…and what I’ve learned

In February 2020 (yes, pre-COVID), I decided I wanted to take a pause on all my social media (Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn), professionally and personally. Within one week I’ve scheduled how I was going to promote my business without the use of social media and when I was going to start my fast. My 40 day fast began, which turned into a 50 day fast 😉!

Why did I quit?

The funny thing is that everybody has an opinion about social media. There are people who think social media is evil and there’s people who cheer for it and think it’s amazing. Let me just say, the point of my blogpost is not to try to convince you that social media is bad or that you should quit.

This is a reflection on my own life and what fasting from social media did for me and how it influences how I use it now.

First of all, it started as an idea for lent. Everyone in the south of the Netherlands (where I’m from) was celebrating carnival, and back in the days that was followed by a period of fasting (till Easter). While I couldn’t attend carnival, I thought I might try the fasting. I never did that after carnival, although I sometimes did participate in carnival, and now that I devote more and more time to my faith, it seemed like the right thing to do.

I could’ve chosen anything for my fasting: no processed food, no sugar, no alcohol, etc. But I chose something that I struggled with and something I felt would have an impact on my life. Something that would really help me to reflect on my life and my behavior.

Every time that I felt tempted to hop on social, I could remember why I fasted in the first place: to use that wasted time for better ways to spend it. Reflection was one of them. Focus-and don’t we all need that?!

Compulsive behavior
Another reason why I quit was because I was compulsively checking social media, wasting hours of my time online. Every time I was bored, or in a waiting situation, or in between switching work tasks, or just had a moment of “I don’t feel like doing this…”, I immediately went to Instagram and got caught up in my feed. Instead of putting effort in a more useful task, I took the easy route of escaping and lost time in scrolling through social media.

And I’m just not immune to the fakeness of social media. I actually get affected by the accomplishments of other people, and not in a good way.

Comparing game
I can’t switch it off to compare myself with others. Always ending up with the same end result: Feeling not good enough or nearly close enough to where I want to be. This isn’t really helpful when you’re an entrepreneur.

Jane, just control yourself

I know what some might think (especially the ones who think they have their social media usage under control and the effect of it on their life all sorted out) Why don’t you control how you use it?

I see where you’re coming from, but let’s not forget that social media was designed to be addictive. The big social media bosses want you to spend as much time on their platform as possible. They hire scientists to figure out how the apps can be more addictive. The same people who work for casino’s and make people stay hooked to a slot machine work for social media. Jaron Lanier’s books confirms that.

And just to give you an idea: I got 113 (!!!!) emails of Facebook in my 50 days of fasting about stuff that people posted. What do you mean they don’t try to lure me back in? “Spend time on our platform! We want to make you an addict!”

The downside of the internet

The internet is affecting our ability to focus, think and learn deeply, according to Nicholas Carr (The Shallows). Every time we receive a like or a follow, our phone notifies us or we see it with our own eyes. Immediately, we get little hits of dopamine. Our brain loves to learn and loves the attention we receive when we use social media. Because of that we want to keep using it. So we keep repeating this pattern and make it stick in our brain. It becomes a habit.

(also check the documentary The Social Dilemma)

“When we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning.” – Nicholas Carr. YouTube for instance shows you videos you can watch next. You can read comments while you’re watching the video in case you didn’t feel stimulated enough.

The internet encourages us to rush from place to place and from link to link. Long story short: Yes, there are ways to control social media usage but it’s designed to be addictive. “It was designed to reward shallow and hurried thinking” – Carr.

What I’ve learned

February 26 – April 15 2020 was a period of rest. A period of less triggers.

Without social media I was distracted fewer times.

I had already switched off all my notifications and deleted the Facebook app and LinkedIn app from my phone but the fact it was accessible through the browser on my phone made me still check it “when times got hard”. Or in other words, when I couldn’t or didn’t want to put in the effort to focus on important or more difficult tasks.

