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Facebook Free: Aftermath What was it like going off of social media for 30 days?

It has been a little over a month since I decided to take a break from being onFacebook. At first I just decided not to check it, but then I was barraged by incessant emails with notifications about everything I was missing by being offline

It has been a little over a month since I decided to take a break from being on Facebook. At first I just decided not to check it, but then I was barraged by incessant emails with notifications about everything I was “missing” by being offline. So midway through my minor digital freeze, I decided to go cold turkey and completely deactivate my account.

I have to admit, the unplug wasn’t as transformative as I imagined it would be. But it was a good practice in enabling more moments of mindfulness throughout the day. At random moments throughout the first week, I would think I should go on my phone and scroll through my feed, then I would remember that I wasn’t wired to the site, and go back to whatever I was doing (or do nothing at all). In fact, the thought process only came after I would grab for my phone and have to remind myself I no longer had the app. And that is when I realized that for me (and I imagine for many of my readers) scrolling through Facebook or other social media sites on the phone can become a very mindless activity. Like checking your bank account or email, whatever social media apps are on the phone may just become part of the regular routine, or a distraction during down times like waiting in line or even breaks in social situations with other real life people. How many of us have been with other people, only to notice that must (if not all) of the people in real time, are looking down at their screens?

And the science actually suggests that having those micro-moments in between other activities we engage in are important times when our brains can process information, but only if it has minimal stimulation so that the requisite “downtime” can be used for processing. For example:

…recent imaging studies of people have found that major cross sections of the brainbecome surprisingly active during downtime. These brain studies suggest to researchers that periods of rest are critical in allowing the brain to synthesize information, make connections between ideas and even develop the sense of self. (Richtel, 2010, p.2)

As such, it should come as no surprise that individuals who are constantly digitally wired, especially in between other tasks, can show signs of problems with focus or sustaining attention, digesting and forming new memories, sleep deprivation, and a host of other problems (e.g. Ritchel, 2010). So while I didn’t necessarily feel the immediate benefits of being a little less wired by being off of social media for a month, there was a certain calmness and stillness to my days, especially in between tasks, that I was able to be the recipient of in this month. If I were to also moderate my texting and other types of digital inputs at the same time, I would likely feel the effects more explicitly.

An equally greater concern is the flood of private information we are willingly providing on social media sites. Until I unsubscribed, the amount of emails that was flooding my inbox from Facebook made it clear that the site is set up to attempt to “lure” back users who aren’t logging on frequently enough. That poses some ominous questions regarding digital privacy, and ultimately, what the powers behind the site intend to do with all of the information that is being collected.

As fellow PT blogger Dr. Aboujaoude reflects in his book Virtually You: The Dangerous Powers of the E-Personality,” “a critical side effect of the Internet revolution [is]: the impossibility of privacy in the online age, and the psychological consequences of living in a post-privacy world” (236).

So each of us must decide for ourselves how much use of digital gadgets and social media is too much. I would advise (and this is consistent with the brain research) moderation in use, but unfortunately, the portal itself lends itself to extremes. As for me, I haven’t decided if I will continue to remain off of Facebook. A part of me feels relieved that there is one less online portal that I have to “keep up with” while the other part of me doesn’t want to have to totally shut off my social media connections.

I am hoping I will be able to find some middle road, and you can, too.

Aboujaoude, E. (2011). Virtually You: The Dangerous Powers of the E-Personality. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

Richtel, M. (2010, November 21). Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction. The New York Times: Technology. Retrieved on May 1, 2016 from:http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/21/technology/21brain.html?pagewanted=3&_r=0

Copyright Azadeh Aalai 2016

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