Collin Slattery learns which kinds of connections fulfill, and which are unsatisfying in comparison, in his experiment in avoiding social media.
I did not start 30 days without social media with the idea of conducting an experiment and its effects. I closed my Facebook account as a spur-of-the-moment thing and decided after the fact that I wanted to turn it into an experiment. The fact that I started it on a whim meant I did not strategically select the best time for it. The anniversary of my father’s death fell in the middle of the month, and I was sick for almost two weeks of the experiment. It is hard to feel good and active when you’re sick and grieving. Going about my daily activities during a constant heat wave in New York City with a sore throat, runny nose, and fever made it virtually impossible for me to want to do things. I wasn’t exactly eager to meet new people or strike up conversations when sporting a box-a-day tissue habit. It wasn’t all bad news, of course. My severely injured elbow finally seems to be fully healed, and I was able to play golf for the first time in a year on the 4th of July.
For years, the majority of my socializing was through the internet. I was a hardcore MMORPG player for almost a decade, and I spent between 40 and 100 hours a week playing games. Since beginning my experiment, I have found that socializing in person, even just chatting with a cashier or coworker, is much more important and more fulfilling to me. I came to realize over the course of the month that socializing online and socializing in person are two completely different things, and how I react on a physical and emotional level to in-person contact is different from how I react to online interaction.
Without the online social interaction during the experiment, I felt more isolated but less lonely, and I experienced less social anxiety. Instead of worrying about being ignored on Facebook or feeling left out when other people were doing things, I felt that my alone time had some value. I wasn’t sitting around being alone because I was being left out on Facebook; I was alone because I chose to be alone. I could use that time however I wanted, which is exactly what I did. I finally picked up the guitar, which I have wanted to do for years but was afraid that people would judge me for being a beginner. Instead, I am playing for no other reason than my own enjoyment, and I’m loving every minute of it.
Today, I am not as concerned about what other people think; I am not trying to curate an image of myself online to share in an effort to make people like me. Many, myself included, use Facebook to create an unrealistically rosy and perfect image of our lives. I have done many things because it will look good on Facebook, rather than actually doing something I want to do. As long as I was doing something, I felt an obligation to post that on Facebook, and starting something new—learning now to play the guitar, for example – is something I would be embarrassed to share on Facebook. In a world of oversharing, not sharing is difficult. The whole world doesn’t need to know about what I’m doing offline, and there is no judgment to be concerned about if I am not sharing everything with the world.
One thing that I have come to realize is that I jump into things with incredibly unrealistic expectations, and I don’t put in the necessary effort to potentially reach those expectations. I started this project expecting to be some social butterfly with a packed social calendar and dozens of new friends at the end of it, but I didn’t put in the effort to make it happen. I just expected that it would happen on its own. Nothing really happens on its own: you always need to put in the effort. Like playing the guitar and talking to cashiers, they both felt awkward at first, but I got better at them and found them more fulfilling than the social media activities with which I used to fill my time.
I’ve enjoyed the break from social media. I’m 23 years old and I’ve been on Facebook since 2005 (I think) and Sconex (a social network for high school kids) even longer. My entire life has been largely spent interacting online, and it was different and enjoyable to have real life be a more prominent part of my experience.
Now that the experiment is over, I will be reactivating Facebook, but I won’t be going back to my regular habits. I think it is a good tool to have; however, I don’t think it should be used as a social outlet. I doubt that I’ll spend much time posting on Facebook or following what other people are doing. It will just be another way for people to get in touch with me.
I feel that this has been a valuable experience for me, and I think it would be a worthwhile experience for people who don’t really get a lot out of social media. I imagine there are many people who get very little out of Facebook. It is also a massive time sink, and I had a lot more time for work and other things this month.
I believe that many of us collect friends on Facebook and “friend” people who aren’t really friends. This is aided by the fact that Facebook lets people have a passive relationship with their friends: the news feed comes to you; you don’t have to seek it out. If someone stops showing up in your news feed, are you even going to notice?
In my opinion, social media is far too prevalent, and it gives people an excuse to be incredibly lazy, in that they’re content with the nuance and meaning that can be squeezed into 140 characters. Major life events, news … all information is condensed so we can consume even more of it and savor less. I’m all about active engagement, but engagement for engagement’s sake is pointless. We’re more worried about what people on Facebook will think than what we want, ourselves.
If I started this experiment today, knowing what I’ve learned this past month, I would push myself to make more changes consciously, instead of waiting around for things to happen. I wrote that I didn’t want to degrade the results of the experiment by introducing additional variables, but that was just a cop-out on my part which allowed me to avoid going too far outside my comfort zone. Instead of passively expecting a lack of social media to change me, I should have viewed it as an opportunity to change myself.
My initial reaction when reflecting upon this experiment is that it was a failure. One of my biggest faults is that I am a malignant perfectionist, so anything that falls short of my extraordinarily high expectations is a complete failure. I expected that I would come out of this month with dozens of new friends, so many activities scheduled that I had to turn things down, and women swooning at the very sight of me. My month without social media, unfortunately, has not turned me into Justin Bieber. Could I have been more active and put more effort into this experiment? Without question. Did I go a whole month without using Facebook and more or less abstained from any social media usage at all? Yes. I learned many things about myself, I made progress in a number of areas, and I feel that I have grown as a person this past month. Success is progress, not perfection. The very fact that I am able to see this and believe it, if only halfheartedly, is evidence of success.
Read what else Collin Slattery wrote during his no social media experiment:
Image of united people, family and friends courtesy of Shutterstock