17 Things I Learned from Spending 33 Days OffLine

17 Lessons + Simple Changes After Spending 33 Days Off Social Media

I logged onto Facebook for the first time in 33 days and the first thing I wanted to do was log off. Before July, I turned off as many notifications as I could and still had 80+ notifications waiting--things I was tagged in and people liked or commented, events I never showed interest in that I got updates and reminders on anyway, updates to groups I wasn't sure why I was still a member.

It was overwhelming, adding tasks to my To Do list and sapping my time, attention, and energy without me even wanting it to. It seemed everything I'd gained in peace and calm and focus in those 33 days offline was unraveling in seconds.

First, I should note taking a month offline was a big deal for me. There's people like my oldest brother who created a Facebook account and hasn't logged in for months, or my brother-in-law who last logged on in June to wish my sister a happy anniversary (because if it's not posted on Facebook, did it really happen?).

Then, there's people like me. Before July I stayed logged in perpetually and checked in on my phone throughout the day, even when for the 100th time there was nothing new to check. I posted daily and checked regularly for updates in the form of likes or comments. Most of the time, I didn't even know why I was checking in again, that's just what my fingers automatically did.

Now, after a month offline and a week transitioning back on, I don't really know what to do with it all. While I figure it out, here's a look into what I learned during those 33 days away from social media and simple changes I plan to make going forward.

Lessons + Changes from My Social Media Fast

1. Social media isn't my only distraction.

Even logged off, I still didn't blog/write as I hoped. Instead, I cleaned the home and took naps and was available to our company and spent many evenings watching TV. Sure, some "distractions" are productive, necessary, or even good. There are also many distractions that can be just as hindering and addictive as social media (many of them revolve around tech use).

One Simple Change: Be productive before getting distracted. I got into a pretty good house upkeep routine when I wasn't avoiding chores by being on my phone. I'd like to keep that going and remember better ways to use my evenings that don't revolve around binge-watching or obsessive scrolling. People and home distractions are generally good, but tech distractions are often just me wasting time.

2. People seem to expect you to have seen their post online.

Many of us assume others know about our lives just because we post about it online. This is more noticeable when you're not online. Whether or not someone saw your post, in-person conversations are different. It's good to tell a story not shared in the post or ask someone about their latest happenings as if it's brand new information. Seeing someone's pictures of their vacation doesn't mean we shouldn't ask them about it when we see them in person.

One Simple Change: Stop assuming people have seen my posts in efforts to be more sharing in my conversations. And stop assuming I know about someone else's life just because I saw there posts, and ask more questions.

3. People be on their phones... a lot.

I know this and have been there a lot myself before July. But this month confirmed it on a deeper level--phones are straight up just about everyone's addiction in some form. It doesn't matter where you are or who you're with, people being on their phones even for quick updates or posting is to be expected. In those moments, I noticed myself many times nervously grabbing my phone and unlocking it just to remember I had nothing to check.

One Simple Change: Avoid getting on my phone when I'm with people. I might even try an idea I heard about having a basket at the door for people to put their phones. We don't spend a lot of time with friends, so why not actually be together when it finally happens?

4. And people like to talk about what they're seeing on their phones.

I mean, we gotta make this a community thing, right? Either as they're scrolling in front of you or something they've seen before, memes and other social media content are a popular go-to topic of conversation. I do it, too. This month I realized more so that when you're on the receiving end of these tidbits they're never as interesting as when you're the one mentioning them.

One Simple Change: Find new things to talk about instead of what I've seen on Facebook. I often struggle with conversation, so sharing what I've seen or read is my go-to topic. At a minimum I'll try to avoid explaining memes or videos that just aren't as funny when you're not seeing it.

5. News is much easier to process when not mixed with everyone's opinions and input.

There is so much happening in the world, and especially in July, that I was so thankful to not be seeing it across social media. This was huge. So much anxiety saved hearing news stories separate from emotionally charged posts and updates. I'll likely make a point to stay logged off when I hear about major news stories. (I did, however, check in with a couple of my favorite bloggers after said news stories. There are some voices that are positive and even calming in the chaos.)

