More and more, the world seems to revolve around social media. Everyone, from my grandma to an elementary schooler, has an Instagram. Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat also seem to be universal. Social media consumes endless amounts of time and energy, including my own. I’ve always wanted to do a social media cleanse, and I figured Thanksgiving break was the perfect time. People always say that holidays are for friends and family, for catching up and reconnecting with loved ones that you may not have seen in a while. This past Thanksgiving break, I was determined to spend my time at home with my family, not on my phone. I convinced my family to to attempt a week-long social media cleanse with me, from the Monday before Thanksgiving until the following Monday. The rules were simple: Sunday night before bed, my dad, sister and I would delete all our social media apps from our phones and wouldn’t redownload them until the challenge was over a week later. My grandma and my mom both opted to keep their apps on their phones, but swore they wouldn’t open them. Obviously, accessing any social media from your phone, computer, iPad or any device with internet was strictly forbidden. Here’s how it went, day by day!
Day One — I forgot to delete my Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter apps before going to sleep Sunday night, and by habit, woke up Monday morning and checked my feeds. It took me about 5 minutes of mindlessly scrolling and tapping before I realized that I had already cheated on my social media cleanse accidentally. Sighing, I quickly stopped scrolling and deleted my apps, embarrassed at how quickly I failed. I debated pretending like it never happened and keeping it to myself but decided that I needed to set a precedent of admitting to my failure so that my family would do the same if they ever cheated. Upon hearing the news, my sister cheered and claimed that she won (even though this was not meant to be a competition amongst family members), saying “This is a better plot twist than I could have ever imagined.”
Day Two — My sister said she kept on tapping on the place where her Instagram used to be and I had to admit that I sometimes caught myself aimlessly swiping through my phone. About midday, my sister made a funny revelation: the thing she missed the most were her “toilet phone sessions” when she scrolls through her social media feeds on the toilet. While I debated pretending like she’s the only one who does this, I have to admit I do it too. Writing this down makes me realize how much of a time sink these apps really are, and I definitely need to be aware of how much time I am wasting in the future.
Days Three, Four and Five — One thing my family agreed about is that we normally fill empty spaces in our day with social media. Waiting for a friend at a restaurant? Check Instagram. Waiting to be called back at a doctor’s appointment? Scroll through your Twitter feed. Conversation slow at your Thanksgiving gathering? Send a few snapchats to your friends. Without social media as a crutch, I personally thought more and was able to spend more time reflecting on how my day was going. I also felt like I enjoyed my family more and stayed more engaged in the conversations that happened around my house. None of us were checking our phones that much because there wasn’t really anything to do on them other than text or call, so we definitely spent more time in the moment together.
My dad enjoyed this absence of social media, saying that it was nice for him to feel like he didn’t need to check his social media every time there was a pause in the day. My mom did not miss Instagram as much as she missed checking her Twitter throughout the day. Twitter is her primary source of news, which works for her because she knows what is biased news and what is reliable. However, it seems like a lot of people use social media as a news source, which presents a problem if people don’t know how to discern between a good news source and a bad news source and simply believe every tweet they see.
Day Six — Today I visited my friend Sophie in Redondo Beach. She kept on wanting to show me people’s Instagram posts and different memes on social media, but I had to politely decline because I thought it would break the rules of my social media cleanse. It made me think of social media’s role within our face-to-face social interactions. Often, when hanging out with people, we show each other funny posts on our feeds or even just share pictures of people we follow. Social media allows us a way to interact with friends and family who live far away, but also serves as a platform for social interaction between people who are in the same room.
Day Seven — Everyone was ready to re-download their social media at this point, so I took some time asking my family their final thoughts about the week. My dad observed that social media fosters an addictive attitude where people check their platforms constantly hoping for new posts even though they would see the same content if they were to simply check it once or twice a day. After this week, he doesn’t think he will have the urge to check it as often. My mom admitted to missing her social media, especially Twitter as a news source and Instagram as a way to connect with her friends who live far away. She, like my dad, was interested in how the challenge would affect her social media use in the future. My grandma had no problem with the challenge, but isn’t a very big social media user in the first place. As for the millennials in the family, my sister and I completed the challenge with much more ease than I would have imagined. My sister seemed more stressed about the onslaught of notifications she would be receiving upon re-downloading the apps than anything else.
Ultimately, I believe this challenge not only decreased the time we spent on our phones over the holidays, but also made us more aware of the effect of social media. We all realized how addictive and habitual the process of checking social media can be as well as how much time we waste scrolling through our feeds. Personally, I’m going to try not to reach for my phone every time I am bored and avoid social media while hanging out with friends. Social media allows one way to connect with people, but it should not be the primary way.
Contact Aria Fischer at afisch ‘at’ stanford.edu.