I was not able to completely leave social media during this break.
To be clear, I did not check my own notifications or statistics on any social media platform at all this month. I deleted Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat off of my phone and signed off of those platforms on my laptop. However, I found myself logging into Instagram from my computer every day to keep up with a certain public figure who only posts through the medium.
Observing an alternate reality
I follow a certain influencer on Instagram because I find her extremely intriguing. She’s not an “influencer” in the traditional sense — she doesn’t do paid advertisements with brands, she doesn’t plan out her feed, and she doesn’t apply any presets to her photos. Instead, she posts pictures of low-quality-on-purpose art, of her casually posing nude in Polaroids, of her perfectly manicured fingernails, painted baby pink … except for the one on her left ring finger, because that entire nail has fallen off. She shamelessly continues to share intimate details about her exes years after they’ve broken up. She lives in a beautiful, messy, curtain-less apartment in New York City, where she spends her days creating content for Instagram and courting controversy from the press.
This person completely and utterly fascinates me. We’re similar on paper — we both enjoy writing, photography, contrarian points of view, aesthetics, vintage things, and interesting stories — but she makes such different life choices that looking at her stuff is like seeing myself reflected through a funhouse mirror. I’ve followed her since she went semi-viral for failing to organize a nationwide “creativity workshop” tour back in January of 2019, and I can’t tell if I am amused or horrified by her performance-art-esque antics. That’s the precise reason I can’t look away, and why I checked her Instagram page regularly during my self-imposed break.
So, yes, I broke my own rules and did not successfully do this project, at least not in the way I meant to do it. I liken this more to checking someone’s blog than to being on social media … but I said that I would not check Instagram in August, and I totally fucking did. Feel free to judge me as much as I’m judging myself right now. Someday, I will write an in-depth piece about my thoughts on this influencer.
What I did when I wasn’t checking the ‘Gram
Even though I went on Instagram, I didn’t post or check or worry about my own content for a month. I also didn’t go on Facebook or Snapchat at all. I don’t think I was on the Internet any less, but I was able to get more value out of the time I spent online. Offline, I read a lot, planned out several themed series for Fake and Basic, started keeping a regular journal, and spent more time with friends without my phone getting in the way.
I did end up getting benefits out of “going dark.” Here are some specific insights that I had during the month of August.
Insight: My brain didn’t like the lack of stimulation at first
I spend the majority of my time doing deeply focused solitary work, such as reading, writing, going on photoshoots, or doing research for articles. After I’m in the Zone for too long, my mind starts craving external stimulation. The healthiest ways to take a break from the Zone are to interact with others or take a walk outdoors, but a lot of times I’m lazy and I reach for my phone instead.
What did I tend to look at on my phone when I want to be distracted? You guessed it — social media.
I discovered that I had unwittingly made checking Facebook or Instagram the default option for “giving my brain a break” when I deleted these two apps off of my phone. During the beginning of the month, I would literally turn away from whatever project I was doing, pick up my phone, unlock it, and go to the folder where I used to keep my social media apps, all without thinking. Several times during the day, I would find myself staring at my “Social” folder without any clue of how I got there.
This was alarming. It took me an entire week to stop going to the “Social” folder automatically. Now, when I pick up my phone, I don’t look at it at all.
Insight: I was unable to access helpful Facebook groups
I didn’t realize how much I rely on Facebook groups for miscellaneous questions I had until I stopped going on Facebook entirely. Suddenly, the places I’d go to for transgender tips, influencer stuff, and general life advice were no longer accessible to me.
I decided that if something was urgent, I would Google it or ask a friend directly. Otherwise, I would save my thoughts and inquiries for when I returned to Facebook.
I wasn’t prepared to feel such an acute sense of loss, though. Sure, I was no longer mindlessly scrolling through meme groups, but I also felt a lot more alone. I had unwittingly cut off from various communities that I was a part of.
Insight: I compulsively felt the need to share my day-to-day on Stories
When I first moved to California, I decided on a complete whim to dedicate my Snapchat stories exclusively to me doing dumb, slightly douchey things — hitting my vape after work, pouring apple cider into a wine glass and swirling it around, displaying the canisters of watermelon-flavored edible gummies I got from the marijuana delivery service Eaze. I don’t know why I felt the desire to frame my life as though it were a bored thirteen-year-old boy’s. It was fun staging outrageous shit for Stories. I enjoyed watching the views accumulate, sometimes accompanied with “what the fuck” replies from my friends.
At the same time, I was showcasing the life of a typical influencer on Instagram stories — photoshoots, drinks with friends, fancy dinners, the like. I sometimes did long, text-filled Stories when I went to cool places, spinning narratives of my long days and nights out. Unlike Snapchat, which was for pointless entertainment, I looked at Instagram Stories as a way to actually tell a story. I often included descriptions of scenery or snippets of conversations in my essays, but kept everything abstract on purpose. Wouldn’t it be cool if people who read my stuff could see the whole story on Instagram?
When I was actively creating Stories, I was constantly on the lookout for interesting, entertaining things to post that would disappear after twenty-four hours. Since I couldn’t post to Snapchat or Instagram in August, I simply stopped thinking about Story curation at all. It was oddly freeing.
I’ll still post Stories post-break, but I’ll most likely scale back on these efforts and generally care less about them.
Insight: My phone was my most intimate partner
Pre-August, I was 100% That Bitch who felt naked without my phone. It had to be in my hand, on my person, or generally around me at all times. This was a point of contention with friends, family, and romantic partners, all of whom said that they felt like I wasn’t respecting my time with them because I was never really present.
I knew that it was unbelievably rude, but I couldn’t seem to stop … until now. After about a week without posting anything, I stopped feeling the need to open apps, and after two weeks, I stopped missing my phone at all. I started leaving it in my bag or my pocket when I went out. Now, I only feel like I have to have my phone close by if I’m expecting a message from somebody.
Insight: I have a longer attention span
This one is pretty self-explanatory. I can now sit through hours of “boring” work-work without feeling the compulsion to check anything! It’s a wonderful feeling.
How to message people on social media apps without actually being on social media
It turns out that it’s totally possible to Facebook message or Instagram DM someone without going on the websites or mobile apps themselves. I’m a total Apple fanboy, so I used these native macOS apps to keep up with messages during the break:
I also found these, which should work with any system, although I haven’t tried them out myself:
This was more of a break from producing content than a break from consuming it. Still, it was a break that I desperately needed.
Going forward, I think that I will try to keep my day-to-day off of my public social media — that is, save Instagram Stories for highlights, such as my backstory or a deeper dive into my photography process. I’ll probably also keep the Facebook app off of my phone, because I tend to reserve productive Facebook activities such as post content or ask questions for when I’m on my computer.
Though I definitely “cheated” this time around — I suck sometimes, I know — I have no doubt that this break helped me to slow down and chill out. It’s helped me become less dependent on my phone and more present in my actual life. In the meantime, I’ll work on cutting back on my guilty online pleasures. ♚