My Facebook Detox

Throughout the past five days (today is day six), I’ve been enduring an experiment where I’ve learned that social media is addictive, distracting, and not as necessary as I may have thought before. 

Here’s my journey on proactively attempting to be impotent on using one of the most popular and influential social media websites and apps in the world: Facebook. I’ve gone over 120 hours without once opening or interacting on the site. The cognitive voyage has not been comfortable; however, it has been very telling. Here it goes.

Toy designs done on day 1 of experiment

Day 1 (Tuesday): I’m busy. I just started a new job and need to stay focused on my immediate large project which threw me right into the position with minimal training. I don’t have an issue with not opening Facebook. I know that I can’t, and I don’t. 

I realized already on day one that I can achieve Deep Work: undistracted amounts of time, which push cognitive abilities to their limits. My designs were flowing*, and my pace kept moving faster as I was getting used to the process. The pressure was there, but it drove me to work better without the distractions and keep my focus on what was important. 

*flow: a term that psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi uses to describe a mental state when someone is stretching their mind to its limits to achieve something difficult and worthwhile. Cal Newport in Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World uses this connection to illustrate why Deep Work is meaningful. 

Day 2 (Wednesday): 24 hours after starting this process, I haven’t opened my Facebook app, and I feel like I’ve accomplished something. 

I got a friend request within these first hours – I know because I received a push notification. At the beginning of this experiment, I thought about turning my push notifications off to be less tempted to use the app, but I decided last minute not to because:

  1. I didn’t want to go through the (minimal) hassle of turning them off just to turn them back on again once I was done with my five-day undergo.
  2. I wanted to see if my experience would be more enticing – and, therefore, a little more interesting. I was right about this.

I received several push notifications that I had to ignore. At this time, the number showing up on my app is at 13. I’m not entirely sure that I’ve ever willingly allowed the reports to get this high, and yes, it did seem high to me. 

I’ve concluded that notifications residing on an app are always alluring to me – enough so if just to open the app to remove the numbers attached to it. I resisted doing this as well.

Only under 10 hours later, my notifications still reside at 13. In my head, I wonder, “maybe there’s a cap on the number of notifications that show on my Facebook app?” That can’t be it…. Right? However, it seems that when I access Facebook more often, I get more push notifications sent to my phone. I thought, “maybe this is just a way that they keep me returning for useless feed because they know that I come back for more.” Which is possible – Ramsay Brown in “What is “Brain Hacking?” Tech Insiders on Why You Should Care” describes us social media users as “guinea pigs,” referring to us being used in experiments through Silicon Valley – based on the data of how we use our phones, then changing our device’s reactions to get us returning to our apps.

Screenshot of notifications on app *painful*

“Put simply, the less time you spend on Facebook doing things that don’t matter, the fewer notifications you’ll get for things that don’t matter.“

“Facebook’s Notifications Are Out of Control. Here’s How to Tame Them.” By Eric Ravenscraft

Day 3 (Thursday): Now, the app has recognized that I haven’t gone on it for 48 hours; the notifications are at 19. So there’s not a cap on these numbers like I initially thought. They must just slow down. 

Also during this day, I encountered something fascinating: I received a Facebook notification through email. This caught my attention right away (as I also get push notifications of when emails arrive), and I thought it was odd. Doing some research, I haven’t gotten a notification through email AT ALL before now – and I’ve had this particular email linked to my Facebook for five years. Just a happenstance? I think not.

Screenshot of an emailed Facebook notification

Day 4 (Friday): 22 notifications. Work’s done, and now it’s time for the weekend. I’m having a more challenging time not using Facebook this day. My thumb still absent-mindedly hovers over the app on my phone screen, but I catch myself every time. This only happens when I’m bored and looking for some comfortable brain stimulation through social media. Like Newport has put it in his book Deep Work: we tend to gravitate towards easy work. 

Screenshot of notifications on app *more painful*

I never really thought of myself as addicted – and I know that I already use my phone less than others around me. When I have physical interactions with friends and family, I typically forget to use my phone – though I still have it in the convenient placement: my pocket. However, I’ve quickly identified that I almost unawarely open social media several times throughout the day, no matter what I’m doing, if not stimulated enough – unless using Deep Work. 

Growing up, I had an issue with how much I watched television. THAT, I believe, was a young addiction. However, I made it essential that we never had the TV on while eating dinner with family. It made it too difficult to have actual conversations. 

At that age, I realized that most other families did not do this and sat while immersed watching whatever was on the television at the time, whether it really mattered or not. As phone technology progressed, I also noticed that this became a distractor during family dinners as well. This is where I made connections that TV and phones’ advancement continued to become more influential in our lives.

Jean M. Twenge in “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” invented a generation name for those who have not been alive without the internet, or were very young when the internet first emerged (1995-2012): iGen. This generation uses their time distinctly different from other generations, even millennial’s where some of them might be close in age. The time used is mostly on their phones, at home, with little human interaction with friends and family – because they have easy access to be able to communicate through smart devices instead. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the amount of time is what’s to worry about. Lydia Denworth in “Social Media Has Not Destroyed a Generation” determines at the end of the article, that it’s not how much it’s being used that affects your mindset, it’s how much you feel you control it (or if it’s controlling you). 

This is where I’ve realized that I’m not addicted, and I can control myself with social media, and therefore, being less affected by the use of it. 

Day 5 (Saturday): I’m at my family cabin, for what’s probably the last time this year before we close it up for Winter. As I sit out on the end of the dock, dog by my side, views of the calm, clear lake water and a slight change in leaves, with soft clouds grazing the blue sky, I feel peaceful. It’s an escape from the attention that I typically seek through social media – when I don’t have anything else to do. I don’t need my phone up here – the views, surroundings, and company are all I need. It’s where I can spend actual quality time with who I consider being my family – we get to know each other better up here. And a great influence in this is that there’s no social media to distract and take away from it.

Day 6 (Sunday – today): The experiment is over according to the timeline set for this. However, I didn’t instantly feel the need to open my Facebook and see what I’ve been missing. In fact, it was the opposite. I almost felt that opening the app now would be disappointing. As I write this section of the blog at home now, I don’t want the tangled mess of endless notifications and scrolling through feed to see mostly pointless memes and content that doesn’t matter and doesn’t bring satisfaction. I want to focus on what matters to me; like science writer, Winifred Gallagher has said: 

“I’ll choose my targets with care… Then give them my rapt attention. In short, I’ll live the focused life, because it’s the best kind there is.”

Winifred Gallagher in Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

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