My experiment started innocently enough, and in December I’ll be approaching 40 consecutive social media-free weekends. I know you’re probably wondering how the experiment has been going. In short, it is difficult to imagine a lifestyle where I didn’t set firm boundaries around my screen-use. But…it still isn’t enough. (More on that later.)
I began logging off social media on the weekends on the morning of Saturday, March 6th. I know because I’ve kept track in my planner–“No SM weekends” is scribbled into the top right corner of each square labelled “Saturday” and “Sunday.” Step One of accountability. Step Two was to announce it weekly on my Instagram stories.
“Why do you do that?” A well-intentioned friend asked me early on in my experiment. My answer was for accountability, of course. If I didn’t tell everyone on the platform that I was logging off, what would keep me from logging on and abandoning the experiment? Through my past experiences with addiction, I’d learned that willpower sometimes isn’t enough. For more food for thought on that, just listen to this episode of Radio Lab “You v. You.”
Another (HUGE) thing that inspired this lifestyle experiment was a documentary I watched called The Social Dilemma. In it, a group of former employees of social media companies out the inner evils (i.e. no restrictions on the relentless algorithms) of our most loved platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and even Google itself. All very cringe-worthy material. If you don’t believe me, just watch it.
After the documentary, I was left feeling like I needed to break the spell of social media and gain control again. I knew I was facing an addiction in the eyes–I’d been there before–and I wondered how many others knew how to recognize the signs and symptoms. Thoughts like, “If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you?” came to mind. I wondered why our society condemns some addictions, and let others slide. Like was the case with tobacco, I think we just don’t know how bad it is yet with screens. All the signs are there. Like, I can see the writing on the wall. And I’m betting that you can, too.
During the experiment, my lowest screen time happened on a Sunday. That day, I logged just 13 minutes of screen time. Alternatively, I clocked five hours on a recent Thursday. So there is a marked reduction in my screen use by eliminating social media alone. I just don’t know if that difference is enough to satisfy my overall need for a better quality-of-life.
The truth is there’s nothing more maddening than feeling powerless. And that is the distinction that I have come to recognize between using social media apps and the Internet in general (other websites like news, online magazines, etc.). When I’m scrolling Instagram, I get to that place where my mind is putting on the breaks (don’t you this, you already saw all you needed to see today, you need to get up and make lunch), but my body/hands have a totally different response (scroll, scroll, scroll. Ding, ding, ding).
Having had some exposure to gambling culture, I always vowed never to get caught up in gambling. And I’ve achieved that goal. But when I find myself on a website, and was driven there by a social media advertisement, and I end up buying this Rosehip Face Oil endorsed by Crissy Teigan, literally a woman I barely know exists, I have to wonder: how is this all any different? The bottom line is profit.
It just feels so similar to other addictive patterns I have experienced–and overcome–in my life. I liberated myself from tobacco and haven’t had a cigarette in years. In my memoir, I write extensively about my experimentation and addiction to street drugs. The similarities are this: I know what I am doing is extremely unhealthy, but I’m going to do it anyway, because I feel powerless to stop. I am here to tell you that education, knowledge and intention can bridge an addiction to anything. It was my curiosity that finally led to my recovery of those other substances. I just hope in the future I can say the same about my scary unhealthy addiction to screens.
What matters most at the end of the day is the example I am setting for my daughter. The recommendation for a person her age is 1 hour of screen time per day. I can tell you that there are days that she far surpasses that recommendation. And that responsibility, of course, falls ultimately on me. So I’m looking for another story to write.
We are at a fork. On the one hand, there are smartglasses on the market now, and on the other hand, some people are participating in screen-free week and some communities are even experimenting with screen free zones. (So cool!) I’m just trying to decide which side of history I want to be on…and how far in any direction I am willing to go.
For the immediate future, social media-free weekends will definitely continue. I am now debating going completely screen-free on either Saturday or Sunday or both. Even as a woman on a farm with seven acres to roam, in a general environment and community that is not at all artificial, I find myself really struggling to find the appropriate balance. It’s kind of crazy. The cool thing is, I know I’m not alone. I know that you are reading this right now and thinking of ways that we can both continue to use the Internet more as a tool and less as a rule. I know that you are thinking of ways that we can preserve our creativity while still having a space to share and connect and relate with a lot of interesting people. I am open to hearing your thoughts, but if you direct message me on Instagram, don’t expect a response until Monday.