I am woefully uninformed.
I don’t know what movies came out this past weekend…or this past year. My recent playlists are filled with songs popular in 2014. I have no idea what’s happening in the world around me — news, politics, current events.
At least I can hide my pop-culture ignorance with hipster elitism. I can pretend like “I’m above all that.” But no college-educated, self-proclaimed life-learner can possibly justify a willful ignorance of world events.
Can a person simultaneously be smart and uninformed?
The News: A Never-Ending Horror Show
In college, I used to watch the Daily Show religiously. My attention span was too short to watch “real news,” but at least I could say John Stewart kept me up to speed on major topics.
And then, at some point, I decided I would never watch the Daily Show again. It had nothing to do with the show itself, because the show itself was great — satirical, smart, informative. It had everything to do with how the show made me feel — angry, upset, hopeless.
Each episode made me laugh, but each episode also made me want to cry. Because I wasn’t laughing at jokes, per se. I was laughing at the absurdity and futility of our political reality. There seemed to be an obvious and right thing to do, and yet no one was doing it.
So I decided to stop watching the news. I had to. It was causing emotional distress. It was making me feel physically ill.
It seemed somewhat heretical to purposefully choose ignorance, but I reasoned it was no different than passing on horror movies because they gave you nightmares. It was actually a pretty 1-t0–1 comparison.
And you know what happened? Nothing. Nothing except that I started to feel much better.
The Breaking Point
Fast-forward to 2016 — the Republican and Democratic National Conventions.
As I’m sure was true for literally everyone else, my Facebook Newsfeed was full of friends-turned-political-experts incessantly preaching the Truth of their political gospel.
I was teleported right back to college — anger, dismay, distress, inability to focus, fatalism. And that’s not an exaggeration. I almost had to leave work and take a sick day. I felt sick. I felt hopeless in the face of our dismal election prospects (still 4 months away).
I was scared.
I knew there was really only one solution. I’d been in this situation before. If I wanted to regain my sanity and peace of mind, I had to get off Facebook. At least for the rest of the convention.
But unlike quitting the news, when it came to quitting Facebook, I hesitated. Where the news was a 30-minute sideshow at the end of a long day, Facebook was an integral part of my life.
I’d read about “social media detoxes.” About their supposed benefits, like increased focus and decreased stress.
But I’d always said that a social media detox “wasn’t for me.” That it probably was beneficial for some, but I personally couldn’t. I needed Facebook to promote my writing, to communicate with my improv teams, to post funny statues, to see event invites, to stay abreast of current events.
But the Donald Trump political firestorm forced my hand. I was scared and sick. His campaign brought to a place where I was at least willing to try a small experiment.
Facebook: It’s Not You, It’s Me
Staring at my screen, scrolling and scrolling and scrolling, reading comment after comment after comment — third parties, Crooked Hillary, Hitler/Trump, nuclear war, Canadian immigration, pleas for reason and compromise — I logged out.
I closed Facebook at 2PM, deleted the app from my phone, and promised that I wouldn’t log back on for 24 hours. It was basically the smallest break I could take, but it was finite enough that it seemed feasible.
When 24 hours had passed, a funny thing happened. I didn’t want to log back on.
So I didn’t.
I decided I’d try for another 24 hours. And then another. And then the Conventions were over. And I still didn’t want to check Facebook.
Not only did I not want to check Facebook, but I actually felt better — physically and mentally. I didn’t have to keep up with notifications. I didn’t get caught in the endless loop of clickbait headlines, dog gifs, and sensational news. I didn’t get 100 invites to parties I’d never attend. I didn’t have to worry if something I’d posted was funny or got “enough” likes.
Initially I was afraid I’d be missing out. But in the end, I felt free. It was everyone else who was actually missing out.
A New Normal
In the past, Facebook was just a thing that I checked every day, all the time, without even thinking about it. If I had 3 minutes to kill, I’d see what was new. If the conversation drifted towards a topic that didn’t interest me, I’d pop open the app. I’d log on to check a specific message thread only to realize 10 minutes later that I couldn’t remember why I was on Facebook in the first place. It’d gotten to the point where I’d close Facebook on desktop and mindlessly open it on mobile.
None of that is healthy. Even when I was stuck in that cycle, I knew it wasn’t healthy. But I couldn’t stop, and what’s more, I didn’t want to stop. I’ve never truly been addicted to anything, but I have to assume that’s how people hooked drugs, alcohol, and gambling feel. And now I understand why it’s so hard to break free.
But once I did, I felt so much better. And the benefits were almost immediate. Everything that everyone had said about taking a break from social media was true. I am happier. I have more clarity. I am more present. I don’t check my phone as often.
Once again, I am intentionally choosing ignorance. But I don’t feel like I’m actually missing anything.
I had 96 notifications the day I logged back on.
I’ve never checked them.
How to Overcome Loss Aversion and Actually Take a Break
I realize this article’s run long. I realize I’ve made my point. I realize I’ve been very clear about why you should take a break from Facebook (even if just for 24 hours). And if I’ve convinced you, if you’re going to seriously consider taking a break, then you have my permission to stop reading (after you recommend this post and leave a comment, of course).
But if I had to guess, I’d bet that you’re a lot like me. You’re probably thinking “It’s all fine and well that YOU took a break, but this advice isn’t for ME. I couldn’t possibly.”
I’m reminded of “loss aversion,” the economic and psychological theory that humans hate losing more than they like winning. We are more afraid of a perceived loss than we are happy about a perceived gain.
This mindset applies to social media too. I’d read like this one and consider taking a break. But I was too worried about what I’d lose to go forward with it. The benefits of clarity, creativity, and less stress were not as attractive as the potential loss of a life (or day) without Facebook.
That’s why more people don’t take a break. Facebook — or any social media platform — is just a part of life. Checking it is just something we do — no different than eating or going potty. And the fact that it’s so mundane, so uninspired, something we don’t even think about, makes it even harder to quit. Because if it’s as “normal” as eating or going to the bathroom, how could we possibly get by without it?
As I’ve said in this article — I quit Facebook as an experiment. I gave myself permission to get back on after 24 hours if I just couldn’t do it. Unlike changing jobs, moving to a new city, or getting a divorce, taking a Facebook break isn’t a permanent, life-altering change. You can always log back on if a break (or if quitting) isn’t for you, and it’ll be like you were never gone.
Loss aversion makes us hesitant to try an experiment as simple as a one day social media break, even when the benefit is there. But when you recognize that, when you’re aware of what’s going on in your brain and you remember that logging off for one single day is about the least risky and least permanent thing you could ever do, it’s almost insane to not try.
Almost as insane as the way Trump eats a slice of New York pizza…
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