I know I'm not the only one feeling the effects of a 24/7 news cycle, a tragedy happening every day, a need to protest and fight every week. Scared to feel numb over another shooting, scared to feel tired over a political act, and becoming hella cynical about everything and everyone. I knew the only way to improve things was to remove myself from it all so I could rest up and prioritize.
I think my job as a blogger/influencer/content creator has made it even more intense for me. This is no 9 to 5; being an influencer feels constant even when I put rules in place. Every time I opened my phone or laptop, the world was screaming for my attention and I knew I needed to do a hard reset. No internet: no email, no Googling, and no social media. And the only way to do that was to take that time off work as well.
I planned this break over a month in advance so I could truly escape. I notified brands, my WordPress support team, my VA, and a few peers. I set in systems in case my site crashed, my Instagram was hacked, or any other issue took place. I knew that with my friends and family, I'd be kept aware of time-sensitive news and issues.
My last day of work was the SCOTUS ruling about Roe vs. Wade. That was not planned, but as I scrolled through beautiful graphics and crying selfies on Instagram it made me realize I desperately needed this break. I turned on my Out of Office, finished the last promised deliverables, and closed my laptop. I didn't open it again until this past weekend.
Disconnection Felt… Familiar
My first week offline was weird. The house seemed so quiet, but I realized it was because my mind was quiet. I caught myself opening my phone with no purpose. I did a lot of organizing of my photos. I did my morning journaling, I sipped not gulped my coffee, I did sun salutations. I kept my therapist appointment for that Thursday and it was one full of ideas and hope.
This felt like more of a vacation than any beautiful and relaxing destination I had ever visited. I felt so calm! No planning, no schedule, no researching where to eat, no outfits to coordinate and shoot. But then our cable box went out. I hadn't been watching the news or live TV (part of my rule for this two-week break) but access to it was there just in case and by having it gone made me panic.
I was suddenly back to where I was in 2001 when my then-boyfriend and I in our first place together said we didn’t need cable, we watched DVDs, we listened to music, we read the paper. We considered getting an antenna to capture grainy local news but figured it wasn't worth it. And then September 11th happened.
He worked nights; my job closed early. I drove home and woke him to tell him the news. We went to his dad’s house so we could watch the news. Our DVDs couldn't let us know if loved ones were safe, if our country was safe.
The next day we called Comcast to get cable TV hooked up. We realized we had to be connected, we had to be aware of what was going on in our world.
A couple of years later, this Luddite who wrote her college papers on a Brother word processor and didn't “get” paying for cable got a job in eLearning, opened her first social media account, taught herself basic HTML, and began a blog. She also married that boyfriend and he quit that night job.
Within a decade, I went from being the tech-unsavvy friend who needed her bestie to format her resume and was the last to know about that celeb/bipartisan bill/new restaurant to having a successful blog and building social media platforms for a DC think tank. I became the friend who knew the latest everything. I loved how social media kept me connected to what mattered to me, and helped me be aware of what was going on in my community, my government, and the world.
Feeling Hyperconnected, Hyperaware, and Utterly Overwhelmed
But in the past few years with news overload and social media overload, I feel hyperconnected and hyperaware and utterly overwhelmed. I know about cults and Qanon and the name of my 3rd grade crush’s daughter’s French bulldog. I know the best way to peel garlic, to clean a washing machine, to contact my representatives, to prevent thigh chafing.
I know how much they spent on their police force last year, how many shootings have happened in this month alone, who voted for what bill, and which influencer shared a really good-looking graphic with these statistics. I know where they ate last night, where he spends his Saturday mornings, how many CCs she injected into her face.
I’ve learned more in the past two years than I feel I did in all my years of public schooling. I am grateful, I am horrified, I am angry. But the injustices in our country and the issues we are facing have all melded with Pickles the Frenchie and Rudy Giuliani’s dripping hairline and I needed this break. But I didn't realize how hard it would be to stay offline.
Breaking the Social Media Seal
Where we live it’s common to ask, “fireworks or gunshots?” It is by far the most popular question in our city's Facebook and NextDoor groups. We have a CIA training facility as well as a skeet shooting range nearby, and depending on the cloud cover and humidity, the shots may sound miles away or down the street.
It was a couple of days before the 4th of July and folks were already setting of fireworks. Nearby cities had early fireworks displays that we could hear from our back deck. But when I woke at 1:21am to a light rain and the sound of fireworks or gunshots my brain started spiraling. I live too close to DC to brush it off.
I was relying on my loved ones to text if there was something major happening, but I live closer to major highways and DC than many of them who were likely in deep sleep and fully unaware. Still half-asleep (gotta love those Equilibria sleep gummies), I went outside, and the sound was louder, I had no idea where it was coming from.
I found Safari is never truly gone when you delete the app from your phone. You can just go into the App Store and search “saf-“ and it will pop up Safari and won’t have the cloud with the arrow but just “open” and it opens so easily with all your bookmarks and search history waiting for your return. And so I typed “t-“ and there was Twitter telling me it was a weird thunder that only happens under special conditions and not another attack on our nation’s capital.
