Your 2021 Social Media Detox Guide
Expect to hear many of your friends and loved ones committing to reduced social media use in 2021. Here’s why you should join the movement and how to do it without the fear of losing touch with the people you care most about in your life.
It’s the time of year for reflection on our lives in terms of goals, habits, and our “start” and “stop doing” lists. Health-related aspirations dominate the list of the most popular New Year’s Resolutions: exercise more, lose weight, stop smoking, etc. The last decade has been defined by sweeping infatuation with the digital revolution’s most nefarious contribution to our health: Social Media.
This year, expect to hear many of your friends and loved ones committing to reduced social media use or a “Social Media Detox.” Here’s why you should join the movement and how to do it without the fear of losing touch with the people you care most about in your life.
In This Guide
Why Should I Detox from Social Media?
- The full spectrum of health
- Social media vs. social wellness
- Making connections real again
What’s Involved in a Social Media Detox?
- Getting clear about your social media use
- Playing the replacement game
- Formalizing your intention
Replace Social Media, Not Your Social Life
- Tips for staying connected
- Filling the little pauses in your day
- Keeping your memories
- Getting your news
- Discovering local events and happenings
- Pursuing hobbies and interests
Detox Hacks for Success
- Turn off social-media notifications
- Delete social-media apps
- Make a point of reflecting
- Be gentle with yourself
- Let Fabriq help you
- Make it fun and social
- Share how it’s going (not on social)
Why Should I Detox from Social Media?
The Full Spectrum of Health
First, let’s just affirm that health-related resolutions are always worthy commitments, and an excellent way to love yourself and honor those who love you, too. But, are you considering the full spectrum of health?
The World Health Organization ranks “social well-being” right up there with physical and mental health. Yet most people don’t think about “social” wellness, despite struggling to maintain the healthy social lives and relationships that we need to thrive, and suffering the mental and emotional consequences of this struggle. I (and our team at Fabriq) believe social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter can be detrimental to our personal and collective social wellness when usage isn’t kept in check. To see what I mean, let’s try a little personal exercise.
Social Media vs. Social Wellness
First, see if you answer yes to any of these simple questions about common and seemingly harmless social media use, being fully honest with yourself:
- Do I ever use social media apps to waste a minute during micro-pauses in my day (stop lights, grocery lines, waiting on the barista, etc.)?
- Do I ever use social to post a funny thought I had?
- Do I ever use social to seem preoccupied rather than engaging with another human (like in an elevator)?
- Do I ever use social to take a picture of or share what I’m doing (or eating)?
- Do I ever use social to complain about something I’ve experienced or witnessed?
Of course, most of us have to admit “yes” to many of these things. And, in a funny, self-deprecating way, we often joke about these behaviors when discussing how prevalent social media has become, but are we really investigating what the long-term or macro-effects of this are?
- Might it be a serious problem if we can’t be still and unentertained for longer than half a minute?
- Might it be a serious problem if we are not satisfied with our own thoughts or experiences unless others are aware that we’re having them and signal their approval?
- Might it be a serious problem if we are slowly losing the ability to converse comfortably with strangers and instead try to signal our unavailability?
- Might it be a serious problem if we look to our feeds to seek validation about our complaints, rather than to our friends and family for advice about how to solve them?
- Might it be a serious problem if we treat each other with vastly different (and cruder) norms online than in person?
- Might it be a serious problem if we spend hours per day on these platforms, bidding for attention and skewing our values and our social nature toward materialism, voyeurism, idolation, and envy?
Of course it is. And, there are many more issues with social media we don’t even have time to get into here but are widely researched among academics around the world.
Oh, and it’s OK if this kind of reflection makes you surprisingly uncomfortable at first. Don’t worry! If you’re reading this and/or are using a tool like Fabriq to help you keep in touch with your people outside of the social media sphere, you’ve likely put more thought into your social wellness than the average westerner. That means you’ve already taken the first steps toward making a healthy, meaningful change that you and your loved ones will appreciate in the new year.
Making Connections Real Again
At Fabriq we’re working on reversing these trends, to prevent what we think could become a social wellness epidemic within the next decade.
With a social media detox, we invite you to join the movement of people choosing to stop being “followers” and start being real friends again. To stop being just interested in the lives of their loved ones, and start being involved in them. To stop selling publicly-approved versions of themselves from the soapboxes of their social media accounts, and get back to personally sharing their lives directly with the people they care about most through direct communication and time together in real life. So, welcome!
What’s Involved in Detoxing?
The recipe for detoxing starts with a little bit of preparation. To begin, you’ll foster mindfulness about your social media use, decide how to replace (not just eliminate) your harmful social media habits, set intentions about your goals for next year, and then take action!
