The other day, my mom called my friend in a momentary panic, saying, “Where’s Katie? I want to talk to her, but she isn’t picking up her phone.” In that moment, I felt proud. I obviously wasn’t proud because my mom was struggling to reach me, or because I was ignoring her call — I was proud because I had no idea where my phone was.
Many of my friends claim they keep their phones glued to their sides because their devices give them a sense of security and comfort. I feel the complete opposite. To me, it’s anxiety-inducing to know that my pocket could begin vibrating or ringing at any time on any day, no matter what I’m doing. It’s stressful that simple lines of text on a screen can completely change my mood or plans in the span of seconds, and that there’s no telling when that could happen. With my phone as a constant companion, I feel out of control.
Then Cal Newport changed my life. I read his book Digital Minimalism, and was inspired to give up social media for a month. I do still use my phone for train tickets, maps, texting, calling, and even the occasional crossword, but the experience is completely different. Here are my seven biggest takeaways from a month without Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and Facebook:
I don’t grab my phone first thing in the morning anymore. I decided to try implementing the Thrive Microstep, “When you wake up, don’t start your day by looking at your phone,” and I’ve managed to stick to it.
I thought doing this would be incredibly hard. I couldn’t imagine adjusting to the day if not with blue light and my Instagram feed. But once I realized that the contents of my phone are out of my control — and checking my phone first thing in the morning is like letting a roulette wheel determine my emotional state for the morning — I stopped. I breathed. I felt better.
Recently, I’ve had several life events that I would normally document on social media. For example, I adopted a kitten. My new kitten is extremely Instagrammable, but the thing is, that’s not the point. I didn’t do it for the likes. Enjoying my life without planning the perfect caption has shifted the way I experience it in a very good way.
Now, I wait until I’m with someone in person to break big news to someone. One of my best friends had the most satisfying look on her face when I showed her a picture of my two-pound kitten curled up in the bathroom sink. I couldn’t have understood the true extent of her reaction to my news if I had just told her via text. I might not have even received a proper response if I’d posted a photo online — she might have just seen it and pressed like.
Social media scrapes away deeper reactions. My friends and I deserve more than that. We deserve to see eyes widen, hear screeches of joy, and experience the in-person energy that comes with excitement.
On the flip side, by not checking my friends’ feeds, I have no idea what’s going on in their lives if I don’t check in with them and ask. What a concept: In order to keep up with someone’s life, I have to engage in conversation with them.
Sometimes, this conversation comes in the form of a text message (I have a lot of long-distance friends), but that’s still a lot more personal than a like or a three-word comment laden with emojis. It’s also a lot less performative — instead of letting everyone on the internet see how I react to big news, I can have an intimate conversation with my friend, the only person who truly needs to know how I feel about her most thrilling updates.
Downtime is underrated. When I’m on public transportation, or am waiting in line, I now enjoy looking around and taking in my surroundings. I check the color of the walls. I eavesdrop. I take stock of the artwork. There’s more than enough stimulation with the real world surrounding me. In retrospect, I can’t believe how much I missed by looking down at my phone. Taking in my surroundings makes each day feel fuller and more purposeful.
Instead of selfies, I’ve been taking pictures of street art. I find more beauty than I thought existed in these spaces. I keep these images because they bring me joy, not likes. I’m gotten interested in the art of photography, and I want to start shooting on my real camera again.
Halfway through my social media-free month, I picked up an analog watch. I usually wear an Apple watch, but the feeling of wearable tech felt overwhelming. My wrist could vibrate at any time, completely diverting my attention from a state of deep focus.
With an analog watch, I no longer feel the underlying anxiety of constant vibrations on my wrist. I’m no longer reachable at all times, and I like it that way.
My book list is at — wait for it — 10 books this summer. I’m a writer and have always enjoyed reading, but I thought my busy lifestyle never allowed me the time to do it enough. Changing how I spend my downtime completely shifted the way I approach the rest of my activities, including writing and work.
While watching shows for hours on end used to leave me feeling drained, reading leaves me feeling curious and inspired. Sure, sometimes I fall asleep in the middle of a chapter, but at least I’ve learned something (and am set up nicely for getting my eight hours of sleep!).
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