory cells have moved on. Social media is the same way. Now when I open the apps I realize how much information there is to process. The brain isn’t built for that. I’m not going to lie, I took a few bites of the metaphorical Oreos during my hiatus, but they were very small bites.
In the 90s, British anthropologist Robert Dunbar suggested that humans are only capable of comfortably maintaining around 150 stable relationships. This was based on primate brain size and the size of their social groups in correlation to the modern human brain. As technology advances you can’t forget that we still have the same dumb animal brain. Using that study in terms of social media, it makes complete sense as to why my brain feels completely fried. On Twitter, I’m following over 900 people. On Instagram, I’m following over 1,000. I’ve been touring for over ten years with bands and crews full of new people every few months. At my jobs in service and retail, I’ve been expected to remember names of dozens of regulars, know their orders and keep up to date on happenings in their lives. You shouldn’t have to keep tabs on everyone you’ve ever met, but now collecting followers is a sport. It’s bizarre.
THINK BEFORE YOU TYPE
I had the sad realization that every time I had a funny thought or opinion on virtually anything, I was already reaching for my phone to share it with the world. I felt everyone always needed to know everything I thought immediately. Why? There was no reason. I felt obligated to document and post anything that showed up in my brain. I had to make a grand statement on my outlook of the world in the first minute I thought about it. I felt this unnecessary urgency that led to typos and sometimes some really dumb things I regret saying. It opened myself up to factual inaccuracy and hurt feelings of others. This happens all over the internet all of the time. Similar to posting something, you should very much think before you react. Instead of dogpiling on someone within the first few seconds of a post you disagree with, think about how having a conversation in real life would go down. It’s a lot different. Maybe the person just made a mistake? It’s like being in a relationship and reading text the wrong way instead of calling and talking through a problem. One will always have a better result.
Like my friend told me, people should think about each statement for at least thirty minutes before posting. Give yourself time to digest your own thoughts. The situation won’t disappear into thin air if you don’t immediately pounce on it. How does it affect others or yourself? Maybe if you’re not an expert on a subject it’s not worth sharing? Maybe you can write down a thought and save it for a story or lyrics or a social interaction. You are allowed to keep your thoughts to yourself.
As much as I loved it, constantly looking at my phone was mainly a way to waste time. If I wanted easy enjoyment, I would post something that would get interactions. It’s the same when you see posts like, “I have an hour at the airport, ask me anything!” Imagine feeling that all of the time. Here’s a weird photo or a hot take (ugh) that would get a rise out of people to engage. It’s clickbait for ourselves. It’s sick in a way, but I completely understand how we fall for its trap. It starts off as needing to kill time and ends up being a huge waste of time when we could be doing something of importance. Hell, when I’m traveling most of the time I’m conditioned to think my surroundings are so boring that I need to shove my face in my phone for entertainment. I’ve stood next to shrines in Japan picking an Instagram filter that would make it more flattering. I didn’t feel like I was posting for myself anymore. I was either bragging or had to entertain everyone else who would read. I was the show and it was all my responsibility! Gross.
THE BEAUTY OF MODERATION
I went back and downloaded Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook and prepared my grand reintroduction to the cyber world. I posted on Twitter announcing my return from a hiatus and honestly, no one really cared about it. I DIDN’T HAVE TO POST ABOUT IT. That was oddly freeing. Seeing as I tend to write about everything I’m going through all of the time in hopes to maybe help someone in a similar situation, I wanted to let you know that a week-long cleanse means a healthier return to form. I don’t feel the need to post everything. I only post when I think it matters and when I do, I think about it in advance. I put all of the social media on the final page of my apps so I’d have to work slightly harder to get to them. I love people and I love engaging with my friends and strangers when it’s positive and I plan on continuing to do so, but this time I plan on doing it in a healthier way. See you on the internet!
Baggage’s debut full length will be out in 2019. Follow us for updates.