I broke the social media seal, and as we tried to figure out the problem with our cable provider, I went back to morning checks of Twitter to see what happened the day prior. But unlike before vacation where I’d click all the articles and go down thread rabbit holes, I’d gather the summary from tweets and then based on what I gleaned and its importance/immediacy, Google search for news on that topic.
Before I deleted Safari, my browser didn’t have me logged into Instagram or Facebook. Yet when I typed in, “fa-“ Big Brother knew I had already broken the social media seal and brought me logged in to my timeline.
I had 99+ notifications, but scrolling through none of them were important. Most were friends who had commented on something or shared something. A few folks wanted to join my Facebook group, a relative commented on a photo I shared a couple of weeks ago.
I didn’t feel any animosity or desire when opening Facebook. I did a friend purge/mute in 2020 and my timeline is 90% groups and 10% people (well more like 50% groups, 45% ads, and 5% people). Nothing made me want to stay more than two minutes (I timed it).
All About Instagram
I then went to Instagram on Safari and folks… Instagram sucks so bad in a browser. Everything looks like music sounds through a shower Bluetooth speaker that comes free with a magazine subscription. It resembles old Instagram, with the old bottom menu, Reels bordered in black to be the same square size as photos. It makes you realize how those subtle Instagram updates have lured us in even deeper.
Reels look stupid (even your own) when you’ve been away from all social media for a week. Like what is this drek? The dancing and fast pace and filters; the color and the hyper realness and the same song over and over… I ended up deleting hundreds of accounts over the two weeks because my feed in my browser made me feel so many things.
Why do I see a Reel for this? I don’t follow the account. Why is my very smart and funny stylish friend dancing maniacally in a parking lot wearing an ill-fitting dress? Why is another very stylish friend shilling Walmart, I know she hasn't even stepped foot in one. Why can’t I afford a vacation like that we have the same job what am I doing wrong? Why am I being served this, do I need it? Do others in my demo want this? Is this the future? Is this what I need to do to make it? What is making it? It’s not what I thought it was a week ago.
I opened my DMs and there were dozens and dozens from the week prior replying to my Stories about the SCOTUS hearing. Sad emojis, angry emojis, broken heart emojis. Strangers telling me their personal stories, sharing their anger and their heartbreak mixed with catfish accounts of soldiers and surgeons looking for love and folks asking where I got my pants.
I didn’t go back to Instagram for the rest of my vacation. I checked Facebook once more, but just the notifications to ensure I didn't miss something major. Twitter was the only social media that I visited, but I'd go in, click the magnifying glass/Explore and look at For You, News, Entertainment, and then leave.
I didn't miss TikTok, in fact, I felt my brain slow down after deleting it. I was a big TikTok fan before my vacation. I felt that if things were different, I'd be a TikTok influencer, not Instagram. I could spend so much time on TikTok, especially when I had that insomnia that wakes you just two hours before your alarm so there's no real point in trying to go back to sleep. I'd watch until you'd get that concerned conventionally attractive person telling you it's time to close the app. I found TikTok informative and funny and fresh. But a week away and I can't tell you a single account that I followed that I really miss.
But I could with Instagram. I missed seeing my friends and those I have followed so long they almost feel like friends. Yes even influencers have parasocial relationships with other influencers. I was willing to take the drek to see those folks again.
Friday night I added back my Instagram app. I saw Chico's shared a Reel of mine I made before my vacation (based off this capsule wardrobe) and scrolled through the comments. I replied to one asking what size I wore. I went to my DMs and read all of them, but instead of reacting to each DM with a heart as I usually do, I just deleted. I wasn't trying to be rude, I just didn't have it in me to continue those conversations, to get the replies and then have to reply to the replies.
Too Many Lines of Communication
It made me realize how many ways I have for folks to get in touch with me. Instagram comments on posts and Reels, and Instagram DMs. Facebook group and Facebook page and even though I turned off DMs for my brand page I still get them from those who know my name or from commenting with my personal account in my group. Twitter replies and private messages. Blog comments and contact form. Multiple email accounts. I even get requests to chat on Pinterest.
For every friendly comment and honest question there is someone who is overstepping the bounds of the parasocial relationship. The open lines of communication make folks a bit too comfortable with what they type (or send a voice message – influencer followers, please stop doing this to us) and receiving them in the same space as scheduling brunch with friends and campaigns with brands it hits different.
I've been a blogger for 17 years. I've been mentioned on GOMI and Blogsnark and several other subreddits. Individuals have created accounts and sites over the years to mock me, imitate me, impersonate me, and discredit me. I've had times (2014 was not a good year) when it really hurt me, but I've learned to treat it as part of business. Yet here I am in 2022 feeling beholden to the DM critic.
This is a Job, Not a Sorority
I need to be on Instagram, it's an important part of my business. And honestly, even with my list above, I enjoy much of Instagram. I love Stories, making them and viewing them. I love doing Lives with other cool people (and may do more in the future). I even find making Reels fun at times. I love scrolling through and seeing what folks are doing, the creativity and humor and beauty astound me.
I just need to remember that this is a job, not a sorority. Unfollowing those I compare myself to or judge, turning off DMs, and sharing when I want to and not just to please the algorithm may make that aspect of my job better.