One Simple Change: Avoid social media when big news hits. At least until I've had enough time to process and pray without the noise of other's input running through my head.

6. You can offend someone in real life just as easily as online.

Whether it's a friend making sarcastic comments on your post or a stranger being hurt by your conversation at the next table over at a restaurant, words matter. Whether we're typing them or saying them to a stranger or a friend, I've been impressed to use more caution around words and using them for life rather than pain.

One Simple Change: Pay attention to how I use my words--typed, written, and spoken. Like a song from my childhood says: If it's not worth saying "Hallelujah," then maybe it's not worth saying at all.

7. Celebrating is so much better without seeing everyone's holiday posts.

Independence Day is one of my favorite holidays. I love the summer sun and cooking out and fireworks. And it was so nice to enjoy it without logging onto Facebook, comparing our celebration to others, or feeling obligated to "like" all of my friends' Happy 4th posts. I might have to stay offline for every holiday hereafter.

One Simple Change: Stay offline on holidays. Better to experience our celebration than checking in on everyone else's celebrations.

8. I don't need online affirmation or approval like I sometimes believe I do.

This might be a no-brainer, but it's a component of the addiction. If there wasn't a positive response from getting online, I probably personally wouldn't do it. But there's something about finding likes, comments, and messages that feels affirming a la Pavlov's dogs. Turns out I do just fine without that.

One Simple Change: Go to Jesus for my approval before, during, after, and instead of likes, comments, or shares.

9. Social media isn't a great tool for listening to people effectively or persuading people of things.

At least in the ways it's often used, social media more often divides than it unites. And when it unites, it's usually uniting people against other groups rather than building bridges. I know that's a generalization and isn't always the case. That realization just made me think more about what I post in the future, especially on potentially polarizing topics. And there are many topics best left to in-person where emotions can be read and actual listening can be done.

One Simple Change: Not use social media to debate. I'll listen more than I speak and pray more than any of it.

10. My FOMO and loneliness didn't get worse like I thought.

FOMO is the Fear of Missing Out. Instead of experiencing it offline, it actually went away while not having other people's lives constantly in front of me. Other people's posts often confirm one thing: Of course I'm missing out. I'm either not doing enough fun things with my kids or we're not enjoying cool vacations or we're not spending time with those friends or family. When I'm not seeing what other people are doing, I can live my life without fear which keeps me from missing out on what's right in front of me. I'm an introvert and I actually like quiet and alone time, but seeing everyone's updates can make me feel lonely during that alone time rather than rejuvenating from it.

One Simple Change: Stop assuming everyone is hanging out without me and instead extend an invitation when I'm feeling lonely. And use my alone time for rejuvenating rather than getting lost in other people's lives.

11. There are other ways to contact people.

Email, phones, mutual friends. Facebook is often my go-to way to reach someone, even people I'm not currently "friends" with online. A couple times I was able to find a way to reach someone another way. Just good to remember.

One Simple Change: Reach out to people beyond social media because {a} not everyone logs onto Facebook everyday (and not everyone has the messenger app).

12. Facebook isn't very personal beyond the initial connection.

I know, technology is what you make it. I've built some great connections through social media that wouldn't have happened otherwise. Still, if I left them as Facebook friendships, they wouldn't have gone anywhere. But the relationships that matter have grown into play dates, a monthly bloggers group, a biweekly mastermind group, speaking engagements for my new friends, handwritten notes, personal texts, and emails. Those are so much more personal and those relationships are so much more meaningful after Facebook helped make the initial connections.

One Simple Change: Reach out to people beyond social media because {b} handwritten notes and in-person hangouts and personal messages are more meaningful.

13. Living a "quiet life" like mentioned in the Bible is hard in the 2000s.

I love the encouragement in 1 Thessalonians 4:11 to live a quiet life, mind your own business, and work with your hands. And that is a challenge to do in today's American culture. I could live a virtually silent life (if I didn't have kids, of course), but still suffer from the overwhelming chaos of the online world. I found great value in quieting that for a month and hope to find ways to keep that quiet going so I can hear and follow Jesus more and act in more loving ways.

