I’ve been actively using a strategy of keeping the things that draw my attention the most just out of reach. I first started doing this with Facebook, or Meta, or whatever they fancy themselves as now. I deleted the app off my phone and only have it on an old iPad that sits quietly amongst some old notebooks on a shelf. I don’t take it with me anywhere, it just sits there like a book on the shelf that I refer to now and then. And two months later I find I don’t think about that platform very often at all.
Surely I’m missing some posts, some clever banter and the addictive content they recommend to you to keep you on their platform as long as possible. But I don’t have a fear of missing out. Instead I have a quiet mind that can focus on other things. When I do think about it, I’ll pop on, wish people a belated happy birthday, like a few posts and get out of Dodge as quickly as possible. Living with social media in such a way seems to work well.
It’s worked so well, in fact, that I’ve just done it with Twitter as well. Now, this one was tougher for me. I use Twitter as a news feed, as a source of information I find valuable, and to pick up quotes and poems I might not have seen otherwise from great minds who collect such things. But I found it all too easy to just pick up my phone and scroll. When you find yourself in such a time suck death spiral, your only choice is to pull yourself out or crash to the ground. So Twitter is now relegated to the shelf with Facemeta.
I know the pushback — these platforms connect us to the world, they bring us joy, they inform… and I’ve bought into each just as quickly as I buy into the belief that having a dram of scotch is okay after a long day of business travel. Life is hard enough as it is, why subtract some harmless joy?
The answer is that I’m not subtracting it, I’m putting it in it’s place. On the shelf, in a place of honor amongst the books and notebooks I refer to on occasion. Here, it remains valuable as a source of entertainment, information and connection. But it’s not in my hand as I stand in line for a coffee or at the market. Instead I use that boredom time to look around at everyone else staring at their phones, or noticing the people who choose not to succumb to it. People like me.
Since nature abhors a void, that scrolling time gets filled with other things. More deep reading, more thinking, but mostly more observation and listening to the world around me. Like a plane flying through cloud cover into the brilliant sky above, you don’t know what you’re missing until you break free. And all that other stuff? It’ll be there on the shelf waiting for you when you return.