I Stopped Using Social Media For 7 Days and Here’s What I Learned
Attention: Southeast Asian start-ups with millennial teams
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
The challenge: 7 days, 168 hours, and 10,080 minutes without checking your Instagram, Facebook, or Snapchat. Could you do it? Could I do it? As a millennial who lives and works in the “Social Media Capital of the World”, I didn’t think I could. Talk about social suicide.
Too dramatic? As of January 2017, there are reportedly 60 million social media users in the Philippines. In the Southeast Asian region, there were reportedly 241 million users of Facebook alone last 2016. While there are no prominent studies reporting social media addiction in Southeast Asia, it’s definitely part of most daily routines — just look at your friends when you’re out for dinner or the people hunched over their phones during your everyday commute. It definitely changed the way we live our lives, but is it for the better?
“My productivity has skyrocketed. I’ve gained/recovered hours and days of lost work time. Consequently, my sales have increased too. The ability to multitask is a myth,” writes Marissa Levin in this Inc. article about how breaking up with Facebook has benefited her life.
Inspired by Levin, I wanted to find out for myself if being off social media would lead to better focus, productivity, and more satisfaction.
So I set out to do just that for seven days. Here’s what happened.
The mechanics of the experiment were: I had to stop using all my social media accounts for 7 days, from March 15 to March 22, including the weekend. This ban was across all available platforms (mobile and laptop). The social media sites included: Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube. I don’t have Twitter and Snapchat.
Did I have to take out Facebook Messenger? I’d been using it to coordinate with team members for personal projects, update family members on my whereabouts, and share the occasional dog picture.
I decided to keep Messenger but deleted the Instagram and Facebook apps on my phone.
I didn’t install Self Control on my laptop. I kept a daily log on a Google Doc file of my thoughts and experiences during the challenge. Here are some excerpts from my log.
“Noticed something: I have this itch to check Facebook… really bad. It’s something you jump to when you have downtime.”
“It’s 2:40 PM and there’s nothing much to do since I’m just waiting for responses…. So I guess I’ll just get on some work now.”
“I might be having social media withdrawals. Not sure. Not really sleeping any earlier. But I don’t feel as frenetic or as “consumed” so early in the morning.”
[Written on Day 6]
“Felt left out because we had a wedding last Saturday and then a dinner with the family today. My cousins were going over the pictures of the wedding and commenting on it, and showing each other, and I couldn’t relate to what they were sharing/saying.”
“Was really excited that I could get to check Facebook again, just because I felt left out
of the conversation with some family and friends. However, I do think that…I’m not necessarily calmer but I feel like I’m more focused on getting things done. Since one source of procrastination is out of the way.”
After 7 Days: What I Learned
I was surprised that being off social media would have some social repercussions. While social media reportedly causes feelings of isolation, after my cousin’s wedding in the Philippines, I realized, at least in my country, we use social media to extend existing in-person conversations and experiences. I suspect the reason why my notifications jumped from 20 to 67 over the weekend was because of the event.
Repercussions on my social life aside, being off social media was terrific for my work productivity. “Research from the University of California shows that when people are interrupted, it typically takes 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to their work, and most people will do two intervening tasks before going back to their original project,” writes Levin in her article.
I wasn’t filling in the gaps between tasks by checking my feeds nor was I multitasking which made me more efficient. I had expected to be more productive because of the challenge, but what surprised me was that I felt I had more brain space to incubate ideas.
But during those seven days, being off social media hadn’t stopped me from filling up every idle moment. I found that I would just jump to other random activities to fill the time, such as games and web surfing. “I realized I am no longer comfortable being bored. Always have to fill time with something, not comfortable just sitting and being anymore, ” I wrote in my log on day three.
My usage of social media had made avoiding boredom into a habit, which isn’t a good thing. In this Inc. article, Chris Winfield argues that boredom is necessary for coming up with creative ideas. Just like how you come up with ideas in the shower, the brain needs a break from “task-related conscious thought”. Needless to say, our constant use of social media doesn’t help this process.
So, at the end of my challenge, was I more productive and focused? Yes. Did I feel more satisfied? Not quite. Was it better for me? Probably. Would I do it again? Most definitely, but maybe for a longer period of time.