No. 1: Take Inventory on How You’re Using Social Media
Good news: you’re half-way finished with #1 already! A moment ago we considered a few questions that shine some light on behavioral changes that our society has undergone in the last decade in the wake of social media becoming ubiquitous. If we remove another layer of sugar-coating, we might reflect on our social media habits with questions like:
- Do I use social media to solve for boredom?
- Do I use social media to stave off loneliness?
- Do use social media to bid for attention or validation?
- Am I using social media to design how I want others to perceive to me?
- When I post, what am I truly looking for in return? Why do I want that?
Let me pause here to say, every one of these tough questions comes from my own personal journey as someone who “came of age” during the social media phenomena between 2005-2017, culminating with my own 6-month detox and subsequent awakening to its grip on my emotions, my life, and the world around me.
The point is these questions are not meant to be accusatory or judgemental, and answering “yes” to some or all of them makes you normal in 2019. Which is why they are important to cover honestly, if you want to understand how deeply integrated social media is in your life, what needs it fulfills, and evaluate supplements or replacements to nurture other, healthier habits moving forward.
Going cold-turkey can be shocking and extremely uncomfortable, and a little bit of prep-work will help to ease into building a support system around you for a successful transition.
Of course, there are a number of upsides to social media you should consider, too. It’s important to take a full inventory of all the “jobs” for which you “hire” social media because while you detox, it will be important that you not simply forego those jobs, but rather replace them with alternatives.
Let’s get started!
- Do I use social to keep up on the life happenings of my people?
- Do I use social to keep my people updated on my life?
- Do I use social to keep an archive of memories that matter to me?
- Do I use social to keep up with what’s happening in the world?
- Do I use social to meet new people or further my interests and hobbies?
We can be sure these were the original, noble aspirations of the people who made these apps for us in the first place. The most common response to “why do you use social media?” is that it helps us “connect with others,” however, this first step is about discovering your why for staying plugged into them all the time.
If you want to improve your connections with people, you first need to improve how you’re connecting with them. As you make a point of improving your digital wellness, you’ll begin to distinguish between using your devices as tools to help you connect and using your devices to disconnect entirely. Over time, you’ll see your relationships grow stronger as you get better at being a present, active friend.
Here’s how to take your inventory:
- Be fully honest with yourself while you list all the ways you use social media.
- Identify the healthy, unhealthy, or unnecessary urges you may be trying to serve.
- Jot down how much time you spend on each of these things.
- Then, play the “Five Whys” game on these (“Ok, well why is this important to me? five times) and see what you discover.
Once you’re done taking inventory, you’re ready for the replacement game!
No. 2: Play the Replacement Game
You don’t need to quit your friends, family, or interests to do a social media detox. All of these interests were fully serviced before social media existed, and we’ll show you a modern approach for achieving each of them — without going back to the stone age or simply going without.
Every one of the explicit or subtle ways you’re using social media can be replaced with something far more healthy, constructive, and effective for that “job.” Curiously, many guides don’t take the time to cover this (despite all the existing literature on “quitting” other things in our lives) but the fact is if you can’t replace the benefits and convenience of social media, you’re ultimately not going to make much progress scaling back your exposure to the bad parts.
We’ve outlined a bunch of options for replacing the most common uses of social media below, so keep reading!
No. 3: Formalize Your Intention
Conventional habit-forming and habit-breaking wisdom tells us that we’re more successful when we layer on other forms of commitment to our intentions. For example, you’re more likely to stop smoking if you first agree to hand $20 to a stranger on the street every time you smoke a cigarette. Similarly, declaring your intentions can improve your success in achieving them, because of the social cost of failing in public. It’s called accountability! And, it works.
Tell Your People & Set-Up Time to Catch Up
So, tell some of your friends and loved ones about your resolution. Tell them that you won’t be posting or stalking them online anymore, but you are going to be calling, texting, and trying to hang out IRL more. And when you do, you’re going to be interested in what’s happened in their life, and likely have updates for them, too, so you’re going to need some time together to make this happen. Align on the “when” and “how”, and set up your all-important, regular next check-in. Hell, even put it on your calendar if you’re one of “thooose” people.
Formalizing your intentions to detox from social media will not only increase your chances of success due to its psychological magic, but there’s some practicality to it, too. After all, these are likely the people you’re going to be connecting with through other means in 2021, so offering context will help.
Tell Your Network You’re On a Break
We’ve even crafted a few posts you can make on your social feeds and stories to help with the process. Posting these a few days before you go dark will allow the people who want to stay in touch with you beyond social to reach out and make plans to do so!
Feel free to snag these images for your profiles, feeds, and stories! Just right-click or long-press to save and upload.
