Social Media Blackout | Heaven Has Heels

What made you go cold turkey on smart phones and social media? I was challenged by my best friend and her husband to put my phone away for an evening. They both swore I’d never be able to go cold turkey on my phone and social media and challenged me to try, in the early summer of 2014.

It took me a few months to decide on a month that was free enough for me to lose out on my phone. I wanted to have a go at not being that person who spends all her time out and about checking in, taking photos and checking my messages rather than appreciating what I was seeing and doing.

During my summer trip to Mexico, my phone had pretty much overheated and been useless without air-con, so I felt prepared for a full on social media and smart phone blackout. As well as a social media blackout I also decided to block time-wasting websites such as Buzzfeed, the Daily, Mail and others.

The main reason behind the blackout was to make an attempt at strengthening relationships. I wanted to cut ties and become mentally a little bit healthier. This is why I decided to donate all money raised to Mind, a UK charity dedicated to helping awareness and support by those affected by mental health problems, provide support like counseling, advocacy, housing and education. Having a personal history scattered by over-dramatic misery, a long list of counselors and bulimia in my teens, I felt this was a great, undervalued charity to donate too.

What was it like the first day? The first day of the blackout was horrible. My Tube was late; I did some sort of injury to myself, my new crappy £8 MP3 player didn’t work, and I wasn’t really all that happy about it. I found myself composing tweets in my head, thinking how hilarious I could have been, publishing my various daily misfortunes. Not to mention, wondering things that I usually would have Googled and idled my time away with researching; things I don’t really need to know like, “How to sit on the toilet correctly? What is best for your digestive system?” and “How many people are killed per year by birds falling out of the sky?”

The first week? The first week was pretty hilarious. I complained a lot, but I’d already raised £500 for charity, so I knew it was worth it. Plus, being confined to a smaller social circle was so much cheaper and easier to keep track of!

I read rather than listening to music on my phone, called my parents more often and spent more time with my close friends.

It was also pretty liberating to stop constantly judging myself. To compare my life with the lives of other people; looking at holiday photos and wondering how those effortless bikini bods happen, feeling FOMO over images of wild nights out and group Check-Ins. It was a chance to enjoy my social circles so much more intimately. Not to mention, that question “What have you been up to?” I relished that question, being able to answer as honestly as I liked. Often the answer was ‘as little as possible’, an exciting story already shared Online or ‘sitting in a matching track suit with my boyfriend, eating pizza and not feeling even slightly bad about it’.

Did it get easier? It got easier surprisingly quickly, occasionally I’d start typing a URL then realizing that I couldn’t access it, or receiving emails from friends telling me to check out a blocked link but mainly, with all access completely cut, it wasn’t that difficult to adjust to. Probably the lack of smart phone was the hardest bit; not being able to use instant maps. Once a meeting place had been set, I’d print a map and hope whoever I was meeting didn’t decide to meet elsewhere. However, asking for directions was fun.

What did you learn about yourself? I think I learned that my reliance on my Online ‘community’ is pretty overwhelming. Being an only child and having lived on my own for quite a while I always thought of myself as incredibly independent. In reality, I’ve relied on other people’s support, acceptance, opinions, and advice maybe more than I should have. I think I care about general opinion far more than I let on and way more than is healthy! I learned that I have a great social network of my own. If I really needed advice or support I have a tiny phonebook of seriously awesome people that I can contact through traditional means. Oh, and that I don’t need to selfie when I get a new hair style to get complimented!

Was there ever a turning point? The turning point, when I realized how wonderful the blackout could be, was when my best friend got her wedding photos through. They all were on Facebook and I couldn’t see them. I went over to her place for dinner and over a bottle of wine all three of us went through the photos one by one. Laughing over the state of the bridesmaids, of which I was one (open bar is a killer for gals like us!), sniveling over the beautiful ceremony photos and cooing over the various toddlers and babies not to mention patting ourselves on the back for putting together such an awesome DIY wedding.  If anything, the adjustment back into social media was harder.

What was the most disappointing thing about being disconnected? There were a few friends I had to make a massive effort to get in contact with, usually I’d be able to pester them when I saw they were Online via Facebook... and email... And text... And maybe Whatsapp too. I sent more than one strongly worded text message. I know this was my choice but I sent out my details to people more than once and was genuinely quite offended when people didn’t bother responding. Usually, this was followed by an apology and a few drinks. I think I also missed out on a few events due to them being only on Facebook. We forget the importance of a real invite! Aside from this, I was not disappointed at all.
Would you do it again? I would totally do the black out again. I think it might be something that is worth doing a couple of times a year. I’ve definitely changed my activities Online since the blackout. I don’t post as much; I leave checking my accounts until later in the day, and due to my Sony phone being dead again, I am back to playing Snake on the Nokia! I’m taking what I see Online much less seriously, avoiding Online debates, switching off more and using social media channels for the odd shared story rather than relying on them to contact friends or post annoying, whiny cries for attention.

Going back Online a month ago was completely overwhelming, I had to come back Offline after half an hour and take a step back. Un-installing Facebook and Twitter from my phone, after the blackout finished, has also been really great. Now I only use it from my laptop or desktop computer rather than sticking my head into social media when I’m out and about. Plus, this has cut down on all those annoying notifications I found it impossible to ignore. It’s been great to see what everyone has been up to, but mainly my feed is still filled with trivial life details, over-shares and funny cats.

What does the future hold for your social media self? My future holds a few more blackouts yet, and I’m considering shutting down my accounts and replacing them with new ones, with a much smaller friends list.

Would you recommend a black out for social media and smart phone addicts? I’d suggest taking a blackout month to anyone who uses social media daily. I think at least 75% of my friends list could do with taking a break. It truly is a liberating, rewarding and enriching experience.