The Secret Social Media Experiment Part 2

social media experiment picture
Designed by Rebecca Angel with pngtree

My last post introduced my secret social media experiment, why I did it, and what exactly I did. Here are the results and a discussion with my son, who also has been experiencing the effects of limiting social media.

Seeing the Data

Because I was not originally planning on sharing this self-experiment, I did not take notes or write down numbers. I know at the beginning, my overall phone use with ScreenTime was averaging over three hours a day with social media the bulk of it. Pick-ups were a couple of times an hour. To note: from my first post about limiting social media a couple of years ago, I still have all sound turned off. This means I was picking up my phone just because.

Simply by seeing how much I was using my phone impacted me. I have creative projects, books, and musical instruments sitting idle while I would complain that I didn’t have enough time. Obviously I did, but I was using it on social media. Seeing real data helped me start and stick to the experiment.

When I told my son he had texts in the thousands, compared to everyone else on our phone plan in the low hundreds, he immediately put limits on his phone using built-in software. His personal experiment came out of that startling revelation of his usage.

Likewise, seeing the list of social media sites I had an account with was an eye-opener. It also made me feel embarrassed, especially when I showed my son while writing this. I almost didn’t want to list them all on this post, worried I would look like an addict. Which is, sadly, the response of an addict. So I’m being very honest here.

Limiting One-to-One Platforms

I had: Phone texting, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, SnapChat, FaceTime, MarcoPolo, GoogleHangouts, and Skype. I was annoyed that I had so many one-to-one apps. The reason was that certain people I care about only will use certain platforms and not others. I wish I could make everyone choose one or two and then I could get rid of the others, but for now, if I want to talk to those people, I have to keep them all.

By not having alerts or notifications, I was never startled or interrupted in my activities during the day. I still scheduled video chat times with people far away (my daughter in New Zealand for example) and I believe that particular use of social media enhances our connections. I also use it for work video conferencing, which is very productive.

My anxiety definitely decreased by turning off sound and notifications on my phone years ago. By using the ScreenTime features available now, I was able to customize my mobile use even more. I “bookended” when social apps were on during my day, which led to being able to fall asleep more quickly at night, stay asleep better, and my morning was more peaceful. Having apps go off early in the evening opened up the time I had been looking for to read books and play my instruments. I began composing songs, something I haven’t done much of for a few years. I’ve made a huge dent in my to-read stack of books. By sleeping better, I was able to wake up refreshed and alert. At this time, I do not need an alarm clock anymore and my phone is not in my bedroom. I wake up about the same time every morning and meditate. Then work on a creative writing project, still having enough time to get ready for my regular workday. During the course of this study, I have steadily made my way down the list of creative projects that I had “no time for” previously.

In chatting with my son, using daily app limits was the main thing he did in his own social media experiment and he found he rarely reached his limits each day. Using the software to limit use at night and the morning provided a “very positive impact” on his own quality of sleep and ability to wake up refreshed the next morning. He enjoyed having mornings without immediate distraction.

Putting time restrictions on the one-to-one messaging platforms had no impact on social connections. However, I do believe if I stopped responding completely to all direct messages for a week, friends and family would be worried. I do not feel it is ethical to do that kind of experiment, though, so I can’t say for sure. What I did find out is that I was no longer subject to “Hey…are you there…” direct messages of someone killing time and just wanting to chat online. I found that to be a positive impact on me. My son said the same thing about his social media experiment. Having a time limit at night keeps people from contacting him at 11 pm and starting a long discussion that would interfere with his rest and performance at school.

Limiting Group Social Platforms

My group social media were: Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, Insight Timer, Twitter, Trello, Goodreads, Yelp, Twitch, Slack, LinkedIn, DeviantArt, MySpace, ReverbNation, Classmates, LiveJournal, Flickr.

Deleting social media platforms I never use was surprisingly difficult. I do not understand that, but reminding myself that my account was still there if I ever chose to reinstall it, helped. This sadly reinforced the idea that social media is an addiction.

I allowed group platforms that I used once a month or less since they do not interfere with my daily life. This narrowed down my list of group social media apps to include in the limiting experiment to: Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, Insight Timer, Twitter, and Slack.

For Pinterest, YouTube, and Insight Timer, chat features proved to be extraneous. Limiting the social media aspect of these platforms did not impact me in any way, and no one on there noticed.

I measured how much impact I had on the remaining group platforms by what happened when I took the week off. No one noticed when I limited ANY of my group social media apps. I did not have any direct messages from people asking where I was or why I was not posting or responding as much as I had in the past. No one mentioned anything in real life either.

However, each social media app that I went completely off for a week had a slightly different result on what I missed when I finally logged back in.

For YouTube, I upload videos myself on an infrequent basis so limiting did not matter. At the end of the week, however, I had a backlog of YouTube videos sent by family and friends. I found this overwhelming and made me selective in what I would catch up on since I wasn’t about to spend an entire day watching (mostly) comedy or political videos. That allowed me to continue to be selective in what videos I watched after the experiment as well. I finally realized that just because someone sends me something, “You’ll love this!” doesn’t make me obligated to watch it.

Slack is used for editors and writers of GeekMom and GeekDad and I did have some messages to answer late when the week was up. I realized I do not need to check that one every day either, but definitely once or twice a week to keep up. The staff of GeekMom and GeekDad are intelligent and funny people, and I do enjoy their conversations online, but again, don’t need it every day. However, I do wish we all could afford to have an in-person meet-up week of gaming and nerding out. Maybe Hawaii?

No one noticed I left Twitter, including me.