Use an image like this to replace your profile picture. It’s bound to be noticed and gives your people an alternative method to get in touch.
Post to your feed giving some context to why you’re choosing to go dark for a period of time. Try inviting others to come along with you too!
Stories are a great way to guarantee you reach your friends and family. Try posting directly to your story so that you know they’ll see it!
Replace Social Media, Not Your Social Life.
Here, we’ll cover some of the most common functions of social media and some replacement tactics you can consider.
Your Tool to Stay Connected
This may come up for you as the first explanation of your time spent on social media, or in the form of “keeping up with my friends and loved ones.” If you go one step deeper, you’ll begin to ask, “Well, what do I mean by connect?” and hopefully, “who am I connecting with?”
Not all “connections” are created equal, and neither is every one of your relationships. (There, I said it.) And now that we’re past that unspeakable truth, you can begin taking your life back from “feeding your followership” in favor of having better relationships.
When detoxing from social media, first consider:
- Who is important for me to be connected to?
- What is my standard for “connection” with them?
- When or how often would I like these connections to occur?
Next, consider what tools exist to replace this function of social media in your life.
Find a Way to Stay Connected
Okay, here it is. The inevitable plug. Fabriq is built for exactly this purpose. With Fabriq, the idea that your time is a finite resource and there is a priority to your relationships are the first principles. You’ll add the relationships that matter to you most, organize them by closeness, and set intentions on how often you’d like to connect. We magically remind and guide you toward meeting those intentions and building a healthy habit of connecting offline with your people in meaningful ways.
Whether you decide to use Fabriq or not, make sure to get intentional about who you want to stay connected to, and put these mechanisms in place before totally shutting down your social media presence. You’d be surprised who might fall through the cracks once you’re on hiatus.
Have Active Conversations, Not Passive Ones
Instead of consuming updates on the lives of your people, make sure you to set up phone calls, coffee dates, and face-time to get updates straight from the source (Fabriq’s reminders are a great way to get the nudges you need to keep up with all the people in your life). I guarantee, after a month of doing this, you won’t miss your old habit of consuming statuses, photos, and captions one at a time, and you’ll much prefer the catch-up calls where you’ll get the personal context and the emotional connection that can only occur with a direct conversation.
Share Your Intentions to Connect Offline
I also recommend adding what we call a “clear agreement” to your intentions. Consider telling your friends and loved ones about the intention you’ve set to connect with them more often this year, and how often you’d like to chat or hang out.
This can also help avoid the common problem of missed expectations between people in relationships about their availability to one another. It’s always better to align on expectations explicitly than to be ambiguous and, possibly, disappointed.
Finally, and trust us on this one… your people will love hearing this from you. What feels better than to hear someone has chosen to dedicate a chunk of their limited time and attention to you?
Fill Those Little Pauses in Your Day
If you notice involuntary reaches for your phone and social media apps more after reading this guide, here are some things you during your detox while those apps are (hopefully) not available.
Shoot a Text to a Friend, Instead
Instead of mindlessly scrolling the posts of people Instagram decided you should see first, open your Fabriq app and take a peek at the faces of the people you decided mattered most to you. In each of your 20-30 second pauses throughout the day, experiment with sending short “Just thinking about you!”-type messages. I promise you will feel much better after this micro-investment in your relationships than from the passive consumption of your friend’s feed. If you’re using Fabriq, it’s even got some unique connection starters built right in!
A thoughtful message is the OG Facebook “Like.” Try it out for a week and get back to us about the experience, if you’re willing to share.
Keep Your Memories
Many of us have years of photos and videos uploaded to Facebook (and now also Instagram) that we wouldn’t want to vanish into the ether if we deleted our Facebook accounts. The good news is there are plenty of other options for keeping archives of our photos in the cloud while still allowing others to access them and contribute to our albums.
You may download your photos from Facebook and add them to one of these services, identify the faces of people you care about and let them find those faces in the rest of your photos for easier tagging. Since most of your uploaded photos probably came from your phone(s) anyway, you may already have a huge archive of “original” quality photos on your phone or computer, and in this case, you may only need to add the photos other people added of you to your collection after you download it from Facebook.
Whether you’re an iPhone or Android user, you can upload all your photos to cloud-based services and collaborate on albums with your loved ones just as you do on Facebook. iCloud and Google Photos now both work very well — even for users on the “other” phone.
If you’re interested in a non-Apple/Google solution, checkout PhotoCircle. It’s another more “Private” (but still socially enabled) photo management app. My friends and I have been using it for years because it’s worked well for groups split between iOS and Android longer than the native options.
