The #ScrollFreeSeptember initiative came out of nowhere for me. I was made aware of it by accident — and, ironically enough, via social media. The official website describes the idea as follows:
Scroll Free September offers a unique opportunity to take a break from all personal social media accounts for 30 days during September. A good relationship is one of balance, and Scroll Free September is here to help you gain that with social media both on and offline…
Scroll Free September
Scroll Free September is a campaign form RSPH which offers a unique opportunity to take a break from all personal…
Designed to make you think twice about how social media impacts you, I was keen to give it a go. After all, while I’m not the most zealous tweeter on earth, I do scroll Instagram without a second thought in my down time — and I found myself developing the habit of waking up by scrolling as well. Ugh...
I thought I’d do one of the ‘softer versions’ for the month, which are:
- Social Butterfly: Taking a break from social media at social events to be more in the moment with your friends and family
- Night Owl: Taking a break from social media after 6pm
- Busy Bee: Taking a break from social media at school or work to increase productivity
- Sleeping Dog: Avoiding social media in the bedroom, to promote better sleep
All sounded like lovely options that would add a lot to my everyday life, but when I told my partner about this entire idea, their response was decisive: “I’m going cold turkey.” I admired them for that. Time to get my big girl pants on — this month would be a perfect addition to my experiments in living more ethically.
Well, goodbye Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. I don’t use any other platforms that are considered social media, but I happily freed myself from all of these and relegated their icons to a buried folder on the last page of my iPhone screens. They weren’t going to tempt me.
Yeah, first thing’s first: there were a couple of things that were challenging about going cold turkey, and on which I ‘cheated’ slightly.
- I run a bookclub which needed an event updated, so that my guests weren’t left in the cold. I do this on Facebook, which meant I did get a glimpse of what was happening in the Facebook world…
- We scheduled a Halloween party in my flat. Once again, I had to make the event on Facebook to invite everyone…
- I started writing on Medium more regularly, and when I hit ‘Publish’, I also publish directly to Twitter. I’m not sure this counts as cheating, but technically still means that I appeared to post during September.
So two instances of Facebook use and a few ‘publish-to’s that didn’t involve me going on the site itself, but did count as posts. My sins aside, here’s what came out of an interesting month…
What was awesome…
I didn’t touch Instagram at all
Instagram, my number one drug of choice, was entirely abandoned for September. No more waking up to scroll through pointless pictures. No more pointless scrolling on the tube. No more taking pictures of stupid stuff in the hope it will make for Instagram fodder later.
I like Instagram as a platform, being a visual person and a lover of pretty design photos. But I felt proud of being able to detach a little from it, as I do think my relationship with this platform was starting to veer into dependency.
My mornings felt so much more relaxed
Holy heck, did I have a lot more free time before work. Who knew I was spending so much time scrolling? I honestly never thought about it before, because I always considered myself someone who ‘doesn’t really use social media a lot’. What I’ve discovered is that, while that is true compared to many, I was still a lurker. I’d scroll by images even if I wasn’t really interacting or posting a lot. And that takes up time. Without the scrolling, my meditation and other morning routine items had a lot more time to flourish…
Here’s What Will Happen if you Meditate for 50 Days
Or ‘An Experiment in Meditation: 50 Days and Counting…’
I read so much more
I read The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (a complete giant of a novel), as well as the Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich and Autumn by Ali Smith. I‘m part way through Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris. That’s a lot more reading than I usually get done in one month. I think this is because every moment where in the past I’d scroll mindlessly, I picked up my book instead — on the tube, in bed, waiting for friends, etc. I feel amazing about this, because I actually really love reading. Who’d have thought?!
I wrote more — and better
Similarly, my writing productivity massively improved. Part of this was the elimination of flicking between whatever I’m writing and scrolling Facebook or Twitter — a very bad habit of mine. Instead, I was more likely just to finish an article or passage of a story, without getting distracted. I can’t really attest to a quality rise in my writing overall, but I did feel like I achieved ‘flow’ much more easily and more regularly, making my writing much more of a joy. I felt much happier with what I produced, in the end.
I felt more present
Without a social media dashboard to fill the gaps at every dinner table, party, or tube ride, I often found myself not even bothering to look at my phone at all. I actually just looked around and listened instead. This generated a lot of writing ideas, and also meant I felt more present in the moment itself. Mindfulness really does work.
What was less awesome…
I checked my email a lot more
I definitely started filling in the social media gap at times with checking my email. I did notice this and try to curb it, but it was hard — I obviously went straight for something that could fulfil a kind of scrolling without being social media.
The Scroll Free September initiative also sent emails regularly to encourage you on your way. I have to say I didn’t find these particularly useful towards the end — they used very similar items in each newsletter, so I just didn’t keep clicking through. At first, however, there was interesting info provided on mental health impacts of social media, but after a while I got the gist. As I tried to curb my email checking as well, my attention to these faded out…
I noticed my own FOMO
Not entirely a bad thing, but I became a lot more aware of my own FOMO feelings, as they arose during the month. It didn’t happen often — certainly a lot less than I thought it would. At one point, when my mum (thanks mum!) asked me if I’d seen something on Instagram. Otherwise, I wasn’t particularly afraid of missing out on anything — but I noticed it more acutely when I did. In a way, this was a good thing: I was more able to recognise it for what it was, and the FOMO dried up altogether by the second half of the month.
I noticed the people who I only interact with via social media
It really became obvious that there are people with whom I don’t actually have a ‘real’ relationship. The ones who just exist online to me, via Facebook likes or retweets. While I like those online connections, and I appreciate finding new cool people wherever they may be, it made me much more aware of the value I place on my real relationships. I felt a lot more focused on my romantic relationship, and my most valuable friendships. A bittersweet feeling of missing some of those superficial connections, but also realising just how valuable and real other connections are for me.
If this is the first you’re hearing of Scroll Free September, I can only recommend it to you for next year — or maybe just set yourself the challenge another time. It’s been an amazing month of very present, lived experiences — I have felt myself to be more mindful than I have in the past.
Coupled with my meditation and journalling habits, this month felt like one of real self-awareness. I feel happier and lighter than I have in ages to know that I understand my own habits better, my own values and valued people, and that I had the opportunity to really enjoy everything I did more fully.
Now the month is almost over, I’m looking forward to integrating these better habits into my post-September life. Wish me luck…