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When it comes to behavior, I've almost always been a bit of an all or nothing person. Eight years ago, when I decided I should probably quit drinking, I just stopped. I didn't cut back, didn't slowly wean myself off. I completely and fully quit. Not that it was easy to stop like that, but I couldn't see a way to ease myself out of it. I had to step away from it completely. This has been true of many of my vices, hobbies, and habits over the years. I'm either all in or all out.

These days I don't have many vices left besides coffee, desserts, and horrifyingly huge gas station sodas (you can take the boy out of an upper Midwest rust belt river town, but you will never pry that Big Gulp from my cold, over caffeinated hands). Of those that remain, one is particularly fraught: I spend an inordinate amount of time scrolling social media, especially when I want to distract myself from something that scares me. Like many of my habits, I've struggled to scale back. But this one is harder than most to moderate, which is no surprise; platforms designed to keep you clicking don't really lend themselves to occasional use.

Which is why, as I attempt the scary prospect of finishing my second book, I'm going to try a social media sabbatical. Three months offline, beginning September 1. I want to make this book as strong as I can, and I think completing it will require all hands on deck instead of on Tweetdeck. (Okay, that was.... not my best. Also I don't even use Tweetdeck. See, this is why I need to focus.)

Despite my all or nothing nature, I'm not saying I’m for sure going to completely log off in the coming months. (Yes, I'm hedging already.) I’ll probably check in here and there. If nothing else, I may pop in to share information about upcoming speaking engagements and stuff. Besides, I know myself—I'm not that strong, and I don't want to abort the entire project just because I slip. But at minimum I’m going to do my best to not go online reflexively, regularly, and unthinkingly, as a default. Beyond that, I want to see if I can go days, maybe even weeks without checking in. And I'm absolutely going to start by deleting the apps from my phone. 

For some people this probably wouldn't be a big deal, but I honestly have no idea what to expect of myself. Will it be easy? That would be a pleasant surprise! I’m not counting on it. In fact, considering how often I open Twitter or Instagram—only to put my phone away, pull it back out, and scroll some more without even realizing I've done so—I'm expecting to experience some major withdrawal. But I'm thinking of it as a kind of experiment, and I'm excited to see what I learn.

I'm not just getting rid of Twitter and Instagram, either. (Facebook has been off my phone for years.) Nor am I just trying to limit my use of social media altogether. I’m also going to mostly avoid email, except for urgent work things. My goal right now is to try to restrict myself to checking email once a day if I can, and not at all on weekends. I will also be removing the email app from my phone. 

So don't be surprised if I'm (more) difficult to reach for the rest of the year. If you want to contact me, you’ll have to try an old fashioned method. For example, if you have my number, you can call me. (Or, you know, text. I'm not a monster.) If you want to go even more old fashioned, you can often find me hunched over the bar of my neighborhood coffee shop, avoiding work by asking the baristas about their lives while my dog hangs out at my feet. Or, if it's really important and you're not hearing back from me, you can try my agent Erik Hane.

Anyway, why am I telling you all of this? 

Something I've long appreciated about social media is that it can be used as an accountability tool. If I post that I'm doing something, I'm more likely to see it through, mostly so I don't feel embarrassed when someone asks later if I actually did it. This is especially useful for things that are more difficult, or that I'm more likely to abandon, or at the very least walk back. Which is why I'm breaking down the specifics here, I suppose. I'm trying to do what I can to set myself up for success with this plan, and I want my community to hold me accountable to it.

Again, I suspect it won't be easy. When I told one person, they expressed support, but also joked that Twitter's traffic will drop twenty percent. When I sent my plan to another friend, they replied, "this is good but I'm just reading it thinking 'oh he's gonna die.'" It's true that I am very online, and deeply entrenched habits are hard to break, so I don't expect perfection of myself. And I also believe in assessing whether or not something is working and adapting as needed, rather than maintaining rigid adherence—so if it's really not working I won't just stick to it out of obligation. But I'm going to try really hard. And maybe it won't be as hard as I'm imagining. (I do expect, despite my friend's concerns, that I will live through this.)

One reason for my tempered optimism is that I'm not going it alone. To make myself even more accountable I've recruited a good friend who works in chaplaincy, and who got rid of his cell phone last year, as a kind of "sponsor." We'll be checking in regularly, and I'll be asking him for all kinds of advice on how he's navigated a more disconnected life in a world that seems to grow more connected every day.

So I'm signing off for a bit. Will I go through excruciating withdrawal? Will I write more and better, or just replace the time I spent scrolling with other distractions? Will I learn anything, or just learn that this was a bad idea? Will my FOMO decrease since I'm not constantly seeing everyone's posts about how awesome their lives are, or will it just get worse because I'll add internet FOMO to my already existing FOMO? I'll be sure to let you know. Just probably not on Twitter.

thread artwork by John Paul Brammer

Copyright © 2019 Chris Stedman, All rights reserved.

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