Saying all social media is bad is like me in 2001 saying I don't need TV because I subscribe to the Washington Post. It's pretentious and it's false and it's holding oneself in a comfortable little bubble that is going to pop very soon. But just like binging five seasons of a series in a single weekend, social media can be unhealthy and it's important to analyze our relationship with it on a regular basis.
I highly recommend a break, even if you break the seal earlier than you hoped. It was extremely enlightening and I don't want to go back to where I was two weeks ago.
What I'm Doing to Control My Social Media and Internet Usage When Social Media and the Internet is Literally My Job:
My therapist suggested some of these, I read a few articles before my vacation that suggested some others, and some I figured out on my own after these two weeks. I think these are pretty doable for a long period of time and I share because I think they could work for you even if you don't have a job like mine:
- Delete (almost) every app. You can access Twitter and Facebook from a phone browser, and if you're mainly using Instagram to scroll, you can use a browser for that as well. The platforms aren't as pretty or easy to navigate which reduces your time on them.
- The apps you need, hide them in a folder. You can't access Facebook Messenger from a browser, and you can't do anything other than post a photo to your feed from the browser version of Instagram. Gmail also sucks in browser form. I've reinstalled these apps but moved them to a folder on the third tab of my phone so it takes effort to access them. I know from these two weeks that if they're right there when I open my phone, I'm going to open them.
- Turn off DMs. Stop using social media platforms as your method of communication. If they're close enough to chat with often, they're close enough to text you or email you or FaceTime you or call you or WhatsApp you or anything else. Streamline your forms of communication and don't have them in the same place where you get recipes, outfit advice, and thirst traps.
- Turn off notifications. I did this years ago and it's a gamechanger. The only apps that give me notifications are Facebook Messenger (very popular with my kid's friend's parents and the Buy Nothing group I am a part of) and text. There is nothing in Instagram, Facebook or even email so important that I need to address it imediately. If I, an influencer, who makes her money off these apps can turn off her notifications, you can too.
- Only share during work hours. I may go to a fabulous event on a Tuesday night or do something super fun on a Saturday, but that doesn't mean I have to post it at the same time. Just like I did with my vacation, I can film and save for later. A brand will have to pay me to post outside business hours; consider it overtime. Right now my only exception is sharing Weekend Reads on Facebook and Instagram, but I am considering hiring someone to do that on my behalf.
- One screen at a time. If I am typing on my laptop, my phone is across the room charging. If I am watching TV, my laptop is closed. If I am sharing on Instagram, I am not also watching a movie. You think you're multitasking but you're just half-assing multiple things at once.
- Unsubscribe. Unsubscribe from retail emails, even if you shop there regularly, because every email is temptation to click, scroll, and shop. Unsubscribe from every single text from businesses, brands, politicians, and non-human IRL friends. Unsubscribe from newsletters, paring down to just a handful of the ones that really make an impact. Unsubscribe from podcasts that are meh, stick to the yeah, and be okay with some silence between episodes. Unsubscribe from the politicians and PACs; you don't need an email to remind you to vote, to call, to donate.
- Journal first (or last). My therapist suggested that during this two-week break that each day I write down five things I am grateful for, and no repeats. For my life, I find it easier to stick to the habit of doing this every morning and have told myself, no screens and no devices until I have journaled. Along with my five items, I also do a quick recap of the previous day. Sometimes this is half a page, sometimes I feel the need to write several pages. For others, journaling before bed may be a better time of day.
- Schedule quarterly breaks. Another great idea from my therapist, who does this herself to stay sane and grounded in her field. One week every quarter take off from all social, email, and internet. Even if I didn't stick to it for this two-week break, I still reaped the rewards and know I need to do this every so often to not fall back into old ways. I know not all can do a week a quarter, but even a long weekend can make a major impact.
The Fear of the Parasocial Relationship
I can't tell you how many times I deleted something in this piece, rewrote something, and then put it all back. I worry about hurting your feelings, offending you, turning you off with my honesty. With admitting this is a job and not some social group. I've already had a few messages unhappy with me or the changes I've made to reduce communication.
Yes, this is a community, but a community is a group of individuals, not a duo. And DMs don't build community because no one sees them except you and I. But the Facebook group, comments on the blog and on in-feed posts and reels on Instagram… that is community. There is a reason we have all come together on the internet. We, not just you and I, are like-minded folks. You all are some badass humans and deserve to connect with fellow badass humans and I'm psyched to be a catalyst. I believe that streamlining communication will facilitate, not breakdown this commuity.
Streamlining will give me mental space and schedule space for other ways to improve this community. The current way I am running this business is not sustainable and I don't want to end Wardrobe Oxygen any time soon. Quite the contrary. There will be changes over time to make Wardrobe Oxygen more enjoyable for me to run, while keeping it informative and fun for you. I've been changing for 17 years; Wardrobe Oxygen isn't anything like what it was back then (not even the name is the same!). Change is good, and with the current trajectory of this world we need to be nimble and aware without getting overwhelmed.
Thanks for being here. I look forward to what the future holds, and look forward to your feedback here and in the Facebook group!