I have to say, I feel better today than I have for a long time. There are a few reasons: The Spacious Tarot is going well*. February is finally drawing to an end, which means Pisces season is upon us (don’t let the door hit you on the way out, Aquarius season!). Spring isn’t too far away. I’ve also been making an effort to eat more vegetables (sitting here with a belly full of broccoli and kale as we speak) and I’m getting back into running, I just started training for a half marathon.
So these are all reasons I feel better today. But there is another HUGE reason I feel great: I’m on a thirty day social media break (*tending the deck’s Instagram page is actually the one exception to this). I’m calling it a social media break, but I’m actually trying to use my smart phone as little as possible altogether.
I’m a little surprised by how good I feel, especially considering how much resistance I had to taking this break in the first place. My intuition – and my logic, for that matter – have been telling me for ages that this would be a good idea, but resistance kept winning. The tricky thing about resistance is it can bring up some very good points. A lot of the arguments resistance made for staying on social media were quite compelling. But I run a business! I need to be on social media for that. And it’s so good for staying connected with friends! And…and…and…
But ultimately, when you know something is right for you, you have to do it no matter what resistance tells you.
It reminds me of the Eight of Cups. Something I often notate about that card is that, at least in the Waite-Smith version, the person is walking away from the cups even though the cups are not broken. Sometimes there are aspects of a situation that are still good, that are still fulfilling on some level. But we still have the deeper sense that we need to walk away in order to find greater meaning. That’s where I’m at with social media right now.
Below, I’m going to share eight reasons I’ve decided to take this break. However, I want to make it clear to anyone reading this that you have to do what is right for you. This is what is right for me right now. Maybe you have a healthy and meaningful relationship with social media, that is great. I’m not trying to convince anyone else to take a break, I’m just sharing my perspectives. Perhaps some of them will resonate with you, perhaps not.
To recalibrate my brain
I have had an alarming amount of brain fog in recent years, and when I trace it back I realize it intensified around the time I got my first smart phone in 2014. When I sit down to work on in-depth projects these days, my brain simply does not want to focus. It has become too accustomed to the constant, ever-changing stimuli that social media feeds provide.
A growing body of research affirms what many of us know to be true from our lived experience: social media just isn’t that great for your brain. Social media has been shown to disrupt your ability to focus, increases stress hormones, and is correlated to increased anxiety.
I miss reading a book or writing an essay or thinking about the meaning of life without being interrupted by my brain’s urge to stop what I’m doing and check what’s happening on a screen. I want to reclaim my ability to think deeply and focus on one thing at a time. I want to create some magical mental space and fill that space only with things that are meaningful.
To explore what else my time could be used for
Do you know what would be terrifying to me? A log of how much time I’ve spent on Instagram (or Reddit, or YouTube, and so on). The hours and days sometimes feel long, as though there are great swathes of time to be filled with scrolling and clicking. But in reality, life is short. How much of my precious time on this earth have I spent doing dumb shit on my phone? Probably way too much.
There are so many things I want to do in this lifetime that I have not done. I want to write more poetry. I want to write a book. I want to be aware of my surroundings, whatever they may be, instead of distracting myself with an omni-present screen. I want to do so many things that I tell myself I don’t have time for. Yet how much time do I manage to spend scrolling through my phone? Something isn’t quite adding up here.
To embrace boredom
On the surface, it may seem like a good thing that technology has nearly eradicated boredom. Who wants to be bored? Being bored is boring! But you know what? I MISS BEING BORED. Here are things I used to do when I was bored:Daydream. People watch. Stare out a window. Think. Call a friend and make plans.
I still do many of those things when I’m bored, but can you guess the number one thing I do when I’m bored these days? Check my blasted phone. A little boredom is a good thing. My immediate reaction to boredom should not be to drown it out, it should be to embrace it. Curiosity is born out of boredom. Creativity is born out of boredom. Boredom can and should be a gift, a friend, a fertile ground to grow from.
To actually be social
As a collective, we are theoretically more connected than ever, yet we are also more lonely than ever. Loneliness is at epidemic levels in our society. The reasons for this are complex and multi-faceted, but social media is one of the contributing factors.
Our brains evolved to place an incredible value on strong social connections. Our brain craves the real-world social affirmation that is conveyed from facial expressions, vocal intonations and body language. Your brain does not interpret social media interactions as actual social interactions. Clicking a heart on a screen in theory shows that someone is thinking of us, but in reality it does little to feed our inherent need for social interaction. This is why you walk away from time spent on social media still feeling lonely.
And so while I’m away from social media, I’m going to try to embrace REAL, in person social connections. This is a challenge as I’m a hermited introvert who works from home, but I’m going to make real connection a priority.
To question stories and the status quo
It’s alarming how quickly we as a society have adopted the story that our social media and smart phone usage is a normal part of life. Think about it: we consider it normal to start scrolling through your phone while having dinner with a friend. We consider it normal to walk down the street staring at a screen instead of the world around you. We consider it normal to spend upwards of seven hours a day chained to an electronic device. The role smart phones play in our live have been fully integrated into the status quo.