For this social media experiment, Instagram and Facebook made the biggest impact on me for a few reasons. I used to post at least once a day on these platforms and enjoyed the likes, hearts, and positive comments. The fact that no one noticed I was absent was a blow to the ego. However, the negative feeling was very brief and then I had a sense of freedom. I had no obligation to post; the world continued. That was a reality check I needed. However, I enjoy posting and will continue when I feel like it.

Staying connected with others on those platforms differed. On Instagram, I don’t normally interact, rather I scroll and “heart” things from time to time. A week away did not have me wondering about other people. I realized that was not a platform that connected me very well. At the end of my no-Facebook week, however, I realized I had missed something very, very important and scrambled back through old posts to figure out what was going on. A close friend’s brother had died and she only made an announcement on Facebook, including information for the wake and funeral. There were also some Facebook Group messages and Events that required a response.

So for all the group social media platforms, Facebook turned out to have the largest impact on my personal connections since people announce deaths, weddings, baby births on there, as well as Event pages for get-togethers. For mental health, taking a break from the various Groups was beneficial since I can get overwhelmed by thinking everyone needs to hear my advice. (They don’t.)

When I realized I had no impact on the group social media world, my ego certainly took a shot. In discussing this aspect with my son, he first said, “I’m sorry I didn’t notice.” I told him I am glad he didn’t notice because it meant we communicated to our mutual satisfaction outside of social media. He didn’t need to find out what I was doing or thinking through a third party since we text and schedule video chats, plus real-world interaction when he is on break from school.

Then he remarked that he had stopped posting his artwork on one of his accounts last year and was hurt when no one seemed to notice. We spoke at length about this. We realized there is a big difference between “noticing” and “caring”. In the real world, those two words are more closely tied. In the digital world, there is so much information scrolling past night and day that it is impossible for anyone to keep track of what is not there. People care about me, but they may not notice when I post or if I didn’t on any particular day.

We also discussed Facebook specifically. He remarked that on his recent birthday only 5% of his “friends” sent him well wishes. We realized that it was less about no one caring he had a birthday and more that people of his age group are moving away from Facebook. He certainly heard from people he cares about on other social platforms on his day. We also reminded ourselves of my own rule from a couple of years ago to cut down on “friends” list: If you see someone’s birthday is up and you don’t feel comfortable enough to say something to them, unfriend them. It’s a great rule.

Group Chats

For a week away from group chats on various platforms, I did get a private message asking my opinion on a matter that I obviously hadn’t responded to on the group chat. I answered their question. No biggie. My absence was not commented on for any other group chats. Instead of feeling hurt, it was a welcome reminder that I am not the sole person required to provide funny comments or encouragement. I enjoy being part of conversations, but this experiment took the pressure off checking these chats every day.

Did the Companies Notice?

During the course of the social media experiment, the platforms themselves, of course, did not notice I was gone either. I wasn’t expecting to be contacted outside the platform, but I did wonder if I would get an automated, “You haven’t posted in a while. What are you thinking about?” or something like that when I logged back in. I am very glad I did not receive anything like this since robo fake concern from a company losing your business is insulting and weird.

Social Media-Free Weekends

Social media free weekends made the biggest impact on improving connections with my closest circle of people, and the sense of freedom from the incessant pull of social media and the internet world in general. My husband and I spend more time together now. My energy level for social interaction in real life has increased as well. Perhaps social media decreased my energy before? I have found I am making more plans to meet friends for tea and hanging out in general since before the experiment. Without the distraction of social media, I crave real social time. The face-to-face interactions are with a smaller group of people than my social media world, but the connections go deeper and are more fulfilling.

Interestingly, when limiting social media on weekends, my entire phone usage decreased, even non-social apps. I simply don’t think about my phone as much and get caught up in other activities. The hardest part is taking photos over the weekend and not sharing them immediately on social media. What helped was sending a photo or two directly to a friend or family member who lives far away. This direct photo sharing through texting apps usually started a conversation and added to a feeling of connection with that person. I found over time that weekends became moments of connecting directly with people instead of blasting out over social media platforms where the people I care about may or may not even see it.

I also found that by not immediately sending out photos, I could spend some time looking them over and selecting the best one or two that summarized my day or the entire weekend. Even during the weekdays, by limiting my social media time overall, I was more selective of the photos I shared. This effectively decreased the chances of uploading potentially embarrassing or regretful photos. My social media feed became fewer, but more thoughtful posts.

Summing It All Up

At the end of the social media experiment (currently), my phone data shows I use my phone for an average of 2.3 hours a day. Non-social media use is the most (clock, notes, camera, meditation app) but in the social media category, texting is still the highest, followed by Instagram and then Facebook. My pick-ups are less than once an hour. Weekends are completely different stats with barely an hour of total mobile device time, mostly non-social apps. My phone is cleaner looking since I no longer have all the apps on it.

During the study, I noticed on days when I was tired or stressed I was on social media more. This makes sense for an addictive standpoint since willpower takes energy. Going on social media is easy and not checking it takes will power that some days I did not have. Knowing that the excess social media use may cause depression is important to note in this case. If I’m feeling slightly depressed, I will more likely spend too much time on social media, which may cause me to become more depressed and have an even harder time leaving it. It is a sick spiral that needs to be cut off before it can begin.

The biggest realization from the entire social media experiment was finding out for myself, ‘what do I need,’ instead of a company telling me. Social media is for my use to help me communicate effectively with people I care about, or for work. I am under no obligation to use them for my entertainment unless I have made a conscious choice in using my time to do so. I can use my presence online to help or entertain others, but at my own leisure and under no pressure. A select few group platforms are all I need to accomplish this. My son came to similar conclusions.

When I lamented to my husband that I wished I had all the raw data of my usage over the past year, he joked, “Just ask Google. I’m sure they have it. Though they’ll probably make you pay for it.” But that’s another issue…

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