A virtual detox: Brave enough to join me?

Karima LanfrancoOne night last June, I was on Facebook, and I caught myself scanning through pictures of a party that not only did I not attend, but also I didn’t know anyone there. In the middle of comparing the size of that house to mine, and how they looked to how I wanted to look, and how much fun they were having compared to me, it hit me: I had become a lurker.

I decided to do an exercise where I calculated how much time — minutes, hours, days — I had spent behind the screen of my phone. I counted my pictures and tallied my posts. I then estimated the time I had spent thinking of those posts, typing them, editing them, publishing them, going back to see who had “liked” and commented on them. I attempted to tabulate the amount of time I had spent taking pictures, retaking them, cropping them, and then finding just the right filter. And then I fast-forwarded that number to what it would be fifteen or twenty years from now. Let’s just say, it was embarrassing. I felt unsettled. It was time for a change.

So I decided to quit cold turkey. Any app with a twit- or a face- or a snap- or a –gram in it were permanently deleted, and so were all the accounts to go with them. From one minute to the next, there was no poking, no liking, no birthday reminders, no wall posts, no TimeHops, no nothing.

Initially, the idea to “get off the grid” was romantically alluring, but the first couple of days were full of withdrawal symptoms. I’d unlock my phone and instinctively go to where the icons used to be. I would shut off my phone instantly, almost embarrassed, and then wonder what to do. I’d scan my contacts list wondering who to text, who to call. I’d look through my phone’s pictures to “get my fix.” The most recent one was from months earlier — and it was of my dog.

That didn’t work.

Then came the weird attention. I was constantly probed and judged for not being connected. “Oh, you’re one of those,” my coworkers would say. I hadn’t realized how much social media was intertwined into almost every topic of discussion. It came up in conversation all the time. “Have you seen that picture/post/comment/article/meme/gif?” was quickly followed with “Oh, that’s right. Never mind.”

And then after the first few weeks, it got better. My friends adjusted to the fact that they actually had to call or text me(!). I also built stronger friendships. You’d be surprised, but not knowing what your friends are doing every second of the day is liberating. And by not constantly judging every picture, every post, every word, conversations became deeper and more meaningful.

Aside from the small drawback of not knowing what was going on in the virtual world, other benefits were immediately apparent. My mind was free to explore. I started to create things, to move. I meditated. I fell in love with music again. I wrote. I got this gig with the College Park Paper. I rediscovered the things I actually enjoyed doing.

I miss it sometimes. I miss seeing pictures of couples, babies, homes, and travel. And I still feel disconnected, although I find things out organically now. My husband fills me in on the #RunningManChallenge; my friends provide the latest Beyoncé “Lemonade” gossip; and the other day, stopped at a light with the windows down, from the car in the other lane, I got my fill on the presidential campaigns (informative, albeit one-sided).

I also miss the positives of social media. The unknown voices expressing themselves. The blurred line between maker and consumer. The way that everyone can be an artist and share their craft publicly. These are all very beautiful things. And yet, I don’t think I’ll ever go back.

I love how clear my mind feels, and how present I am when I am with family and friends. I love the fact that my phone goes untouched for hours, which means I don’t even need to charge it every night! I love that I have to sit down and spend twenty minutes writing a letter to my best friend in Oregon. And then go to the post office to buy a stamp to mail it. I love that I’ve been forced to memorize my sister-in-law’s birthday, and not just rely on a reminder. I love that taking a picture has become intentional rather than second-habit. And I love the automatic shift in focus from what everyone else is doing to what really deserves my attention — my husband, my family, my friends … even me.

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