It’s so easy for me to erase.
When I decide that something isn’t useful to me anymore, I will ruthlessly prune it without a second thought. It’s how I put all our furniture on Craigslist before we moved to Nashville. It’s why I have whittled my closet down to around twenty items. Famously, it’s why, when I was ten years old, I threw away a stapler that had run out of staples. It’s also what made it relatively easy to quit Facebook and stop using Pinterest.
It’s a personality thing: I cannot stand to keep something in my life once I’ve decided it no longer belongs.
But what about the things that toe the line? Activities, habits, or people for which the decision isn’t so cut and dry. Other social media — like Instagram or Twitter — or screen-based activities like watching Netflix or reading blogs, haven’t yet earned their own tale of going cold turkey. It has been slightly more complicated to figure out how those things fit into my day-to-day.
I have to remind myself, time and time again, that my ultimate goal isn’t total eradication: it’s balance.
On all the platforms that I still use (Instagram, Twitter, and Bloglovin), I follow a small and carefully selected collection of people. They are a mix of friends and people I look up to, all of whom I genuinely enjoy hearing from on a daily basis. With such a small group of people, it only takes five minutes to scroll through all my feeds. I don’t keep the apps on my phone except to post when I need to, and I feel the urge to post less and less frequently these days, an unintended side effect of slowing down my social media consumption.
A few months into my social media fast, something incredibly surprising happened. I was in the middle of a project when I realized it, so I quickly jotted it down in my notebook to come back to: “I used to feel like sharing moments and thoughts from my daily life added value to them, but now it seems to rob them of it.”
The feeling was weird and refreshing: a reverence for what was going on in the present moment and a reluctance to pull myself away from it — mentally, emotionally, or physically. The best description I can think of is something akin to a toddler that has finally learned to sit still. My mind used to go wandering off without me, in pursuit of the next distraction or red notification. Now, I find that I am able to concentrate again. I can bask. I can savor. I can hold a train of thought without first dragging it through the filter of the crowd.
Since taking inventory of how I interact with technology, I am keenly aware of the difference between what refreshes me and what drains me. I am all too familiar with the lifeless, disoriented feeling of spending multiple hours online or scrolling through social media posts. Conversely, I know the deep satisfaction that comes from being engrossed in a novel, going on a long Sunday walk with Thomas, wandering the catacombs of an art museum, or simply being still.
Knowing this, and reminding myself of it regularly, means that I am much less likely to trade those experiences for a short-lived and disappointing digital interaction. It enables me to make decisions and set priorities that reflect the person that I want to be, not the one that my addictions and instincts would shape me into.
Striking a balance between the way I use technology, an increasingly inextricable part of all our lives, and the time I spend unplugged has given me a much healthier view of both. I have discovered how I can use technology in a way that enables the things that really matter to me: creativity, depth, and and connection.
When I started this experiment, I just wanted to get my time back. What I found instead was contentment.
I would love to hear about your experiences with technology, screens, social media, stillness, contentment and anything in between. Sound off in the comments or find me on Instagram or Twitter. If you missed any part of this series, you can catch up below: