About nine months ago, on a seemingly ordinary morning, I woke up to a startling message. My weekly screen time notification showed that I had spent a whopping average of eight hours a day on my phone.
The fact that I was spending nearly seven full waking days a week on my phone seemed ludicrous. I tend to be a busy person. How could I have the time to browse through my phone this much?
Upon reflection, I realized I constantly felt the need to look up the news on my phone or check for any unread DMs on my socials rather than just being in the moment.
My time spent on social media affected many parts of my life, including my prayer life! Before spending so much time on social media, I would start the morning off with a prayer and end the day with one, too. In the evening, I would often learn about the lives of the saints and reread passages from Augustine’s “Confessions.” Slowly, I replaced these activities with checking for the latest news on Twitter as soon as I woke up and endlessly scrolling through Instagram before bed.
The notification came as we were approaching Lent, the contemplative and solemn liturgical season of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving in my Catholic faith tradition. So, I decided to use the season to forego social media in exchange for peace.
Yet, I had doubts. How would I stay in contact with friends? How could I update the people in my life about what was going on? Would I miss opportunities because I didn’t see them on social media? With the encouragement of my best friend, who had already let go of social media in exchange for a more positive and productive life, I decided to take the plunge into a social media-free world. This is what I learned.
The smaller things in life really are worth appreciating
Before my social media fast, I found walking between classes in college to be the perfect time to answer direct messages and comment on posts.
Without social media, I was forced to actually look at my general surroundings instead of down on my phone. I never realized how the skyline of New York made me feel grateful, knowing that I was living in a city I always wished to live in. Or how gazing at the night sky made me miss the endlessly bright, beaming big stars of Texas where I am from. Realizing the beauty of the walks I undertook but never admired, I began to appreciate the smaller things in my life that often go unnoticed.
My friendships are stronger than I thought
My friends are at the center of my life. Many of my friendships, however, are maintained through social media. I initially feared that people would misinterpret my lack of DMs or comments on their posts as abandonment.
I was pleasantly surprised when I not only maintained my friendships but also noticed that they were growing stronger. Instead of going directly to Instagram for an update on the life of a friend, I would text them asking how things were going (vintage, I know).
Even better, my friends met me in my social media-free world and would go out of their way to text me which alleviated my stress about staying in contact. I ended up hanging out with friends even more, and it felt extremely genuine when they would update me on their personal lives.
There is solace in stillness
Idleness has never felt comfortable to me, and when I began my senior year, it came as no surprise to everyone I know that I quickly began juggling full-time coursework, an on-campus job, an internship, club leadership, a senior honors thesis, and my writing endeavors. The need to be doing something was so ever-present that I would often escape to social media during rare moments of free time.
Without social media, I initially felt tense and somewhat bored when I did not have something to do. As time went on, I found peace in simply being able to breathe. No longer do I feel the need to bury myself in my phone when I am idle, nor is there a need to fill in the silence when a conversation with a friend goes quiet. Instead, I’m more at peace when I have the chance to simply be present.
I can often become overwhelmed by all the things I need to do. In doing so, I often don’t make time for God. By being still, and many times silent, I have the time to reflect on all the times that he has been present in my day. Whether it be through words I hear within myself or a moment of love I have reflected upon, silence gives the space to hear God speak.
My patience grew
I’ve become accustomed to the instant gratification I get on social media. No matter what I’m looking for – news, foodie photos, friend updates – I get that as soon as I sign into my Instagram account.
During my social media hiatus, I was forced to actually wait for the things I desired. For example, I would typically scroll through my phone when I waited for my coffee at a coffee shop. Now, I wait patiently for it. Because of this newfound patience, I found myself being much more at peace with getting a text back from a friend after a few days or waiting a week for an email reply. Before, I would be tempted to think that I was being ignored or that I said something incorrectly. Now I feel appreciative to be remembered rather than annoyed.
Giving up social media, even for a short time, was by no means an easy feat, but it’s helped me enjoy life more. Although I continue to use social media, I tend to use it more in moderation. So, if you are ever thinking of giving up social media whether it be temporarily or permanently, consider the benefits that might make you become a happier and more fulfilled person.