I logged off on May 26, 2023.
I filed my old friends into a folder labeled OFF LIMITS and set their screen time limit at zero minutes. Lined up and banished to the last page of my phone sat TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, X (then Twitter), LinkedIn, Facebook, BeReal, Reddit, Pinterest, Marco Polo, BlueSky, Lemon8.
It was time for a social media hiatus, and I was ready for it.
Social media took up a sizeable portion of my brain as soon as each new app became available to me. I started tweeting when my timeline was still filled with the latest dispatch from band camp instead of news and sports. A digital camera was the hot ticket item for fueling Facebook albums. I remember the feeling of discovering how adding hashtags to an Instagram post brought a flood of likes to an overly filtered sunset shot. I could go back further… does Neopets count as a metaverse?
It’s been a big, exciting part of my career too – tapping into communities from data analysts and electrical engineers to cat rescuers and deep-sea fishing enthusiasts and everyone in between. And for good reason: I love it.
But my relationship with social had changed. I began to feel the effects of a wash-rinse-repeat phone navigation routine that my thumb recognized better than my prefrontal cortex.
So when, after five years at RPG, it was time to take a sabbatical, I knew exactly how I would use the gift of time: to log off and to explore.
I set out to get a better understanding of where the positivity and value of social media ends – and phone addiction, disinformation, and polarization begins. And ultimately, log back on with a healthy relationship with social media.
I wasn’t sure what it would look like, especially because I planned to do some traveling in scenic places. I knew it would mean missing out on sharing some epic sights – but it would also mean experiencing those places in the moment, without thinking about how it was showing up on Instagram.
Unsurprisingly, that part was right. My brain felt better and disconnecting felt good. I enjoyed getting rid of the distraction of back-brain analysis of what I’d post next or who was commenting on what picture.
I logged back on July 11, 2023.
The hiatus also showed the value of what I missed. I missed opportunities for connection: post-break, I published pictures and heard from old friends who lived in cities that I’d passed through without knowing. I also felt the missed value of posting in the moment: sifting through photos to create a round-up of “top moments” offered unlimited time to craft. It felt more edited and controlled than had I been posting live and pressed for time before my next experience. Before, I would have published a post while waiting in line to enter a museum. Now I was rounding up the best pictures for a photo dump. So really what was more authentic in the end?
In that time, Threads was launched and received with enthusiasm — reigniting Twitter-killer conversations — but has since seen a 79% drop in daily active users. It’s a tough landscape to launch a new platform: attention is more difficult than ever to get. Globally, the average individual has 8.4 social media accounts.
As the social media landscape gets more and more crowded, people are getting more intentional, spending time only in the places that matter most to them. Pre-sabbatical, I read and loved a NYTimes article on a group of teens that call themselves the Luddite Club. They take deliberate time away from social and tech, with some of them opting out of perma-connection altogether in favor of flip phones.
Despite being crowded and splintered, there are opportunities in today’s social landscape. These niches where time is spent are that much more powerful. The key is to identify the area where your audience is spending time and keep the focus on providing value there.
As fast as social moves, the truth remains: we’re there to form and reinforce connections.
Since re-joining the social world, I’m testing new habits to support that truth. Screen-time limits prevent perma-scroll, ensuring that the time spent is on updates from friends and family – while live posting prevents over-thinking edits.
Here’s to living in the moment — and, sometimes, online.