At the end of December, I vowed to try a month of very modern abstinence, removing from my daily life one of its most insidious vices: social media.
I felt that by making such a move, even for just a month, I would free myself from what can be, for many people, either a sucking vortex into which spare time vanishes or a pointless waste worthy of nobody’s interest.
I had been made aware that my posts on Facebook might have become a little too frequent, while the endless round of clickbait, responding to notifications, and the bottomless pit of Twitter links ate into what could have been productive lunchbreaks or evenings.
So I stopped*: Cold turkey at midnight on December 31 (well, around 6.30pm, because who sits in on New Year’s Eve waiting to switch off their social media account?) a quick explanatory message and a jaunty sign saying I’d return in February.
And I didn’t miss it, not one bit. Not once over the past month have I had an itchy keyboard finger and the urge to type. Occasionally I have had a thought or taken a snap which I thought could be rich pickings for the blue little Twitter-vultures, but if it was really great, I still have the pictures. And several messages have worked better when texted to someone who would actually appreciate them.
I have sat back and watched the notifications pile up in my email, and just thought ‘I can deal with them next month’. Well, except apparently I can only see my Facebook notifications back to mid-January. Sorry if I missed anything important (I know there has been at least one birth).
I may have enjoyed this freedom, the lifting of this virtual weight from my weary shoulders, but some others not so much. The ones who felt I had an overbearing online presence don’t seem to have noticed it going missing. But it has made me more difficult to contact.
One friend very kindly emailed me some important diary dates she knew I’d be missing, but my rowing captain seemed less-than-enthusiastic to hear I had gone off-air. New lines of communication needed to be established, resurrecting archaic forms of communication such as the text message and the email. As my house faces away from the sea, semaphore just wouldn’t cut it, but the pigeons seemed to find my rooftop garret easily enough.
Just as inconsiderate, it seemed, was my trying to gain some alone time when friends wanted to organise holidays. How dare I?
To be honest, for someone with a fear of missing out, I didn’t really mind missing out on other peoples daily posts about politics, puppies, and their lunch – and I’m glad I avoided what I’m sure will have been two very ostentatious periods of public mourning for our dearly departed celebrities – but I was sad to lose an easy communication tool for social events and feel a bit out of the loop about upcoming plans.
I also didn’t realise, until I left, just how much of my news these days comes from Twitter. News outlet front pages are so slow to update, even if the content is buried there on the inside pages.
Was it a success as far as time management is concerned? Hard to tell.
I didn’t manage to fit in a quick morning jog, a full day’s work, a few drinks with mates or a quick date, and then rattle of a couple of thousand words before bed. The fact this is the first blog I have written all month speaks volumes. Ironically.
I did manage to reclaim a fair few lunch times, although others were eaten into by personal emails or browsing the BBC. But I took a large chunk out of the lunchtime reading that has been sat on my desk since I moved to this office (The Golden Bough – possibly the only book I would ever recommend someone not to read), and have had a few nice strolls in the winter fields near my work.
I have also managed to work through a fairly sizeable to-do list, to half finish painting the last room in my house, and finally got some bookshelves up. And I have carried out some form of exercise or activity (rowing, climbing, running, tango dancing) nearly every single day, as well as entertaining guests two weekends.
I have found myself to be a king among procrastinators: Instead of social media, I have found new ways to fill hours that could be put to better use – browsing Wikipedia or churning through Buffy on Netflix (although that should be finished by spring).
While I have been going on runs, for example, it has taken me several hours to pluck up enthusiasm. It seems to be a peculiar mental block: I consciously know I enjoy running, and feel good afterwards, but subconsciously I think I hate it. My body finds a million small tasks to prevent me leaving the door, even once I have my shorts on.
The time of the year probably doesn’t help. I seem to be in hibernation mode, my body happy to have a snack to get the energy levels up, but then preferring to crawl under the bedsheets than to get out on the streets. My target of out by 7 becomes 8, then 9, then 10, then it’s midnight and I’m pulling on my trainers.
I’m still not getting to bed until 1am, but this time with no social media excuses. And none of the things I intended to write this month, the several blog posts or the short story ideas.
So Facebook and Twitter appear not to be quite the thieves of time they once were, instead I’m throwing it away myself in great handfuls.
I had high hopes that over the last year, without booze, I would be able to get my shorthand back up to speed, relearn my French, guitar, and a million other things.
I realise that may have been aiming a teensy bit high, but now I wonder how I ever found time for the things I do when I was out drinking most nights. I thought maybe social media was the curse, but now I have to look at my options.
I guess better time management, or rather, not taking that breathing space between getting home and getting on with things.
I will also hopefully be joining the smartphone generation next month, and that might actually help. If, rather than setting aside time at lunch and in evenings, I can just pop my phone out and check when I need to, that might save me time. Right? Right?!
(Also, I guess that works better with commuters, rather than drivers like myself.)
In that case, I guess the only real solution is a time machine. Anyone got a spanner and a spare flux capacitor?
*I have still been active on my work accounts, but as these are very different, more for news gathering and dissemination, they have not eaten into my time. Especially as I am encouraged to look at them in work time, and leave them alone after office hours.