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Unspooling Social Media
How Meta's latest offering prompted a social media detox
On July 5, in the span of 24 hours, I went from being intrigued and almost giddy with the brand new Threads app, the Twitter alternative from Meta, to feeling massive dread and removing it from my home screen. I haven’t yet deleted it from my phone because apparently you can’t delete it without deleting Instagram. Nasty one, Zuckerberg.
The day also marked my fifteenth anniversary with my husband. Before and after our celebratory dinner, however, I found myself fixated on this new app with the squiggly logo. In the car on the way over to the restaurant I scrolled through hundreds of posts. As we enjoyed a post-dinner stroll in Washington Square Park, I posted a few selfies. Later, I scrolled for a few more hours while watching the season finale of The Bear. I clocked HOURS on Threads. I imagined my husband looking at 15 years with this lady who was relentlessly staring into the eyes of a glowing, metallic paramour.
The following day, a slight shoulder pain that had been bothering me for a month had become much, much worse. When I saw my physical therapist, who I typically see for a knee issue, she assessed me and said that it was a classic case of “tech neck.”
“Put down that phone,” she bluntly told me. And then a few minutes later she used my phone to film me as I did rehabilitative exercises to cure me of said tech neck. This hellish phone — a gift and a curse
Later, when I checked my screen time, I realized I had been averaging around 6 hours per day, but that figure had escalated to nearly 9 hours now. Out of those hours, I spent a whopping 4 on social media: Twitter, Threads, Instagram, and TikTok. (Yes, I still use Twitter and hardly use Facebook anymore, but big whoop.) Of course, those 9 hours also encompassed reading the news, using Kindle, and managing emails. But there was also 45 minutes of games a day. As horrific as this sounds I still have not quit Candy Crush —eight years after publishing this.. (I am forever your unreliable narrator.)
When the hell am I working? Or thinking? Or dreaming? Or playing with my beagle? Or loving my husband? Or having a leisurely lunch with a friend? Or freaking BEING PRESENT?
Spoiler alert: I’m not. I mean, I am, but my attention is siphoned into dozens of directions and alerts so my brain is all flighty fairy dust. I wrote about this a few months ago, but since then my phone grip has become even worse. Maybe once I started really thinking about the problem, I sabotaged myself by spending more time with social media? The human brain is so annoying. And then Threads came along and finally seemed like a worthy contender to a disintegrating Twitter. You can see why: It’s fun. It’s not (yet) full of mean, alt-right trolls and assholes, or even anything terribly serious. Which is good and bad, as Ryan Grim writes on his Substack. It’s just a scattershot batch of the friends I already follow on Instagram and not the handles I interact with on Twitter who share indictment updates and snarky memes.
But let’s be real. Do we actually need all this social media? And what if I simply shut it down for a bit? Would I miss the latest news from @MuellerSheWrote or the clever retorts from @MollyJongFast? Would I never know how my friends’ whirlwind European trips are going? (Hey Shelly! Hey Kim!) If I don’t have a passing understanding of the Colleen Ballinger or Shein scandals how would I ever talk to my nieces?
They’d roll their eyes and tell me, “It’s not that deep.”
As Jenny Odell writes in her book, How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy:
“In such times as these, having recourse to periods of and spaces for “doing nothing” is of utmost importance, because without them we have no way to think, reflect, heal, and sustain ourselves — individually or collectively.”
Or as Johann Hari says in Stolen Focus, “If you spend your time switching a lot, then the evidence suggests you will be slower, you’ll make more mistakes, you’ll be less creative, and you’ll remember less of what you do.”
The truth is I do find myself lost, frayed, a bit depressed by it all. I’m on the other, bleaker side of the dopamine crash. And I’m ready to get out of the mire.
I’m curious and excited by how things might change: Will I feel FOMO? Will I be less depressed? Will I get more done? Will I have MORE fun???
Here’s the plan, starting now and through September 30:
My Social Sabbatical Rules:
Nighty night, phone: Move my phone charger from the bedroom to the living room, which is very far away so I’m not tempted to even check it for hours before sleep, at 4 a.m. and then when I wake up. There’s 3-4 hours right there.
Delete! Delete Instagram, Twitter, Threads, Facebook, TikTok from my phone. The *only time I will use these is on my computer when I am looking for content for our newsletter, which is kind of de rigueur. But limiting this type of activity to my desktop will be an enormous shift.
Delete more! Delete Candycrush. I just have to do it. It’s time. I’ll get my dopamine hit another way. Blasting tunes, gettin’ busy, reading a book, walk around the block, coffee with pals — so many other ways.
Post it: I’ll put up a post that I’ll be going off social media for a time. It feels a little weird because I’m not the world’s most prolific poster — but who cares, this is for me. I’ll tell folks to email me or text instead of sending DMs.
Filter: Add the OneSec app to my phone so that when temptation strikes the app will delay me and suggest a take a breath instead of opening social media.
Read: I’m going to read more in general (I hope) but in particular Jenny Odell’s aforementioned book, How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy.
No Alerts: I will turn off my notifications. This is a big one. If you look at your phone’s screen time you can also see how many times you pick up your phone. On July 6, I picked up my phone 135 times. Yeep.
Sorry Threads, you might be the cool new thing but I’m just going to have to unspool you.