Three (and a Half) Lessons I Learned During My Social Media Sabbatical

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Social Media Sabbatical
Photo: "The Importance of Social Media Detox" @ Ignite Teen Treatment

On the 1st of January 2020, I sat in the Departure Hall of Gatwick, waiting for my flight back to Tbilisi. I’m slightly nervous. People called me crazy for even thinking about doing this.

So, as I was sitting on an uncomfortable chair, I took out my laptop from my backpack, logged into the airport’s WiFi, got into the settings of LeechBlock on my Firefox browser and blocked Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, everything… indefinitely. 

While I had already kind of been doing it (removing social media from my phone) anyway, I wanted to challenge myself further. Do I really need to live on these social media websites? The short answer is: No, I don’t.

I don’t need social media to keep in contact with my loved ones. I don’t need social media for job leads (anything not from bots, anyway).

But aside from the personal growth aspect of things, I’ve learned a lot in the 365-days or so that it has been since I permanently blocked those social media websites. 

Here are the three (and a half) important lessons that I’ve learned:

#1: I don’t actually have many friends.

Sad, but very true — and I am strangely OK with it.

One doesn’t need hundreds or thousands of friends to feel legitimized. Research that I have come across during my BSc in Psychology says that humans can’t effectively maintain more than 150 relationships at a time anyway — according to Dunbar’s number.

I can count the number of actual close friends that I have on one hand — friends that I can depend on when I need a shoulder to cry on or a big, “fat” rant about whatever life decides to throw my way.

During this time, I had lost my best friend of 7 years due to a conflict, but I had also gained other friends in return. Instead of moaning about it, I decided to use it as an opportunity to reflect on what I need from the people in my life and try to become a better listener and a better communicator.

#2: I have my OWN mind with my OWN experiences, thoughts, values, and ideas.

I took a while to accept this because when you’re stuck in a particular type of bubble, the bubble is all you become. Social media encourages and enforces this because it is how they win your attention.

So, stepping away from social media inadvertently popped the bubble I was in as well.

I would see the world clearly; I slowly became more open to listening to “the other side” of whichever debate. Left vs Right, Pop vs Indie, Star Wars vs Star Trek.

Some of my views had shifted during this time as well, but as I had sadly learned:

#2.5: A LOT of people do NOT appreciate it nowadays.

Social media has made too many people adopt the “my way or the highway” complex, disappointingly. There is no room for discussion or debate of the facts; feelings have become king.

Plus, a lot of them refuse to accept your differing views. It started to become toxic and suffocating. Rather than talk about things, they’d call you names. They bully and try to ridicule you into submitting to their thoughts and opinions — of what they believe is “right”.

I was called a “n*zi sympathiser” by someone on Reddit who could not believe that a peer would dare to read the work of Dr Jordan Peterson. Unfortunately for that person, I also created an entire series of articles on his book 12 Rules for Life, published on my blog on Medium.

Consequently, I’ve learned to appreciate my own thoughts and opinions. I’m always willing to debate and discuss. However, if people attempt to pressure me into a certain viewpoint, well, I don’t view those people as my friends any longer.

#3: The world is actually a really nice place.

Whether you believe it or not — I choose to.

It’s a lot easier to see the greens of the trees and the blues of the skies once you tear yourself away from the cycles of news headlines, Facebook updates, Instagram stories, or Twitter posts telling us that the world is f*cked one way or another. 

I admit that some aspects of it may be, but that doesn’t mean it’s all bad.

I got sick for the first week of 2021, but that wasn’t a barometer for the rest of the year. Likewise, I also don’t believe that 2020 was as bad as a lot of people think.

In fact, mine was great

Sure, “the situation” separated me from my friends and family and forced me to live in a constant state of anxiety. Still, I also graduated from university, got engaged, made new friends. I broke through my years-long writer’s block and started just writing again.

Despite popular “internet belief”, the world does not revolve around me, and neither do I revolve around the world. There is a separation of entities that many people have failed to remember (or realize) exists and that we are more than our online identities. We are more than the content gluing us to our screens.

Unfortunately, due to work, I have had to use Twitter more consistently nowadays — but I’ve been able to curate it to get the information that I need and not get sucked into negativity. So, if there was one thing I learned from this exercise, we should all take a break from social media every so often. The powers that be have conditioned us into needing it when we don’t.

Shut off your phone, block social media websites, step outside your home and take a deep breath. Enjoy the sounds of the world, and enjoy the sounds of your thoughts. You’ll thank yourself later.

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