Why wasn’t I enjoying myself more? What was wrong with me?
A few weeks ago, I noticed I was feeling kind of scattered and restless. I could feel myself waiting for something to happen, but what? I did some internal poking around: Was something off with my career? My child? My marriage? Friendships? No, things were going pretty well overall, which made it all the more confusing. Why wasn’t I enjoying myself more? What was wrong with me? I tried over the next few days to pinpoint when exactly I felt itchy, and after a few days, I tracked down the source: I’d become so hooked on social media and email that I was waiting constantly for the next ping, chime and bleep alerting me of a note, text, Facebook message or phone call. If I wasn’t being distracted regularly by notifications, things felt eerily quiet. Ew, I was becoming that checked-out human who can’t sit still for a moment… No way! I had to kick the habit.
I considered going cold-turkey for the summer, just going off the grid. But as the Executive Director of a nonprofit–that is centered around media–it was clearly unrealistic. I was going to have to create my own in-house rehab. After all, I didn’t want to cut virtual communication from my life; I just wanted to reduce my dependency. I decided I’d check e-mail and social media once every three hours, shutting down all of my gadgets in the interim so I wouldn’t be as tempted to peek. I reminded myself that if there was an emergency about my daughter from the camp nurse, I’d get a call. If it were not an emergency, the people trying to connect with me could surely wait a few hours. I would try it for three days and see how I felt.
The first day was rough; I committed to my new schedule but felt twitchy, mentally and physically, and overly aware of the gaping silence. I fantasized about what was in my inbox: a grant notification letter? A note from a long-lost friend? A request for an interview or quote? I imagined these missives the way dieters daydream about mint chocolate-chip ice cream and gooey cheesy nachos. Had anyone posted a note on my silly Facebook status from the other night, or “liked” it? What were my friends sharing online with me? I kept on, burying my head in my work. Every three hours, I’d check into the virtual world like I was gasping for air. I then spent 20 minutes answering emails and poking around, before unplugging again. While I felt out of sorts all day, I also felt I was on the right track. I kept at it, offering myself words of hope and encouragement.
Without a sea of constant alerts, the world started to slow down.
By the third day, I noted how much more productive I was with just about everything. I could do in one hour what I usually did in two or more because I wasn’t spending so much time checking virtual messages and responding to people; I also became aware of what a time suck it is to keep having to reorient myself to work each time I transitioned back from checking social media. My writing and editing were also more enjoyable because I’d hit a groove and actually stay in it. If I needed a break, I’d get up and walk around. I started to feel less scattered, more relaxed.
Without a sea of constant alerts, the world started to slow down. I noticed the red cardinal zipping across the backyard, the way the tree branches dance in the breeze and how people smile at you as you cross the street when you’re not texting with your head down. I was better able to tune into my husband’s account of the day without thinking rudely “get to the point!” I was no longer waiting for pings as my daughter shared stories about camp shenanigans.
I now feel far less hypocritical setting and enforcing rules for my daughter..
What became crystal clear is that I, like so many others, had launched myself into the world of social media without stopping to anticipate any potential pitfalls. I got zombified before I knew what was happening. I watch the zombies out there now, crashing into park benches, ignoring their kid’s questions and swerving into the wrong lane while updating a Facebook status or sending a text. It would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad and worrisome. I now feel far less hypocritical setting and enforcing rules for my daughter about her time texting or surfing YouTube, and I can talk to the girls in my media program about taking screen breaks with actual experience. I still feel the pull of social media trying to seduce me throughout the day, but I’m trusting that, like with all bad habits, the calls of temptation will subside as I get used to this new way of life.
Try this: If some teeny tiny (or huge) part of you knows you’ve become a zombie too, challenge yourself to build in three-hour breaks each day away from social media. If you feel itchy and restless, that’s normal; stay with it. Do this for at least five days, checking in along the way with how you’re feeling and rewarding yourself each day you make it through. If you hate the experiment and are cursing my name, you don’t have to stay with it. But if you feel more relaxed and even joyful, enjoy your newfound liberation!
Michelle Cove is the Executive Director of MEDIAGIRLS®, a nonprofit organization that teaches girls how to critique the way girls and women are portrayed in pop culture with an emphasis on creating empowering content.
She is also an award-winning filmmaker, journalist, and author whose projects have been featured on numerous national platforms including “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” Katie Couric’s talk show “Katie,” “The Today Show,” The Washington Post, and The New York Times.
Visit www.mediagirls.org to learn more.