In 2018, I lost the ability to read.
I’d sit down with a novel and get halfway through the first page before a question, completely unrelated to the text, would pop into my head. I’d then spend twenty minutes googling random things.
Oh, wait a minute, I’d think. I was reading!
Having already forgotten what I’d read, I’d start back at the top of the page. If I was lucky, I’d make it to the next page before the compulsion to check twitter overwhelmed me.
Forty-five minutes later, after closing the Twitter app, I’d be genuinely surprised to find a book in my other hand.
Reading has always been a source of relaxation to me. It’s not an over exaggeration to say that time spent books keeps my mental state in balance. But in 2018, I realized that I had lost my ability to read for more than a few minutes at a time. I spent more time with Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and the texts on my phone than the text on the page.
Brain fog was constantly depleting my attention span, and reading wasn’t the only activity that suffered. I had a hard time paying attention at work. I could not hold a conversation without checking my phone. It took hours to fall asleep, and when I did manage to drift off I would wake up several times throughout the night. The first thing I did in the morning was reach for my phone.
I thought about this (in small spurts, of course) for several months before deciding to do something about it. It was too much for me to quit social media cold turkey, but I could take steps to reduce how much time I spent with it.
I opened all of my accounts and trimmed the fat. I cut out Facebook groups I didn’t need. I unfriended and unfollowed people I didn’t know- and people I did know who used social media to post inflammatory political commentary (I need to know what’s happening in politics. I do not need to know the opinion of my racist, ill-informed neighbor. There is a difference). I went beyond social media and took a hard look at my other technology use. I unsubscribed from most of the junk email that I received, which cut down on the time it took to organize my inbox.
The total time I spent online was cut in half, which helped, somewhat. Less content on my feeds brought less commotion in my brain. The clouds didn’t go away completely, but they thinned substantially.
By now it was 2019, and I stumbled across a newly published book called Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. You can follow this link to read about the book, which describes the negative effects of social media and provides guidelines on reducing your use. Other useful books on this theme can be found here and here. Additionally, Newport frequently updates a blog that’s worth checking out.
Through my research, I came to the realization that I was not made to process information in the rapid-fire way that social media operates. These platforms pretend to provide social interaction, but it’s not the same quality socialization that happens when I have a face to face, telephone, or written conversation with someone. In fact, many of these platforms are designed to bring out the worst angels of our nature and leave us addicted to scrolling and counting up the likes we receive.
There was no getting around it. I decided to quit social all media and reduce all forms of pointless technology that had crept into my life.
I closed all social media accounts.* I also deleted most of the apps from my phone, including email and work-related apps, and silenced the notifications on the rest. I went through my email and unsubscribed from all junk email subscriptions. Basically, I not only trimmed the fat from my digital life, I did away with anything that wasn’t giving me quality nutrients in return.
I experienced a detox process. The first month was tough, but it passed. There has not been one defining moment where everything fell into place, but I can tell my attention to task is much better than before. My productivity at work and home have increased, and the general brain fog I felt has slowly cleared. And, I’ve regained the ability to read for longer periods.
I was worried that signing off on social media would leave me with a incurable feeling of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Surprisingly, that never happened. About a year in, I have no longing to return to that way of digital living. Rather, by giving up social media I’ve gotten back time I can use for things that actually matter…and the ability to focus on the present.
As I write this, I think back to the time when social media was invented and took over our lives. I was in the undergraduate phase of my life when smart phones, Twitter, and Facebook become the giants they are today. My use of these platforms, like most other people in my age group, increased, throughout my graduate school experience, my capstone internship, and as I found my footing as a newly credentialed occupational therapist. All of these situations are stressful by themselves; however, I wonder how much I added by infecting my mental capacities with social media. If I had tackled these projects with a clearer mind, how much easier would the experience have been?
I’ll never know.
I’m not in the habit of telling others how to live, so this is not meant to be a call for everyone to delete their social media accounts. Everyone must decide for themselves what value social media brings, if any, to their lives. For me, it brought distraction, and I am happier without it. I hope that by sharing my experience that others who are struggling with social media will realize they have options. Believe it or not, life occurs even when you don’t document it on your feed.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m got some reading to attend to.
* I have not deleted my Twitter account, but I have removed all information from it and do not access it. My husband, a Twitter user, occasionally texts links to tweets containing articles (rather than sending me the article itself), and it’s easier to open them this way. Again, make it work for you.