Books vs. Social Media

One of the reasons I’ve read so many books over the past two months was that I’ve been taking a little break from social media. I gave up all my social media feeds for “Lent.” It had reached the point where I found myself flipping through photos on Instagram and scrolling though my Twitter feed whenever I felt the least bit “bored” during the day. It was the first thing I did in the morning and whenever I found myself standing in line, or waiting for the bus, etc. Most of the stuff I was consuming wasn’t even from friends or family, but from interesting strangers. So, I decided to give it up, and Lent was a timely excuse.

Specifically, listed in order of most to least favorite, these are the social media applications I “gave up”: Twitter, Instagram, Tumbler, and Facebook. The first three of these I use primarily on my phone. Facebook I use grudgingly, and only ever check from my home computer, and even then, only a few times a week.

I expected it would be difficult to break the habit. What I didn’t expect were the things I ended up missing (vs. not missing), and how much reading I’d end up getting done when I wasn’t “wasting all that time.” Now that I’m back into my feeds, I find that I don’t much care anymore.

How I broke the habit: I like to read “the news” first thing in the morning. Pre-Lent this meant scanning my Twitter feed. I find that this wakes up my brain after my alarm goes off at 4:50am and gives me some time to get my eyes open and brain working enough to get out of bed and get to morning swim practice by 5:30am. I usually spend about 10min in bed first thing in the morning skimming through my feeds. Instead, I used Google’s news feed app to check headlines and keep up with what was going on in the world, and I read through the daily digest email I get from REDEF (a news curation service that I subscribed to a few years ago —  they do a great job of pulling together the most interesting stuff from around the web). The rest of the day, if I found myself “bored” with time to kill, I opened my Kindle app on my phone and picked up where I left off with whatever book I was reading.

What I missed most: All those photos and updates from family and friends (the people I know IRL) who live far away and I don’t see very often. These tools are usually my primary way of seeing what’s going on in the lives of friends and family. Which lead to another odd discovery…

The hardest one to give up: It pains me to say this, but… Facebook. I sort-of already knew this, and it’s the same reason why I grudgingly continue using it, even though I really don’t like it. As I mentioned above, I only check Facebook a few times a week, and I never post anything there. But, so many people in my life *only* post things to Facebook, including my swim team. So, I ended up “cheating” and creating a direct link to my swim team’s Facebook page and allowing myself to check that about once a week just to make sure I wasn’t missing any important news. While there I allowed myself to check my notifications to see if my sister had posted anything. But I stayed off the “home” screen and feed.

What I didn’t miss: Basically any post by anyone I don’t know IRL. Which means most of Twitter, all of Tumbler, and about 80% of Instagram. I realized pretty fast that these are all just a really effective distraction, and I can attempt to justify it however I want, but that’s really all it is.

For example, where before I was totally and completely into Twitter, after one ~40 day break I’m finding myself feeling almost lost in my feed, skimming most posts and not really caring. What I am realizing is that Twitter is like a really interesting conversation between strangers at a cocktail party. When you’re in the middle of it, it’s great. When you walk away from it, you quickly forget what you’re missing. And when you return to it, they’re still talking about the same stuff, but the conversation has moved on just enough that you find yourself struggling to pick up the thread, the inside jokes just don’t seem that funny anymore, and you struggle to remember why you thought this was so interesting to begin with.

That said, I’m not abandoning Twitter any time soon. I’ve been an active user since almost the start, and I love the concept of fast burst, wide-broadcast, mini-blog posts, and the potential to have interesting interactions with people you admire and listen in on conversations between multiple people you admire who are talking about stuff you’re interested in. I may just need to re-tune my broadcast feed (who I follow).

But, I’m not in a hurry to get sucked in again. I really like the increased productivity and focus I’ve gained in these past two months. And I like that I’ve stopped thinking of my phone as a distraction device and a time killer, and started thinking of it as a secret portal into whatever book I want to be reading, no matter where I am.