I have always been an early adopter of technology. My first Blackberry in the mid-90s looked like a pager and scrolled through my emails 2 lines at a time. By 2005, my coworkers lovingly called me the “Queen of the Crackberry,” as I was the resident mobile technology guru for the large, national corporation where we worked.
Throughout most of my professional career in technology, my niche centered around mobile, always-on connectivity. I remember telling a group of colleagues in a meeting, “Our executives don’t put their laptops on their nightstands at night, but you can damn-well bet that’s where their cell phone is… the future of business is in mobile technology.”
I envisioned a world where our smartphones would integrate into every aspect of our existence and seamlessly blend our personal and professional lives. I saw an individual who never truly left the office, but was able to work from anywhere, at any time.
Unfortunately, I was right.
I stood in line for hours to get my first iPhone in 2007, which was the same year I opened my first Facebook account and admittedly got sucked into the magic of social media. For more than a decade, the first thing I did every morning after opening my eyes, was to reach for my cell phone to check Facebook. Like our parents read the newspaper over a cup of coffee in the morning, I scrolled through my Facebook feed to see what was new in my world. Religiously. Every morning.
As cellular data plans became unlimited and more affordable, the addiction took hold, and I was no longer just checking my newsfeed in the morning, I was checking it morning, noon, and night. I fell into the trap. I was sharing pictures of my meals, pictures of my vacations, pictures of my kids and pets, and copious versions of the insanely vain, ‘selfie’. I sat through meals scrolling my phone and ignoring my company. I played mind-numbing games in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep.
Statistics say Americans check their smartphones every 15 minutes, whether they receive a notification or not, and I was no exception. My Facebook account became an outward, public expression of who I was and what was important to me. I used social media to seek validation from my network of friends and associates.
Last February, I made a conscious decision to step away from Facebook. While I’d like to say I have some noble reason for doing so, like privacy concerns or Russian collusion, the truth of the matter is, for various reasons, scrolling my newsfeed started causing more anguish than it did joy, and I lost interest.
So, after wishing my best friend a happy birthday last year on February 19th, I deleted my Facebook app from my phone. I didn’t announce my departure, I didn’t delete my profile, and I didn’t deactivate my account. I simply made it less accessible, then stopped posting and scrolling. I set up a news app on my phone and started reading the news in the morning rather than a newsfeed.
While I expected at least a few messages asking me where I’d gone, no one seemed to notice or care that I wasn’t posting. But it dawned on me, I am but one face in hundreds, if not thousands, of Facebook friends and people are dealing with their own shit. People are simply too busy to notice when one of us drops of the edge. Social media has diluted and bastardized how we define a friend.
So, I found myself between a rock and hard place. My social media feed felt toxic, yet avoiding social media meant being devoid of any meaningful human interaction outside of my husband.
As a freelance writer who works from home, this cold-turkey cut-off from Facebook created an extreme sense of isolation and loneliness. I fell victim to the adage, “Out of sight, out of mind,” inside my own circle of friends. Although the ultimate decision to leave social media was mine, I still felt discarded and forgotten by lack of connection.
However, as time went on, I started to feel less and less offended. Rather I started to feel liberated. I started to feel more focused on the things that mattered. My career started to improve, and more opportunities started coming my way. I had more time for reading. I had more time for meditation. I simply had more time.
I chose a year of isolation over the toxic world of social media, and today, I feel stronger for it. I am no longer checking my notifications every 15 minutes. I am no longer dependent on constant interaction. I am no longer worrying about other people’s opinions, gaining approval, or chasing likes. I am comfortable being alone and I’ve learned to value my time differently.
As I start to reintroduce myself to Facebook, I look forward to reconnecting with my social circles, but I am going to continue to limit my access. I still refuse to put the app on my phone.
Despite the fact that I spent most of my tech career living up to my “Queen of the Crackberry” reputation, and encouraging people to put a phone in their hands, I’m doing everything I can disconnect from mine today.