One Simple Change: Quiet social media by logging off more. I used to log on set times each day and stayed logged off each week on Sabbath. I think I'm going to step it up and try logging on only a couple times a week.

14. Being on social media can be exhausting/draining for introverts in much the same way as being around people nonstop.

Especially if that time spent online is sharing, updating, liking, commenting, reading, and engaging. After I spend time with someone, my mind will spin in analyzing if I talked too much or what they meant or what I should have said. My mind does the same thing with conversations and posts online, so when I'm perpetually logged in there isn't much break from this noise for my introvert mind to analyze and finally settle. I need to be taking longer breaks in between and being online for shorter times.

One Simple Change: Keep social media apps off my phone. The moments away from my computer should be used for housework, rest, loving on people, etc., not drowning in more social media.

15. It's easier to stay focused on the present and what's important when everyone else's words, posts, articles, and opinions aren't constantly flashing before me.

It's like the Pepsi subliminal commercials before a movie that make you feel like you need a Pepsi. All those messages online make us second guess ourselves, strive for the wrong things, or worse, strive for everything, eventually overwhelming or ultimately paralyzing us.

One Simple Change: Start and end the day with Jesus and pray moments in between. If I'm not making Him my daily focus, then I'm definitely setting myself up for confusion and overwhelm in my life.

16. The impulse to "check"--for messages, comments, likes--is strong, even when there's nothing to check or no real reason to log-on.

I already mentioned there were many times I found myself picking up my phone just to realize there was nothing I needed to do with it. Each time I sat at my computer (I still checked email), my mind would instantly think "Facebook.com" and then I would physically have to keep my fingers from typing it. It's part of breaking the habit, but was still just about as strong on Day 33 as it was on Day 1. That was a little eerie.

One Simple Change: Know why I'm logging-on--a quick check-in, a post, following up on a group conversation? And if I don't have a reason, then don't log on.

17. No one feels valued and connected when the people they're with are looking at screens.

My love language is quality time, so having conversations and doing something with people rather than just being next to people (i.e., while watching TV or on devices) is really important for me to feel connected to someone. But I've seen it in others, too. You don't have to be a quality-time person to feel disconnected when someone is looking at their phone rather than engaging in the conversation or taking part in the activity. Yet, we still get tempted to spend most evenings decompressing from the day "on our devices." I wouldn't be surprised if divorce and relational issues went up even higher from now on.

One Simple Change: Tech-free times for our family to be together and talk before tech-use sucks up the evening.

Why It Matters...

I feel a little like someone who escaped a cult/commune and is now compelled to return and tell the remaining people what they already know but aren't brave enough or don't know how to act on it. Maybe that example is a little extreme, or maybe it's not.

In the book Wild and Free, Hayley wrote this:
Our habits are comforting, even if they keep us from God's best. We often self-soothe with the things that hold us bondage. ...a lot of times it's easier to stay than to leave captivity. It is the path of least resistance. It takes calculated energy and heart focus to throw off the things that have been weighing you down. (p. 183, 185)
Again, calling social media and tech-use bondage or captivity might sound extreme for you. But for my experience, it was fitting. For the habits I was falling into and the areas of my life it hindered, it was time for a change, and the change did not and will not come easily.

I'm diving into Ecclesiastes again (my favorite book of the Bible), this time in The Message, where the intro says this:
Unlike the animals, who seem quite content to simply be themselves, we humans are always looking for ways to be more than or other than what we find ourselves to be. We explore the countryside for excitement, search our souls for meaning, shop the world for pleasure. ... Ecclesiastes calls a halt to our various and futile attempts to make something of our lives, so that we can give our full attention to God--who God is and what he does to make something of us.
This halt has definitely helped me give God my attention, and I absolutely want to keep that going.

Because, as Dick van Dyke's character said on Mary Poppins:
What did I tell ya? There's a whole world at your fingertips. And who gets to see it but the birds, the stars, and the chimney sweeps.
It's hard to experience the world at my fingertips when those fingertips are stuck to my phone. I'm thrilled to start changing that.


also see:
new? start here...
success is what you do while everyone is distracted
why i (temporarily) quit blogging
less technology, more life
monthly dose of simple