Thursday, March 4, 2021
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The Social Media Detox Experiment

Do you find yourself spending too much time on social media? Have you ever considered what all that time and energy is doing to your brain? Have you reached the point where you may want to do something about it? Well, Stanford researchers may have the information you need to take the first step to “right-sizing” your social media dilemma.

I am in the seventh week of my self-imposed “social media detox” experiment and I feel great. I had become an addict, plain and simple. It wasn’t until I completely eliminated my Twitter and Instagram accounts, and deleted my Facebook app off my phone, that I realized just how much time I was wasting and the angst, anxiety, and even anger I was eliminating from my life.  

I’ve gone from FOMO (the fear of missing out) to JOMO (the joy of missing out).

Before you go ballistic on me about all the perceived benefits of social media, I get it, I really do.  I reconnected with friends, made new friends, learned about activities and events I might have missed and that was all good. Until it wasn’t, because it simply became too much. Now all this information is mostly available to us for free and we are bombarded with advertisements and people wanting to friend you for all sorts of reasons including nefarious ones. These folks who run social media companies know every trick in the books. They’ve taken what carnivals and casinos have known for ages and put it into hyperdrive. They know exactly how to get your attention and keep you distracted and to get you hooked by tapping into your brain’s desire for dopamine.

Sometimes you don’t even realize how much time you can spend on social media. Back in the day a lot of people wasted time gossiping around water coolers and at eateries and bars, watching “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” reading People’s magazine and even grocery store tabloids to learn the latest celebrity rumors. If you wanted to learn about what was happening with your family members and friends, you had to attend a gathering or pick up the phone to chat with them. You weren’t tempted to call all of them every time you thought your baby or pet did something cute, because, well it really only mattered to grandma and grandpa anyway.

Now you can instantaneously find out everything you didn’t need to know about some acquaintance’s dog or kids’ basketball game whether you wanted to or not. I know because I willingly participated. There are enough photos and videos of our dogs Sportster and Barkley and my kids’ birthdays and sports conquests to make a movie. While most social interactions are benign, social media has been linked to cyber-bullying and the increase in anxiety and depression especially among teenagers and young adults.  

And then there is the social media impact on politics. It became the last straw for me. I have friends from all sides of the political spectrum and to watch them spew hate toward one another over a lot of exaggerated or false narratives was just too much for me. The scales so far toward the negatives to me that I decided, like a growing number of people, to take myself out of the game.  

Yes, I could have unfriended or unfollowed certain people and I could have been more selective about who I allowed into my circle. But I fell hook, line and sinker for the social media myth that in order to grow my business and be considered an expert, I needed thousands and thousands of followers and my daily dopamine hits by getting more and more likes. How many people really take the time to monitor their social media accounts? Do you review your friends lists? Do you take everything that is sent to you as truth?  

So, I challenged myself to do something about it and to regain control over what I was feeding my mind. Since I stopped spending time particularly on Facebook, my blood pressure is down, I am reading several books (“Inclusify,” “The Making of a Miracle,” “Burke’s Law,” and “Retire Inspired”), I am paying more attention to being present (but still have a way to go) and I am sleeping better.

The best part about this experiment is that we have enough science to back up what common sense was trying to tell us. According to the Stanford research report on Facebook deactivation published in November 2019, there were 4 significant findings when individuals stepped away from their accounts:

  • Reduced overall online activity
  • Reduced factual news knowledge
  • Reduced political polarization
  • Marginal improvement to subjective wellbeing

Wait a minute…reduced factual news knowledge? Well, yes and no. Facebook certainly makes people more aware of current events, but you still have to figure out what is reliable information and what is propaganda or outright fake news. The question you have to ask yourself is how much information is enough and do you trust your Facebook friends to share both sides of an issue?

There is a big difference between checking in on friends you really want to connect with and getting information from sources and groups that you intentionally seek out, and just wasting time looking at people’s cats. The other day I was discussing weight loss strategies with long-time friend Ross Franks and he said, “Processed sugar and Facebook are the root of all evil.”

Just Say No!

Have you seen the Discover Card commercial where all the celebrities say “No!” ? Well, that’s what you need to consider doing with your time on social media. Learning to say “No” is not easy. It’s a skill. But like any skill it can be learned and developed. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want you to say “No” just to say it and I certainly don’t want you to be nasty about it. You must learn to say it respectfully, professionally and without anger or in a condescending way. 

Ask yourself what you really gain from being on social media?  Why are you using it? Does it bring you joy? Will your life change for the better because of the information? In my book I talk at length in the third chapter about the principle of “Sacrifice” and why you have to say “no” to get to your “yes!”

I do understand that some of you do need social media for branding and marketing purposes. But ask yourself just how effective it really is for the time and money you spend creating content and paying for Facebook ads. For some businesses it absolutely makes sense. But for others it distracts you from keeping your focus on strategies and tactics that give you a better return on your investment of your time and money.

Have I gone completely off the social media grid? No, that wouldn’t pass the common sense test in this digital world of ours. I use LinkedIn and YouTube for education and business purposes, but I am much more intentional about what I read and watch.I spend a good amount of time watching YouTube videos on personal finance, retirement destinations and retirement lifestyles. Time that I used to robotically waste on Facebook. 

I do still need my personal Facebook page activated in order to keep my Facebook business page functioning. Oh, yes, those Facebook people are smart. So, I still have messenger and my personal page still technically exists. I no longer have my Facebook app on my phone and therefore I am not even tempted to stray.

If you really have time and truly find fulfillment and joy in spending significant time on social media, then have at it. If you do find positive reasons to be on social media, then control the time you spend by scheduling specific parts of your day. Just remember the old commonsense tactic that everything is better in moderation. Control your technology before it controls you. 

Here are a few links to articles that may help you if you are thinking about doing a detox.

https://www.lifehack.org/633908/the-fear-of-missing-out-has-been-around-forever-even-without-social-media

https://www.lifehack.org/846374/quitting-social-media

I enjoyed my time on Facebook, but I also realized it had gotten hold of me in an unhealthy way. It took courage to follow through on the detox plan and like any addiction you take it one day at a time. 

I am a pragmatist and I realize that writing this column will anger some folks. I will likely only influence a small number of people to change their social media habits. But if I am successful in convincing even a few people to be more purposeful with their time then it will be worth it. Just ask yourself if relinquishing control of your time and energy makes sense. To what end? Look in the mirror, be honest with yourself and realize what you are doing with your time. 

What’s happening with social media today reminds me of the plot from the 1997 James Bond movie “Tomorrow Never Dies” where an evil media magnate named Elliot Carver plans to trigger World War III in order to secure broadcasting rights in China. It seemed pretty far-fetched at the time. Now, not so much.