What didn’t you do this summer?
As a schoolgirl, I used to dread the annual what-I-did-on-holiday French essay, mainly because my vocabulary reliably reduced three magical months of adventure into a series of visits to and from train stations. A girl never forgets la gare.
However, this year I feel that asking myself (a tweaked version of) the new-term staple could be genuinely educational, because this summer I didn’t do a lot of really good things.
The social media void
I didn’t have insomnia. I didn’t buy anything online. I didn’t feel the need to express opinions about subjects on which I know nothing. I didn’t care what I looked like, who I was with or what I was doing next. I didn’t think somewhere else was better than here. I didn’t run out of time.
In short, I didn’t do social media (okay, okay, so I liked a couple of photos of sunsets on Facebook and had a brief Twitter back-and-forth with an author whose novel I was reading, but nobody’s perfect).
Boy, did I feel like a nest of thrashing snakes had been plucked out of my mind. And boy, did it take no more than forty seconds after touchdown at Gatwick – the time my phone needed to boot up and find signal – for those snakes to slither back in.
Those for whom this applies:
Of course, you might be one of those people who spent your holiday taking, cropping, filtering and uploading photos, tracking your boat trips with navigation tools, making time-lapse videos with romantic soundtracks and chatting to your friends back in London on WhatsApp. To you, I have nothing to say.
Nor do I address those of you who believe social media is a total waste of time, who don’t rely on it for news, ideas and inspiration, who have never used it to find a lifelong friend, develop a career, or forge a collaboration. Or squee at baby foxes. You are also dead to me.
But to those of you who find social media both hugely valuable and regularly maddening; for those of you who long to strike a sustainable everyday balance between overload and off-grid; to you, I would like to humbly suggest seven small snake-handling strategies that might help you retain a little of your holiday zen this autumn.
Vive la revolution.
1. Keep a social media diary
The first step towards change is self-awareness. I dare you, just for one day, to keep the social media equivalent of a dieter’s food diary.
Make a note every time you check a social network: time, length of visit and your emotional state. In his new book Happiness By Design, behavioural scientist Paul Dolan argues that our attention is a limited resource, so we have to design our time to get more of the activities that genuinely enhance our life – and less of the filler.
Chances are, you’ll be shocked not just by the frequency of your social shoot-ups but how hollow and aimless they make you feel. Acknowledging this dissatisfaction will boost your motivation to change.
2. Revise your social media goals
Sure, you don’t want to turn friendships into project plans, but jotting down the reasons why you use each platform reminds you that they’re tools, not ends in themselves.
Are you really using Facebook to stay in touch or are you falling prey to click bait? Would you be better off substituting some daily Wall action for a weekly Skype call or, God forbid, a face to face coffee? Have you read any of those articles saved to Pocket? How many of those sexy Pinterest recipes have you made?
Daydreaming is great, but make sure you’re dayliving, too.
3. Do a cull
There are two ways you need to cut back. First, unsubscribe from all those sites you signed up to in a flush of FOMO (fear of missing out) but hardly ever use. When was the last time you checked in with Foursquare? Are you really going to create your own Vine? Next, tighten up your networks.
Use justunfollow.com to get rid of Twitter bots and zombies, then organise followers into lists that give you easy access to relevant conversations. Ditch all those frenemies on Facebook. Disconnect from random conference attendees on LinkedIn. Feel authenticity creep in.
4. Turn off push notifications
This is one of the most simple but effective methods I have found to break out of the Pavlovian update-checking cycle.
Multitasking is a myth; don’t waste brain juice, and don’t kid yourself that casually checking who has repinned your photo won’t turn into a full-blown sweaty-palmed twenty minute shoe-porn-surfing session.
5. Designate anti-social devices
Keep your ereader’s wifi turned off, unless you’re downloading books. Put your tablet in airplane mode when you’re reading a magazine. Delete all the social media bookmarks on your laptop.
Confine social activity to one device – your phone is the most obvious – so that your brain can shift into more in-depth or insular modes when other sorts of creativity or content consumption are required.
6. Set a curfew
Get your partner or housemates involved and turn off your router at 8pm. Your family and friends can manage with texts; if you want to watch Netflix, you have to put your devices in drawers. Stop pretending it’s acceptable to check your phone at dinner; it’s not.
And get a proper alarm clock – the Lumie Bodyclock with dawn simulation is pleasingly nerdy – rather than using your phone. Not only will you sleep better, you might start your day seeing your lover’s face or the trees through the window rather than a stranger’s breakfast on Instagram.
7. State your intentions
Announce your curfews and weekend blackouts on your social channels. Everyone will admire you, it will manage expectations about when you’ll be playing in the sandpit and, most importantly, it will hold you accountable.
Once you’ve posted your chirpy ‘over and out’ Friday evening tweet, you’ll be exposed for the dirty addict you are if you cave within the hour.