A Strategic Retreat

About a year ago, I deleted all the social media apps on my phone. It felt drastic at the time, like chopping off my own thumb (you know, the scrolling one). But I still have those apps on my tablet, and I still have both my thumbs, so I don’t think I’ve actually missed much. I still enjoy using social media. I guess I just got tired of missing things in the real world because I was looking at my phone too much when I could have been looking around. 

There’s a lot to see, above the screen. It is slower, and more subtle, but it is alive with beauty and meaning. And I want to see it, and have the mental space to recognise it for what it really is, and carrying social media around with me in my pocket everywhere didn’t help me do that. Jim Elliot once said, “wherever you are, be all there.” That’s what I want. I want to fully engage with the people in front of me, without the nagging curiosity about what I might be missing online. I want to see the natural beauty around me and appreciate it slowly without feeling like I need to check on how it compares with what other people are seeing and posting about. I want to be able to lean in to the purpose and potential of the situation I’m standing in without being preoccupied with a dozen other situations and arguments imported from other places. For me, the news feeds are fragmenting—they offer instant, easy escape to somewhere else, a complete change and access to news and commentary and photos and information about everything in the world except the everything right in front of me, which is the everything full of the most important things for me to focus on. And that’s why I retreated from constant social media access.

First, I turned off the notifications. A friend suggested that, and it really did help. It gave me more freedom to check in on my own terms instead of compulsively clearing red dots. I did that for a few years, but eventually I had to admit that my own terms were still subject to my own self-control, and apparently I don’t have enough of that. The apps had to go. And I’ll be honest: I really and truly do not miss them. At all. 

I still catch myself checking my phone sometimes for no other reason than just having something else to look at. This annoys me, but now that the never-ending news feeds are gone there’s not much left for me to check. The weather app might be useful, but it doesn’t hold my attention long, and the phone goes back in my pocket a lot more quickly. I’m happy about that. There are times when not having social media while I’m out can be frustrating, when I want to post a picture or something like that. I can still post it later, though, and the benefits have been worth the occasional delay. Without the competitive pull of constantly updating news feeds in my pocket, I am free to focus more fully on the world, and the people, in front of me. My mind is less fragmented and distracted, and that’s really good, because thinking clearly has always been hard work for me.

To be clear, I’m not trying to boast or prescribe. This is an admission of weakness, not a declaration of strength. I don’t think it’s a necessary step for everyone. All I’m saying is that I have found it genuinely helpful to implement a strategic retreat from constant access to social media. Perhaps someone who reads this might find it helpful, too. 

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