The first time I truly took a break from social media was in 2015, at a summer camp for burned-out adults called “Camp Grounded.”
There were three rules: Take a camp name of your choosing, like Luna or Huckleberry, avoid talking about “W,” meaning work, and ditch all electronics at the door. At an arrival ceremony deep in the California Redwoods, volunteers in hazmat suits zipped up our devices into brown bags, leaving them locked away in a so-called “Robot Decontamination Area.”
That might seem extreme, a total gimmick.
But it prompted some deep discussion among my campmates. I recall arguing with friends about whether our experience was essentially a PG version of Burning Man, or a harbinger of something bigger, a growing discontent among millennials with social media.
At that time, social media companies seemed unstoppable, a daily part of life. Instagram and Facebook were a habit that very few people questioned, with a few notable exceptions. I had well-meaning friends who worked at these companies who believed with an almost cult-like fervor in the positive impact of bringing the world closer together.
That’s all starting to change.
Social media companies, most notably Facebook, have faced a reckoning in the past year, with reports surfacing about an infiltration of Russian propaganda to influence elections, misuse user data, and countless other examples of the platform being used for ill.
As a society, we’re starting to lose faith in our technology icons, especially in light of the questionable decisions made by the once-beloved Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, and reports about early Facebook employees who got rich and now have the luxury of preventing their own kids from using social media.
#DeleteFacebook, once unthinkable, is now a very real trend. And it poses a growing threat to Facebook’s bottom line, and its future.
Against this backdrop, in August I made a big decision. I removed Facebook and Instagram apps off my phone, and logged out on the web. I didn’t get around to fully disabling or deleting them, as I wanted to see first how I’d respond to a month-long break. Baby steps, I told myself.
I haven’t been back, and I don’t really miss them at all.
Time not well spent
My break came around the time when Facebook and Instagram introduced “time well spent” features in the summer, which allow users to check how many hours they’ve spent on social media. I checked the activity dashboard after reporting on these changes for CNBC, and learned that I spent more than five hours on Instagram in a single week.