Sometimes I forget what a new phenomenon this is. As I mentioned before, I didn’t have a smart phone until 2014. That’s less than five years. But in that five years, my life has radically altered without me making the conscious choice to radically alter it. That’s one of the most concerning things to me: that we’ve adopted this story that smart phone usage is normal without really DECIDING to adopt this story. It just sort of happened, and now here we are. Whoopsie!
Remember: stories are stories. We get to decide how to tell them. We can question them. We can rewrite them.
I am a big believer in making conscious choices, not drifting through life on autopilot. When my thirty day break is over, I’m planning to be very intentional about how I decide to re-integrate social media into my life. One of my biggest inspiration here is Cal Newport’s theory of digital minimalism. He suggests a thirty day de-clutter followed by a careful consideration of which services to bring back in, and that’s what I’m doing. I AM planning to use Instagram again, but I’m going to have a lot more boundaries and intentions around how I use it!
To protect my energy
I identify as an empath. This means I am extra-sensitive to other people’s feeling states. In many ways, this is a gift – it’s part of why I am a good tarot reader. But there are challenges that come along with being an empath. Although I am fairly adept at protecting my energy, sometimes social media catches me off guard. If I come across a post which is charged with a particular emotion, that emotion can activate within me. This means that after I use social media I often feel full of energetic gunk. I know how to “clean” this gunk, but it is a process.
Even people who are not empaths end up absorbing other people’s stuff via social media. So many people I talk to describe feeling jealous, angry, irritated or just plain weird after scrolling through their feeds. Social media really can be very taxing on your energy, even if you’ve got all the black tourmaline in the world and have conjured a magnificent shield of white light!
To stop being a product
I’m not a huge fan of many things about this period of “late capitalism” we find ourselves living in today. Facebook, who also owns Instagram, is one of the biggest companies on the planet. In fact, Facebook is now more valuable than Exxon. We often talk about “using social media” but the truth is that social media is using us. YOU are the product. Your attention is what social media is selling. Social media is designed to be psychologically manipulative, encouraging you to spend as much time as possible scrolling. Your attention is your most precious, sacred resource. Social media exploits your most precious, sacred resource and pockets hoards of money in return. And what are you getting out of all this again?
To continue on a path that has already served me
I used to be an avid Facebook user. I joined way back when you had to have a college email address and used it for over ten years. Ultimately, I decided to delete my account a year ago. Making the choice to get off Facebook was HUGE for me. I went back and forth about that decision for at least a year before I took the plunge. This is because despite all my criticism here, I am aware of the plus side of social media. I’ve experienced many benefits from social media. I’ve met new friends. Stayed in touch with old friends. Saw pictures of cute cats and dogs and babies. There are certainly some very positive things about it!
I will fully admit that I do miss some of the benefits of Facebook. But ultimately, I decided the benefits I was receiving were not worth the costs. Cal Newport says that you become a maximalist by focusing on benefits more than costs. You become a digital minimalist by assessing the costs of these various technologies. Of course, we’re not necessarily talking about financial costs – social media is “free” – but all of the criticisms I laid out above are things I consider costs.
And all of the resistance I had about getting off Facebook turned out to be not that big of a deal. I was worried about missing event invites, but now my friends know to text or call me to keep me in the loop. I thought I’d miss seeing updates on people’s lives, but I use alternate ways to stay in touch with the friends I’m actually close with, and I don’t miss seeing that some random person I knew in high school and haven’t talked to in person for 15 years painted their garage. I was especially worried about discontinuing my business Facebook page, but I had a more profitable year than ever.
Overall, getting off Facebook has been AMAZING for me. My mental health has improved. My faith in humanity has increased. I feel more expansive. It turns out life outside of the box is pretty damn good! If you are interested in getting off Facebook but have a list of excuses, I promise you, you can do it if you really want to. Any excuse you have can be worked around, but only if it’s really important to you. I was very attached to my excuses for a very long time. It’s a harsh truth, but an important truth: the only way we ever make progress in life is if our desire for transformation eclipses our urge to cling to excuses.
As I mentioned earlier, maybe you already have a healthy relationship with social media. Maybe you have no need to reconsider the way you use technology. If so, that’s awesome! The last thing I want to do is sound preachy here. I don’t believe in one size fits all approaches. I believe in looking at things with nuance. My message is not “social media is bad for everyone.” Instead, it’s “social media is problematic for me (and many people I talk to) so here are some thoughts on that.” I know this is a charged topic, so if you have thoughts to share please feel free to comment! I think this is an interesting conversation to have, and one that we’ll continue to have as a society for many years to come.
‘Art of Manliness’ Podcast Interview with Cal Newport
Reader’s Digest article on Negative Effects of Social Media On The Brain
Healthline article on the link between social media use and loneliness/depression
Wired article on the link between boredom and creativity