I can be ME
During the fasting, I felt less influenced by how everyone else might think of me or what I should’ve become already. I love a lot of things, so I could easily think “but I want to do that too!” when I saw something cool in someone’s feed.

I was no longer surrounded by these curated photos. I wasn’t seeing the highlights of everyone’s life and comparing it to mine behind the scenes. I was just concerned about what was going on in the moment and in my life.

It was so good to just be OK with being me.

It was so good to just listen what my own mind was telling me about myself instead of others.

It was so good to hear God more clearly now that some noise had disappeared from my life.

I don’t miss out
I learned I won’t miss out. The only thing you will miss out on is highlights of other people, memes, and current news. And not even that’s completely true.

See the period I fasted? That’s when COVID-19 hit our part of the world. I got memes and tons of links to news articles on WhatsApp. News will travel to you in one way or the other.

The majority of relationships is fake
Social media build a lot of fake relationships. It’s weird because through social media we still feel connected to people we used to know. Apparently, because we still like each other’s photos or see each other’s photos we think we still know each other. The truth is, we don’t. We only see highlights and we don’t know what happened in between. We are strangers, peaking in each other’s life. We’re not friends.

How I really know? I deleted my date of birth from my Facebook page, guess how many people congratulated me for my 30th birthday in comparison to the year before? You’re right, none. Everyone who bothered, sent me a text or called.

Filling gaps of time
I felt restless with the gaps of time I created which raised an urge in me to fill those gaps. I started reading the news or watching YouTube videos.

At first, that worked, but soon I realized this wasn’t helpful. I just found replacement that wasn’t much better. So I quit doing that and focused more on the stillness. Being with God.

However, I now have more appreciation for YouTube. There’s a lot of interesting information on there. I found a couple of good Bible studies for example.

Creative side *BOOOOM*
My writer-side was very happy. I started working on my book and writings more. During my reflections, I was digging the journaling with God, writing down all my thoughts and ideas (I think this made me connect better to myself and the Holy Spirit). My energy was kicking high! Can’t wait for more days like that.

I wanted to read more. I wanted to study more. And that’s what I did. I should make a side note that I also was quite strict on myself whether I was allowed to watch Netflix. Because that can be a big ass creativity killer!

Instead, I read books, non-fiction and fiction 😊! And be honest, that adds way more value to your life than the majority of social media posts.

Why I’m back and how I will use it differently

Yes, I’m back. For a long time during my fast I thought that I didn’t want to anymore. But there was one remark in a Zoom call from my the Born to Fly community that made me switch my thinking: We can use technology for good.

Yes, we can misuse it, abuse it, but we can also use it to make a difference. And that’s why I’m back. On my own terms though:

  • I try to be as unreachable as possible. Meaning, all notifications are off and only the necessary app is on my phone: Instagram. I don’t need the LinkedIn or Facebook app. I use my computer to go there. And I kind of abandoned Facebook. The first time I opened it I was overwhelmed by the more than 100 notifications and the jungle it had become over the years, so I left it untouched after.
  • I moved the app of Instagram to my third screen on my phone. Same for my inbox icon – super handy if you’re also an email addict like me. Again, because you have to make an effort to reach the app, it makes you think twice before you open it.
  • I only browse and post deliberately. Which is hard, my content now needs to contribute something. Always.
  • I curated my list of followers/friends. I deleted or unfollowed people that made me feel bad or have a certain bad influence on me. I only follow people who add value to my life.
  • I try not to look at likes or comments anymore as a metric.
  • I logged myself out of LinkedIn and Facebook to put up another obstacle when I get tempted to surf to one of those websites while I didn’t need to.
  • I’m only allowed on social media 10 minutes of my day. So I have to use it wisely.

As is the case with every new piece of technology, at first, we run away with it and indulge in the things it can do. But at a certain point, we have to figure out how we can wisely use and optimize it best.

Technology is not a threat, or a danger or evil, it’s the users (or sometimes founders of the technology) who make it that way.

What about you?

What are your thoughts on social media?

Would you ever quit?