This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia.
As roughly 1.6 billion Muslims around the world began to fast the Holy Month in order to cleanse their bodies and souls, I decided to take my devotion one step further and temporarily quit all social media as well. And, honestly, it was way more difficult than just not eating or gossiping all day. Now, as we fast approach Eid al-Fitr and the end of the fasting month, I can safely say that this little experiment in unplugging from the endless updates has changed me for the better.
The real reason I decided to try this experiment in the first place wasn't religious at all. It wasn't about cutting myself off from temptation or being more in touch with the world. It was about my phone battery. A few weeks before Ramadan, I downloaded an app that tracked my phone usage and it told me that, on an average day, I spent a whopping seven hours on my phone. On some days, like when I was stuck for hours waiting to see my dentist, I spent twice as long glued to that bright little rectangle.
It’s unhealthy. I don’t even get to sleep for a full seven hours most nights. The app also told me that more than half the time I was on my phone, I was just staring at Twitter and Instagram. So one day before Ramadan started, I made a decision to stay away from the social media for the entire month.
The timing felt right. I teach a university class where I use Instagram to showcase students’ projects, but school’s out for the summer break. I was ready for the extra productivity boost that everyone always promises in their think pieces about how great social media cleanses are, and, who knows, maybe an extra 15 minutes of sleep every night would make my skin glow.
I announced my break to the world with a pinned tweet and an Instagram story. I could’ve just deactivated my accounts, but that's a bit dramatic, isn't it? It wasn’t like I was going through a messy breakup or some kind of public scandal. Some of my followers told me they were thinking of doing the same thing this Ramadan. Others told me I would never last a whole month.
One very concerned friend texted me asking if things were OK because he read somewhere that withdrawing from your social life is a sure sign of depression. Most of my followers, however, were totally indifferent to my plan.
Later that same day, I deleted the apps from my phone and installed a blocker extension on my computer. I initially only planned to stop using Instagram and Twitter for the entire month because those two were the only social media apps I was actually active on anymore.
But then I saw my Facebook app and deleted that too. I honestly stopped using Facebook once my feed became full of updates from my former elementary school teachers posting insane, racist conspiracy theories about how the government was controlled by a cabal of Chinese and Jewish businessmen who were secretly promoting communism while also putting viruses that make children gay in our vaccines.
Since Facebook was most people's first social media addiction, I decided to include it in my fast as well as a way to honor Mark Zuckerberg or something. (It's also really easy to not use something you don't even use anymore too.)
Here’s everything I learned about myself in the process:
I had so much more time to be #present
The first few days were easy. Every morning I got out of bed immediately instead of taking the usual 30 minutes to check my timelines. I spent more time reading books and the news. I became more proactive. I began texting my friends and asking if they wanted to hang out instead of checking their Instagram stories hoping they were already at a cafe I wanted to go to. When the chicken thighs I bought from a grocery store smelled weird, I called the customer hotline instead of making a Twitter thread about it (though, sadly, the hotline was unreachable and I ended up posting a 1-star review on Google Maps instead). I relearned to privately cherish beautiful moments when I went on a trip to Bali during the second week of Ramadan. I wasn’t too distracted by petty online feuds between Insta-celebs, though, I couldn’t help but feel a bit out of touch when my friends talked about them in our group chat.
I realized that some things in life matter more than others
One week into the experiment, I met up with an old friend who had been taking a break from social media for two months. She said the break made her realize what it was that she really wanted to share with her friends. At the time, I had no idea what she meant. But by day 20, I understood her completely. Without the endless buzz and voices of my feed, I was able to say things with intention. I wasn’t just reacting to something I read. My thoughts were more focused. I don’t think that social media is pure evil and that everyone’s better without it, but it shouldn’t be what controls your life.
I figured out that there are so many other ways to distract yourself
In the end, I found new ways to procrastinate. I read a lot of Wikipedia articles and scrolled through Google Maps to pass time. I even went on Quora and Reddit, which also count as social media, I guess. On the downside, I missed out on meme updates, an important cornerstone of my social group. My friends had to explain some of the new memes in person. How prehistoric is that? I also missed a bunch of Ramadan sales of my favorite local brands that were announced on Instagram.
So far, I’ve managed to bring my average phone usage down to four hours a day. It’s a considerable success. I didn't get more sleep though—I started binge-watching shows on Netflix to fill up all this new time. And I have to admit, I can’t wait to download Twitter and Instagram again. I have so many tweets and photos on draft waiting to be released into the world. But for now, I’m content with just peeking at timelines on my friends' phones for like five minutes, max.
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