Hi, my name is Berglind and I’m an addict.
As soon as I woke up, I needed my fix. Before I went to sleep, I needed my fix. If I was alone, I needed my fix. If I was with people, I needed my fix. If I was sad, I needed my fix. If I was happy, I needed my fix.
My addiction is needing to be constantly connected, to not miss out on anything happening on social media, to share all of my experiences and thoughts and the longing for positive feedback on it. But this addiction is so normalized that I was in complete denial that I had a problem until recently.
My morning routine began with scrolling down the feeds to the point where I left off before I went to sleep. Still half-conscious so I didn’t even register fully what I was reading. Always feeling the pressure of my limited time against the endless content the Internet has to offer.
If I was out with a friend, the second she left for the bathroom I went mindlessly straight to my phone. It was my shield so I didn’t have to face awkward situations and would never feel alone.
That awful feeling of time wasted and emptiness after being sucked into social media’s Bermuda Triangle. From Facebook to Twitter to Instagram to Snapchat to email…
Having everyone in the world only one click away, but still never felt more alone. Just staring at the bright screen at nights rather than close it and go to bed.
When I posted something I would regularly check who and how many liked it. If it got no likes I felt like I had failed. Oh, then the euphoric feeling when I saw the red dot reporting new notifications. Oh, the disappointment discovering none of them held any importance as I was hoping for.
Constantly hoping for.
Just like with any other addiction, the drug makes you feel good in the beginning but then it fades while other bad feelings increase. But still, you continue to do it, hoping to get the same experience you once had, even though logically you know it’s not doing you any good.
My journey to realising I had a problem started a year ago when I finally burned out after many years of working too much and being very stressed. I found myself exhausted and overwhelmed. I had to take three weeks off work and get professional help to start my recovery. Looking back now, I see it took me many months on top of that to get completely well again. For my recovery, I made sure to exclude all work related tasks and turned off all work related notifications. It was then I realised how sensitive I was to the all notifications on my phone. Each of them took away from me mental energy which I just didn’t have. They distracted me and made me stressed. So I turned all notifications off on my phone for a couple of weeks and then turned them on, one by one, very mindfully. I paid attention to whether they were improving my life or distracting me. I often got more out of them when I opened apps when I actually had time and longing to. After playing around with notification settings in various apps for some time, I found out that I only really valued Messenger notifications since it has replaced sending text messages and I use it a lot to talk with my close friends.
The next breaking point was three months ago when I decided to change jobs which led to me getting a two months vacation in between jobs. I felt I should use this time to save up energy and work on projects that I had been too tired to work on while working. I felt how hard it was to keep away from spending too much time scrolling mindlessly through social media, just without a thought my fingers opened one app after another. For the past year I’ve also been practising mindfulness and making steps to living a slower, simpler life, but my social media addiction was getting in the way and making me unhappy. So when I had to return my smartphone to my former employees and would get another one when I started my new job, I decided to take this opportunity to decrease my mindless social media usage. My own kind of digital sabbatical. A concept I didn’t know existed until just a few days ago.
In addition to having a phone without apps, I decided to go to my aunt in the Westfjords to work on my writing and take five days away from Facebook and Twitter. Snapchat wasn’t an option since I didn’t have a smartphone but I would allow myself to check Messenger, Instagram and my email account on my laptop a couple of times a day.
Now when I say it, it sounds like it should be so easy, but when taking this decision it sounded like it was forever. It was a very interesting experiment. I logged out of Facebook and Twitter so I wouldn’t accidentally open them. The first two days were actually very easy and I felt I had gained so much time and freedom.
One of my reasonings for using Facebook and Twitter is that I use it to follow up on current events and interesting stuff. But during these days off social media, I read more news articles than I have done for many years!
But on the third evening, my addiction hit me hard. I started to argue with myself why I was doing this experiment and why I couldn’t just open Facebook again now since I had been doing so great for almost three days. It was exactly the same reasoning as I’ve experienced when fighting other addictions. I couldn’t stop thinking about checking Facebook, but I took it with the one-day-at-a-time mindset and powered through. The next day I felt fine and laughed at my feelings the day before. I did break my experiment tho on the fourth day because I had to find information from a Facebook group. So I quickly dived in, opened the notifications since I saw them, but didn’t click any, went to the group and moved quickly out again. Later I realised this information was also in my email so going to Facebook was unnecessary.
I’m not saying technology is bad or social media is the devil in disguise. I’m a programmer and I love technology and the positive things it can do for us. But social media is a tool we use, and it can be used for bad as well as good. I want to use it mindfully and see it for what it is, a nice add-on to our lives. A nice to have. Not live itself.
So lately I’ve been doing my best to use social media intentionally and make sure I take time without being connected to the Internet. I try to keep my mornings and late evenings computer and mobile free. Recently I heard about having the bed mobile free which sounds like a great idea. I’ve started to declutter my Facebook by un-friending over a 100 people (I still have 500 which is way too many) and I consciously stop Facebook from showing me notifications from groups and events I don’t want. It’s constant work since Facebook is always creating new types of notifications, Facebook is good at keeping people hooked.
There were some things I missed a lot from not having a smartphone; the camera, Spotify, meditation- and podcast apps but only social media apps I have installed on my new phone are Messenger, Instagram and Snapchat. I actually enjoyed viewing the pictures on Instagram on a desktop a lot more and would not have it on my mobile if they would allow uploading on their website. I don’t have these social media apps visible on my home screen so I won’t use them unintentionally. I’m now mindful of the fact I’m not missing out if I don’t see everyone’s stories or pictures every day. All notifications are turned off except Messenger’s, which I’m still contemplating what to do with.
I’m gonna continue to be mindful in my technology usage and do experiments like these and see how they make me feel. I hope my experience can help someone and I would love to continue the conversation about mindful social media usage so please reach out to me those who are interested!
Here are links to some of the articles and podcasts that opened my mind about my problem and what solutions are out there for a happier life.
- A Minimalist Approach to Technology
- The Slow Home Podcast: Slow Tech
- How Technology Hijacks People’s Minds — from a Magician and Google’s Design Ethicist
(This post first appeared on Medium)