Logging out. Longing out.

As a habitual social media user a time came to break the routine. To build a new one.

No, not another self-exploratory essay on the virtues of quitting social media. Many people have documented them with eloquence and in great detail. Also, there is always a risk of sounding self-congratulatory or judging others. But, I do hope to document how a month long break has helped me seize greater control. In this post, I will further outline how as one of my goals for next year I hope to maintain mindfulness without a hearty digital sacrifice.

Rupert Vandervell (C) 2013

Logging out

As a prolific user of social media since the end of 2008, a routine cemented over time. I used to check my social media regularly and peg my legal writing or shorter social media posts on the raging controversy of the day. Consumption and creation of social media content do not capture the power of the feedback loops that exist online. Each piece of content engineered on a platform towards engagement with other users. This is the part I missed the most during my time away from Twitter and Facebook. However, this also made me realise that the reward which I initially sought from my public writing had drifted from self-expression and internal value to social popularity. At higher cost were the more prolonged spells of concentration needed not only for work, but self-reflection.

Over time I also became aware that a growing online audience also posed greater scrutiny, demands for engagement and a ceaseless avenue for abuse and criticism. Given how online audiences are cloistered into smaller groups, a large part of personal conversation is, well personal. Greater attention can quickly swing from idolatry to inter-personal conflict and misunderstanding. This is only to be expected, but I remained unprepared or somewhat ironically, socially inept. To engage meaningfully, remove disinformation again adds to higher demands on patience, time and thought. Repeated instances of flare-ups and harassment which sprung from rumour mongering grew fatigue, and I disconnected by the end of October. Prior this I had curtailed my online usage over a period of several months trying various methods. In a way building strength towards a hard stop.

I pulled the plug on October 30, 2017. Starting with Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and exiting all social WhatsApp groups. Switching off one service at a time gave me a sense of liberation. But also anxiety. I had logged out, but would my resolve last?

Longing out

People who have quit social media report of withdrawal symptoms. Most clearly captured in the “fear of missing out”. Thankfully none of these problems affected me immediately. However, given my public engagement on a broad range of digital rights and public law issues I often felt a time lag in receiving infomation. On some days I justified it as the natural filter from the frantic bursts of data. As the days passed, so did such moments.

My content consumption and production became less performative, more introspective. No longer was every nugget of information, or a smart comment, meant for broadcast, applause and approval. There was a noticeable improvement in my memory, retention and ability to plan time. But what I truly enjoyed were my Sundays, which I designated as a day to help out with housework, aimed to read and go for a long run. Each weekend I woke up early, exercised and then winded myself down flipping through pages, drifting in and out of sleep and ending the day with a hearty family dinner. Setting this routine gave me immense joy as I started focussing greater thought on myself, family and friends and became less reactive.

Another effect of quitting social media was an ability to focus on people who mattered and supported me — disconnected from the burdens of an online persona. My ability to write for longer hours, read case law and research studies, and even argue my cases in a much more calmer and calculative manner increased. I was rebuilding my inner core which had untethered over years of facebook comments and twitter threads. Yes, this was liberating but yet the longing remained.

Rupert Vandervell © 2013

Balance is an exercise

While I did not glue back all the cracked china over these one and half months I did set a new routine. I resolved to use online networks purposely, rather than hot vents for emotional release. At the same time, I did have a more objective understanding of what I truly sought from social media was the ability to discover research and writing around my interests, also share my own writing without the burden of social conformity or intensive engagement. Adopting new patterns requires patience, repetition and discipline, maintaining them is tougher.

So, how to make habits stick ? On my part I aim to avoid any social media clients on my smartphone and keep a budgeted time fixed at 15 minutes in the morning to review my feeds and post information. I already budget time in the morning to review and respond to emails. Juxtaposing social media alongside work consolidates it into a single consolidated block. A little towards the evening, I plan to review my feeds for another 15 minutes and surf around. I know keeping such time will be a tough balance (which is also why I keep a pomodoro clock). But I know every time I sense I am losing control, I can always take a break. I plan to take many hard stops from social media in future. Social media is tough work and everyone needs a vacation.

https://www.facebook.com/aparatbar/

Starting yesterday, I am incrementally re-booting my social media feeds one after the other starting with a Facebook page to catalogue my writing. Gradually starting up again will provide greater malleability to cast my social media use into moulds that endure over time. Being aware of the dangers of unduly catering to social values, my next year’s writing plans involve longer writing and exploring issues which are outside the boundaries of popular debate.With greater mindfulness, next year I hope to grow as a lawyer and a writer. Wish me luck!

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