A few weeks ago, I noticed I was feeling kind of scattered and restless. I could feel myself waiting for something to happen, but what? I did some internal poking around: Was something off with my career? My child? My marriage? Friendships? No, things were going pretty well overall, which made it all the more confusing. Why wasn’t I enjoying myself more? What was wrong with me?
I tried over the next few days to pinpoint when exactly I felt itchy, and after a few days, I tracked down the source: I’d become so hooked on social media and email that I was waiting constantly for the next ping, chime and bleep alerting me of a note, text, Facebook message or phone call. If I wasn’t being distracted regularly by notifications, things felt eerily quiet. Ew, I was becoming that checked-out human who can’t sit still for a moment… No way! Time to kick the habit.
I considered going cold-turkey for a week, just going off the grid. But as the Executive Director of a nonprofit centered around media, that was clearly unrealistic. I was going to have to create my own in-house rehab. After all, I didn’t want to cut virtual communication from my life; I just wanted to reduce my dependency. I decided I’d check e-mail and social media once every three hours, shutting down all of my gadgets in the interim so I wouldn’t be as tempted to peek. I reminded myself that if there was an emergency about my daughter from a nurse, I’d get a call. If it were not an emergency, the people trying to connect with me could surely wait a few hours like the old-timey days. I would try it for three days.
By the third day, I noted how much more productive I was with just about everything. I could do in one hour what I usually did in two or more because I wasn’t spending so much time checking virtual messages and responding to people; I also became aware of what a time suck it is to keep having to reorient myself to work each time I transitioned back from checking social media. My writing and editing were also more enjoyable because I’d hit a groove and actually stay in it. If I needed a break, I’d get up and walk around. I started to feel less scattered, more relaxed.
“I’d become so hooked on social media and email that I was waiting restlessly for the next ping, chime and bleep alerting me of a note, text, Facebook message or phone call.”
What became crystal clear is that I, like so many others, had launched myself into the world of social media without stopping to anticipate any potential pitfalls. I got zombified before I knew what was happening. I watch the zombies out there now, crashing into park benches, ignoring their kid’s questions and swerving into the wrong lane while updating a Facebook status or sending a text. It would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad and worrisome. I now feel far less hypocritical setting and enforcing rules for my daughter about her time texting or surfing YouTube, and I can talk to the girls in my media program about taking screen breaks with actual experience. I still feel the pull of social media trying to seduce me throughout the day, but I’m trusting that, like with all bad habits, the calls of temptation will subside as I get used to this new way of life.
If some teeny tiny (or giant) part of you knows you’ve become a zombie too, challenge yourself to build in three-hour breaks each day away from social media. If you feel itchy and restless, that’s normal; stay with it. Try this for at least five days, checking in along the way with how you’re feeling, and rewarding yourself each day you make it through. If you hate the experiment and are cursing my name, quit. But if you feel more relaxed and joyful, enjoy your zombie liberation!