Social Media Detox – Lessons Learned

I’m back from my 30-day social media sabbatical.

After reconnecting to the matrix, I honestly felt that I didn’t miss out on much. This FOMO phenomenon is not that rational. Once I finished logging in Instagram, I was stuck on the grid for over 3 hours in a vicious cycle of unproductivity. It even left me with a bad feeling in my stomach, similar to a relapse symoptom reported by addicts. 

On this exercise, I documented a couple days and I discovered that it wasn’t that bad, even from the start. It went like this:

-Day 1:

12:17 a.m.: After deleting my social media apps (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn) I realized that I had an app-click reflex. In other words, my fingers were desiring to go to specific social media apps.

8:00 a.m.: Wanting to share snippets from my life with my friends. There’s the word Coffee, in a cafe, written in funky typography.

10:00 a.m.: I should’ve included WhatsApp to this list of apps that I have temporarily boycotted.

-Day 10:

This was easier than I thought. I imagined that I would get withdrawal symptoms for not receiving daily ego boosters or virtual pats-on-the-back. But I’m fine. I think it’s clear to state that I don’t really need social media as I had previously believed. I feel good, I feel relaxed, I feel focused.

“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.”  – Freya Stark Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka

“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” – Freya Stark
Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka

I liked the world of no social media. It was a very productive month; I read a lot and used my time more efficiently. I also monitored my behavior more closely in terms of maintaining focus and attention. That month was also a month of reflection regarding my work, as a photographer, and my presence on these online platforms. Do I really need to be updating regularly and providing content everyday? I don't think so.

While on this month-long journey of achieving focus I checked out Cal Newport's TEDxTalk on quitting social media. The talk is informative and Cal argues that life can be much enjoyed and livable without social media. I also read his book  Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, where he discusses ideas relating to attention and focus in today's world of mega distractions. The book sheds some light on many issues that I was personally facing and were affecting my work.  

Approaching this reckoning made me think about the way I should deal with social media now: I want it to be fun. I don’t want it to be materialistic, involving an obsession with followers count and engagement. I want it to be about me. Another thing I noticed about this exercise is that it made me value my social life even more, while engaging in actual and meaningful conversations. Now, I don’t feel the need to share something with the world, for the sake of sharing. My positive reinforcement is my time and what I do with it.


The daily hustle.   Old City Sana'a, Yemen

The daily hustle. 

Old City Sana'a, Yemen

In the subject of time and what to do with it, I will finish with this:

In a recent episode of Brooks Jensen's Lenswork podcast, titled Inspiration Comes from Everywhere, he reads a passage by James T. Farrell, author of the Studs Lonigan Trilogy. The passage, written by the author and discussing his subject, Mr. Lonigan, was about writing. Brooks points out that this passage could've been written directly to us photographers, or anyone working in an artistic/literary field that involves facing ambitions, setbacks and challenges on a daily basis. Farrell writes:  


“To be a young man with literary aspirations is not to be particularly happy. At first, the desire to write is more strong than is a clear perception of what one wants to write and how one will write it. There are surprising oscillations of mood. One moment the young writer is energetic and hopeful. The next he is catapulted into a fit of despair, his faith in himself infirm, his self-confidence shattered and broken, his view of the future one in which he sees self-sacrifice ending only in dismal failure. There are times when he cannot look his friends in the eye. There are moments when he feels himself to be set against the opposition of the entire world. There are occasions when he turns a caustic wit, a brutal sarcasm, and a savage arrogance on others only because he is defending himself from himself. Suddenly he will be devastated by an image of himself in which he sees a nobody who has had the temerity and egotism to want to call himself a writer. He measures himself, with his few unpublished manuscripts, against the accomplishments of great writers, and his ambition suddenly seems like insanity. Even though he is not particularly conscious of clothes, there are periods when he gazes upon his own shabbiness-his unshined shoes, his worn and unpressed shiny suit, his frayed overcoat, his uncut hair-and he sees these as a badge of his own miserable mediocrity. A sense of failure dogs his steps. Living with himself becomes almost unendurable.

Writing is one of the cruelest of professions. The sense of possible failure in a literary career can torment one pitilessly. And failure in a literary career cannot be measured in dollars and cents. Poverty and the struggle for bread are not the only features of a literary career that can make it so cruel. There is the self-imposed loneliness. There is the endless struggle to perceive freshly and clearly, to realize and re-create on paper a sense of life. There is more than economic competition involved. The writer feels frequently that he is competing with time and with life itself. His hopes will sometimes ride high. His ambitions will soar until they become so grandiose that they cannot be realized within the space of a single lifetime. The world opens up before the young writer as a grand and glorious adventure in feeling and in understanding. Nothing human is unimportant to him. Everything he sees is germane to his purpose. Every word that he hears uttered is of potential use to him. Every mood, every passing fancy, every trivial thought can have its meaning and its place in the store of experience he is accumulating. The opportunities for assimilation are enormous, endless. And there is only one single short life of struggle in which to assimilate. A melancholy sense of time becomes a torment. One’s whole spirit rebels against a truism that all men must realize, because it applies to all men. One seethes in rebellion against the realization that the human being must accept limitations, that he can develop in one line of effort only at the cost of making many sacrifices in other lines. Time becomes for the writer the most precious good in all the world. And how often will he not feel that he is squandering this precious good? His life then seems like a sieve through which his days are filtering, leaving behind only a few, a very few, miserable grains of experience. If he is wasting time today, what assurance can he give himself that he will not be doing likewise tomorrow? He is struggling with himself to attain self-discipline. He weighs every failure in his struggle. He begins to find a sense of death-death before he has fulfilled any of his potentialities-like a dark shadow cast constantly close to his awareness."