24-Hour Social Media Fast

Last week for my Communication Studies class I had to do a 24-hour social media fast. It came down to limited internet, no texting, no social media. It sounded manageable to me, but what ended up happening was nothing I expected. This was my experience, the essay I turned in developed into a blog post.

When I texted my family group message that I wouldn’t be on my phone for 24 hours, I’m sure they all laughed, but still wished me luck. Knowing them, their reactions of “good luck” didn’t surprise me. I’m always on my phone when I’m at home, it keeps me entertained and busy. However, after both my boyfriend and my roommate asked if I was sure I could do it, something seemed off. Am I really that (seemingly) addicted to my phone?

My 24-hour fast started on Friday, March 31st, around 7:15 PM. This decision was strategic. I had my dad’s car on campus that weekend, so I was planning on spending the weekend at my boyfriend’s house in Palos Verdes. Since we can’t see each other every day, a majority of our relationship at times can be texting, messaging, or interacting online, so I knew that being with him during my fast would be a lot easier on both of us. If I was apart from him, I know I would’ve had a much different, much harder experience. As soon as 7:11 PM started rolling around, I texted my family group message and started deleting apps. I realistically didn’t have to delete them, but I figured that I would mindlessly click on them and start scrolling, which would’ve been detrimental to this whole project. By 7:15 PM I was “off the grid”, no more internet, social media, or texting. I started looking through my and Jack’s recently developed film from our trip to San Francisco and felt like I was in the 90’s. I knew I wouldn’t have as much trouble with this fast as others thought I would.

I would describe my relationship with social media as “it’s complicated”. I love the concept of the apps, I love posting pictures for my friends to see and updating them on my life, but I hate how it makes me feel. If I’m not on, I’m missing out, but if I am on, I’m wasting my time. My only worry with this fast was that I’d end up feeling like I wasn’t a part of something I wanted to be a part of. My feelings of contradiction aren’t out of the ordinary. There have been many studies that show that “Facebook makes us happier and increased social trust and engagement among users” but also can make us depressed.

I was surprised how easy it was; I even ended up accidently left my phone at home when we went to Whole Foods because I wasn’t paying attention to it. This particular Friday night I was with my boyfriend, roommate, and two of our friends, so I didn’t totally feel like going on my phone anyway. After about an hour, I was interested in how little I cared about it. However, I did notice that I would mindlessly pick it up and stare at my home screen if I wasn’t doing anything. I’d unlock my phone, realize what I did, and put it down again. I would even scroll through pictures to give myself something to do.

When I wake up, I typically immediately open my phone to check my notifications and then move on to scroll through Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and Facebook. When I opened my phone Saturday morning, I only had one email notification from LMU, so I didn’t stay on my phone at all. It made me wonder how much time I’d save in the morning if I saved my social media scrolling until I was walking to class or when I had a free moment during the day (or didn’t do it at all).

The first little hardship I ran into was when I had to check my bank balance. I only allow myself a certain amount of money to spend each month and after spring break, I knew it would be low by this time of the month (I realize it was April 1st, but my transfer for my April money wouldn’t go through until Tuesday). My bank app wasn’t really social media, but I was disheartened to go back online. I decided to write down my balance so I could just subtract from it if I ended up buying anything other than pancakes that day.

I had to drive my friends home from Palos Verdes, so when I got back on campus I called my boyfriend to tell him I was safe, but I ended up leaving a voicemail. While at LMU I talked to my other friends about my night and morning since I was unable to do so throughout the day like we usually do, which was eye-opening. It’s much nicer to have a long conversation than saying “did you get my text?”. However, this was where I messed up. Before I got into the shower, I texted one of my friends that I was on campus and would love to see her before I went back to Palos Verdes. About five minutes after I sent it, I realized what I had done and was immediately saddened by my mistake. This was a friend who I usually call anyway! I decided that I would have to make up for it somehow, but I wasn’t sure how I’d do that yet.

I called my boyfriend when I was leaving for his house again and instead of texting him when I got there, I knocked on his door; something I’ve never done before. For no reason other than I didn’t think I’d like to.

I stayed off my phone until about 7:45 PM because I wasn’t really paying attention to time and wasn’t eager to get back on. I spent most of my day watching documentaries about teenagers in psychiatric hospitals and they didn’t have phones or social media, which reminded me that not only should I never feel like I should rely on it, but that people will always have much bigger problems than feeling left out when they see a picture of other friends hanging out without them. When I got back on my phone, I downloaded Snapchat and opened everything I missed, nothing that changed my life. It was nice to Snapchat my immediate group of friends, my mom, and my boyfriend, but I really don’t talk to anyone one else on that app other than a few girls in my sorority. I realized that I can care about someone and love them as a person without avidly following everything they do on all platforms. After Snapchat, I downloaded Instagram, but that was a mistake. My notifications were mostly spam and the first picture I saw was of people from my high school I didn’t really like. I got off the app and decided to delete Instagram and Snapchat again. I didn’t download them again until after breakfast the next day, I just didn’t want to see them after going “so long” without them.

The two things I learned about myself that surprised me the most was how I didn’t miss it and that it was so easy. I wasn’t happy when I started scrolling again and I especially wasn’t happy to feel like I had to scroll all the way down to where I left off. I feel like I only had this reaction because of my detachment from my life before college, but it was my reaction nonetheless. I realized that though social media has amazing positives (networking, staying up to date with old friends, it’s a way of communicating with the clubs I’m in for updates, etc.), it simply makes me sad and drains me. I thought I depended on it, but I really just depended on staying updated. Without the apps on my phone, I didn’t have that need anymore. I feel like an addict who realized they needed help and got it. The Huffington Post described feelings like this as “Facebook depression”, which is defined as “emotional disturbance that develops when preteens and teens spend a great deal of time on social media sites”, which is something I relate to.

Since the fast, I’ve unfollowed 30 people on Instagram, deleted about 100 people on Facebook, deleted 50 people on Snapchat, unfollowed 20 accounts on Twitter, and turned off all my notifications for all my apps other than Snapchat and Gmail. This is just the beginning. Social media is mine and I should run my accounts how I like to, seeing pictures of people who I 1. Didn’t talk to in high school, 2. Haven’t talked to in years, or 3. Will never see again are pictures that don’t contribute anything to my life, positive or negative. If anything, it wasted my time to look at them because I’m completely neutral towards them. I decided that I only want to follow people who I respect, admire, or have fond memories with. One of my old friends’ one friends isn’t someone who changed my life or affects it at all really, so that’s not someone I want to follow. A friend I had throughout middle school who I eventually stopped hanging out with and talking to is a different story, we grew up together.

I love social media for giving me an outlet for sharing pictures and staying up to date with my friends, but I’ll probably start seeking conversations instead of an occasional comment on their recent Instagram post. These 24-hours (or I guess you could say nearly 42) were really eye opening for me. I didn't know I needed this, but I really, really did.

Lizzie Bromley