It’s been almost a year and a half since I’ve used social media. In the beginning, I honestly didn’t intentionally set out to go on an Internet sabbatical. One day went by, then a week. And then another… There was a lot going on in my life — work, side-work, (side-side-work) relationships, daily blogs, podcasting… something had to give. So when I finally noticed I hadn’t used Instagram or Twitter in a while, I cut the shallows and decided to take some time away from it. (It’s not you instagram, it’s me)
Mostly, it was relatively easy to do. After a week or two you don’t really miss it. Whenever I had downtime, I still felt twinges of feelings to whip out my phone and fiddle with something, but that goes away too. One thing my sabbatical showed me was how reliant we’ve all become on phones. I’ve had countless conversations where we wonder how we got anywhere without google or apple maps. What did we do? I was in High School when Steve Jobs announcing the iPhone. Before getting an iPhone, I grew up not caring all about phones, unlike kids growing up today. (That being said I definitely rocked my GameBoy everywhere, so maybe that was my equivalent gadget growing up)
Understanding why is essential here. Why are you using social media? What value are you trying to extract from it? And also, what value are the creators of these apps trying to gain themselves? I’m sure they want to provide value to us, but they also have to consider making money, and since these apps are ‘free’ they make money off our attention and our personalities of what we deem important enough to tap on. In a way, we are paying them for our work. We gain the value of connectivity, but they also gain value from us too. Billion dollar companies are not so billion-y without our attention and use. It’s worth remembering that.
All that being said, I think taking a break from social media, even just for thirty days and coming back, is a excellent personal challenge you can do, which gives you at least two things: 1. It shows you that you can. It shows you that you don’t need it. 2. It allows you to reset and be more intentional about how you use social media in your life.
Here’s my take — social media isn’t negative or a positive, it’s both. Just like how not all food is health and great for you, not everything that’s possible to do on social media is health for us.
Eat cake on your birthday, sure. But eat cake every day? You’re going to feel like crap. Creating new connections with people across the world, and being able to experience the inner lives of our friends is great, but the comparison, the race towards fame, the negative chitchat, pushing out content just for the double taps and follow counts, not beneficial. Social media can lead to closer relationships you normally wouldn’t have access too, IF you take the time and do the work to establish and pursue those relationships deeper and deeper. The more you can take your conversations offline and into real life, the more value you can gain from the friends you make online. Liking someone’s photos is not the same as calling them up and asking them how they are doing, or grabbing coffee. A thumbs up comment might give them some social media juice, but it isn’t going to make you their best friend. Friendship is earned.
It’s also a matter of time. Is spending two+ hours a day on instagram really creating value for your life? Or is it distracting you from your goals and aspirations? The key is not to necessarily abandon social media, but to abandon the need for it and to intentionally use it to help your live and the lives of the people who decide to follow you.
What ultimately matters is you and me. How we connect, resonant and be real with each other and what we are inspired by and struggling through. Everything else is just taps, glass and pixels. What makes social media such a powerful tool is that it allows us to establish one to many relationships to our community (whatever community that is). It allows us to inspire and be intimate with people across the world. It’s a you and you and you… and me relationship.
Imagine it as rings of concentric circles and your in the middle: on the outer circle you have people you follow but don’t know. These are the many to one relationships where you are in the many category. This is where others have the opportunity to influence your life with their work and ideas. The next ring is people you follow who follow you (personally, not just to get you to follow them). These are ‘shallow end’ relationships. You might know them in person, but if you only interact with them online, the connection is still not as deep as it can be. The next circle is people you actively spend time with in-person. Friends, mentors and new friends you are meeting up with. The more you spend time with them, the more each of you has an influence of each other’s lives. The next to last circle is family (or pseudo family) whom you have a continuous connection with, usually daily. And of course the lucky few of us who find a significant other have one more inner circle. This is where you share your life with someone else.
At it’s best, social media is a two way street: I influence you and you influence me. Which also means that every single person you follow also is influence you in small ways. Every follow counts, both directions.
To summarize my experience, there’s value in social media. To share your ideas and join or create communities around interests. And just like most things in life, there’s diminishing returns to the value, and pitfalls that take away more value than it adds. It’s all a matter of gaining perspective and being hyper-focused on what you want out of the tools you use and the people you surround yourself with. I’ve found taking a sabbatical was a great way to find that perspective by allowing me to take a step out of the system and see it from a full view. There’s a variety of ways to use these tools and it’s our jobs as individuals to make sure we are eating our veggies and not just junk food.
STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner
Daily Blog #590