Every Lent, I encourage my kids to “give up something” for the season. I’m not particularly religious, but like the idea of a challenge as a way of bettering myself. Three years ago, I gave up soda — I had been up to as many as two cans a day — and have never gone back.
This year, my daughter was the only one of my three kids to take me up on the challenge. She gave up cookies. For me, it was a tossup between Dark Chocolate Raisinets and social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter. Although, as a writer and editor, I use social networking sites for marketing, I knew I was spending way too much time on these sites. They are a notorious time-suck, so I took the plunge and gave up Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Goodreads and the rest for 40 days. (Disclosure: I still blog and post on some of these sites for business, but I’ve refrained from personal posts, which were the real problem.)
“You’ll never do it,” one person said.
“You’ll cave,” another said.
My daughter went the other way. “You went with the easier choice,” she chided. (She may be right. I do have a severe Dark Chocolate Raisinets habit.)
The first day of my abstinence, Ash Wednesday, felt bizarre, as if I had all this unaccounted-for free time. I wouldn’t say I missed social media, but I did feel its absence. My hand would automatically reach for my Facebook bookmark on my laptop first thing in the morning. Whenever I closed a document or finished paying a bill or just wanted to procrastinate, there it was, waiting for me to click and discover a world of friends and what they were doing or having for lunch. My world suddenly felt smaller and insulated and somewhat boring. I was out of touch, which, as a journalist, felt weird. I had no idea what was trending.
“Did you see the new lineup for ‘Dancing with the Stars’?” my daughter asked.
“Of course not,” I answered.
“Have you been watching season four of ‘House of Cards’?” my dad asked.
“Is it out already?” I asked, surprised.
However, I found new activities to fill the absence:
n My productivity skyrocketed. Not only did I spend more time writing, but I was paying more attention to chores. My taxes were done by early March, which is unheard of for me.
n I became more organized — work mileage logged, RSVPs sent, bills paid.
n I listened more. Without the distraction of the outside world, I paid better attention, particularly to those closest to me — certainly a benefit in the spirit of the season.
n I became incredibly relaxed. Without the incessant beeping of social media alerts, I was able to complete tasks uninterrupted, which not only allowed deeper thinking, but also left more time for snuggling with my Shih Tzu puppy.
“But shouldn’t you say thank you to all the people on Facebook who wished you happy birthday in February?” my mother-in-law asked with concern.
“I will,” I answered. “On Easter.”
In the end, my experiment underscored what I already knew: If I spent less time watching what other people were doing, I would spend more time on what I was doing. However, I had forgotten how important what I was doing was to me — certainly more important than being one of the first to know that the new “House of Cards” season was available. And I realized that the real challenge wasn’t to give up social media for 40 days, but to find a way to not give up who I am for all the days that come later.
Reader Dina Santorelli is an author living in Massapequa Park.