Looking back on a month off of social media

Today marks the last day of my month away from Twitter and Mastodon (and Tumblr, which I recently realized I was still on).

What I will or won’t do with Twitter aside, I’ll likely be going back to Mastodon (and Tumblr?), just to touch base with the few people I’m connected with there and poke around a bit to see what I may have missed in my absence.

It’s not a pressing thing, though. I’m not counting down the hours and minutes until I can get back on. It’s more… idle interest, I suppose. Which is certainly a change from what had for years become a default of checking Twitter and/or Mastodon when I had minute or two in between other things. That tendency was absolutely there to start with this month, as I noticed countless times when I was just about to log on as a reflex when something else wasn’t going on (again and again and again) but reminded myself that I’m not doing that this month. And in the last couple of weeks, for sure, I haven’t thought about either site much at all, let alone as a default thing to do.

As mentioned recently, I’m definitely more present in what’s happening around me these days, which is a big plus. It’s not surprising, of course. When you’re walking around or with your family but without the voluntary distraction of a little screen, you’re pretty much forced (in a good way) to deal with what’s actually right around you rather than what’s happening in cyberspace.

I’ve been taking regular lunchtime walks with my daughter during her virtual school days. And not that I would often be on the phone during that kind of time anyway, but while I would sometimes have to delay that impulse when it did show up on walks or with family, lately it never even occurs to me (other than for photos sometimes). There’s nothing that could be better than that focused, dedicated time with the kiddo. And more importantly, her knowing that I genuinely feel that way.

I’ve noticed that in the last four weeks I’ve definitely become less informed about news. I believe that had long been via a mix of getting news stories directly from news sources on Twitter, but also from seeing peoples’ (almost always negative) reaction to news stories I hadn’t heard about. If that news was something interesting or notable and time allowed, I’d then do a search for elsewhere online to find out the details of what happened. Then I’d go back to add to the conversation or tweet about it myself.

All that was gone for me in October.

I still have all the access to news a person could ask for, of course, be it from multiple 24-hour news channels on TV or literally any news source that’s online around the world. But I simply haven’t been on any of that too much this month.

I’m not sure why that is. It could be in part not wanting to take the time to do so–I’ve made my weekdays pretty busy lately, including riding shotgun on my daughter’s virtual schooling, while reading articles (mainly on science and society, it seems), and writing, clearing out my inbox, and learning Danish. Not necessarily in that order. And all of that fills a guy’s school-time hours.

It may also be a part of an unconscious inclination to help my brain cleanse itself a bit. News, as we all know, tends to heavily lean toward the negative and/or anxiety-inducing. Since at least a good chunk of why I wanted to stay off social media was to get away from too big an intake of that kind of stuff, it would make sense that I’d naturally just avoid it from other sources, as well.

The tables have definitely turned in who informs whom of news between my wife and I. I’ve worked for years at the info centre desk at the downtown Toronto location of the CBC, Canada’s national broadcaster. Between seeing a few hours of news there every day, combined with what I was seeing on Twitter, I tended to be much better informed than she was, given she’s up really early and and in class all day before coming home and being a wife and a mom (on top of more school work).

Now that’s totally flipped. Particularly since she’s started listening to news/talk radio on her commute, and since I’ve been out of work since March due to Covid closures (and have been unplugged from most news this month), she’s the one asking me if I’d heard about news items X, Y or Z. And for the most part, I haven’t.

On the downside, that reversal of roles does leave me feeling a bit behind the curve not knowing much (often any) news. But not to the degree I would’ve thought it would. Perhaps FOMO doesn’t come into effect as much when what you’re ignoring is largely negative anyway?

On the upside, there’s a definite feeling of not being as… anxious, for lack of a better word. I’ve never been high-strung, but there was an added pressure, of sorts, on my mind that isn’t there any more. Or at least has eased off enough that I now notice the clear difference between low-key/normalized feelings of anxiety and stress I had a month ago (and for untold years prior) and now.

The most notable evidence of that is my feeling about the U.S. election. As with billions of others, I have been on an endless circuit of stunned and shocked and saddened and exhausted for four long years, waiting for November 3rd, 2020 to finally get here to hopefully end the madness going on south of the border.
I couldn’t wait for it.

And as I sit here and write this post, three days before that election, I’m realizing that how worked up about it I was, for so long, I no longer am. It’s not that I don’t care what happens, by any stretch. As we learned in 2016, elections can go really well or really, really badly. And I’m with the vast bulk of the world crossing their fingers that we all collectively don’t need to deal with another four years of what we–and Americans in particular–have endured for this term.

And yet, I’m not anxious about it.
I’m not ramped up about it.
Of course the election is just as important today as it has been for the last four years, but–and I suspect this may be key to a lot of this month’s experience of mine–I’m not constantly choosing to be being fed updates and polls about it from the news, nor am I ranting about it (and scrolling and seeing others ranting about it and forwarding their rants on it and scrolling more, etc.) on social media.

In the last month, I’ve been largely ignorant of news and have unplugged from all social media. And at the end of that same month I’m also the least worked up about news and the pandemic and the election and the bad stuff all over world that I can recall being for… well, years at the minimum, and probably edging into decades.

Correlation is not causation, as the saying goes–and here are some fun graphs from a site that my friend Alex introduced me to, that depict exactly how true that is–but the correlation being causation in this case seems pretty obvious.

I’ll almost certainly be getting back onto Mastodon shortly, if not right on November 1st, and my Twitter days are almost assuredly over. But given the hugely decreased mental and emotional stress from being away from both for a month, I suspect I’ll be on a permanent social media and news intake diet from now on.

There’s a world of difference between staying informed enough and staying so informed that it affects your happiness and well-being. I’m now finally seeing, but more importantly feeling, how I’ve been living for so long in the latter category.

Too much of anything is bad for you, and too much negativity and stress–let alone that it had become so routine to you that, insidiously, you didn’t even notice it was there at such a high level, until for a month it suddenly wasn’t there at all–is particularly bad.

We all need to take better care of ourselves, mentally at least as much as physically, particularly in these pandemic times. Cutting way down on the intake of news and social media seems to be a clear, big step in the right direction for me.

If your norm is to watch or read a lot of news and/or you tend to be on social media a lot (or at least, if you objectively look at it, more than you think you are) cutting it way down would probably be good for you, too. Give it a shot for a month and see if you don’t feel better for it.