Get Your News
If you’re taking a break from social media for the reasons mentioned so far, the loss of your primary news and events source may seem like unfair collateral damage. It’s very important that your social media detox not feel like crawling under a rock.
While the subtle consequences of getting your news from Twitter and Facebook’s echo-chambered algorithms are well documented, a sense of connectedness to the greater society is an important “pillar” in the Social Wellness parthenon. So how can we remain informed and connected to our world without them?
No matter your preference for publisher, politics, or niche, here are two ways to consider supplementing your week with a dose of local, national, and international happenings.
Email Digests & Podcasts
If you’re looking to also limit your time spent immersed in the news (no one would blame you), I recommend trying daily or weekly email digest from your outlet of choice.
My personal favorite method for staying up on things are daily podcasts. Almost every publisher, outlet, pundit, and every sub-category of news has a thriving ecosystem of podcasters, and there are hundreds if not thousands of options for daily news (facts) and analysis (opinion). Most podcasts are free with some offering premium streams for those interested in more than one hour per day of listening.
Most importantly, the podcast movement of the last 10 years has revealed one crucial difference between television, radio, and internet mediums: format pressure. Whereas live TV and Radio are always pressured to generate hot-takes and sound-bites in limited time, internet formats like podcasts allow for deeper nuanced conversations, that seem to treat the listener with more intellectual respect.
Aggregators & RSS Feeds
Not looking to limit your access to the news? Consider using an aggregator or RSS reader to keep that stream coming in. If you just want the top headlines in the categories you’re interested in, Apple News (iOS only) or Flipboard are awesome. They allow you to select your interests, have a multitude of options for subcategories, and pull articles from the top publishers into your personalized feed.
If you need something a bit more custom than breaking news and top headlines, an RSS reader like Feedly might be more your speed. This will take a little longer to set up, but gives you access to almost every web publisher that has an RSS feed and allows you to customize everything from publishers, keywords, categories, and subtopics.
Finally, don’t forget the analog options of newspaper and radio (also available digitally in most cases). You might find that most reversions to the analog way of doing things carry rewards you forgot you were missing — including “less chance of Russian bots!”
Discover Local Events & Happenings
If you’re taking a break from social media for the reasons mentioned so far, the loss of your primary news and events source may seem like unfair collateral damage. It’s very important that your social media detox not feel like crawling under a rock.
Local Public Events
This could prove a little more difficult since Facebook Events certainly dominate today’s local scenes. That said, there’s a number of outlets that service the event scene that you can subscribe to and receive listings for what’s coming up near you. Ticket servicing sites like EventBrite, Ticketmaster, and Bandsintown are great sources, for example. Then there’s your local newspaper or arts and culture magazines. These are usually free in print at your local coffee shops and online as well.
When it comes to private events and parties that your friends and family are hosting, we know it’s easy for folks to create events and invite people through Facebook, so there are two things we’d recommend:
The first (and best option) would be to just make sure you stay in touch with the people who would invite you to those particular events. The more you’re in touch, the less likely they are to forget to invite you analog-style.
The second (riskier) option is to update your Facebook notification settings, to receive email notifications about events only. Here’s the tricky part: you’ll only receive the notifications, and it’ll be up to you to respond to the host directly, not through Facebook. If you can resist the temptation, go for it!
Hosting & Coordinating Events
Okay, so you want to host a party or organize an event yourself? How do you get people to show up? Consider using a service like Paperless Post, where you can send out evites and manage RSVPs. You’ll need emails for the people you send it out to, so make sure you’ve got those on hand, and you can always allow friends to bring others through the app. Trying to nail down the right date for a party? Try Doodle, it’ll give you the ability to send out a poll to the people you’d like to attend to see what day works best for everyone! If you don’t want to pay for it, there’s always the OG email thread or group SMS.
Pursue Hobbies & Interests
You may have noticed the only thing Facebook is proud of anymore is their Groups feature. They want you to know that Groups is the place to get advice from other Americans living in Korea when you forgot the pecans for your Thanksgiving dessert, or when you’ve moved to a new city… and yet still haven’t found the local Basset Hound Owners community. You’ve likely seen a new wave of commercials on these stories, and we’ll probably learn of another use case during the Super Bowl.
Fear not, these essentials (and more) can surely be addressed in other, time-tested ways. The concept of “online interest communities” is nothing new, and Groups are basically just “Facebook Forums.” The thing is, actual online forums are much more feature-rich and are always more specially designed for the actual thing you care about.
Try a Meetup
Real-life meetups are much more engaging and rewarding than simply socializing online. And you may have noticed that Facebook groups often suffer from the same dynamic as everything else on Facebook: people being unnaturally rude and unwelcoming. It’s weird.
Rather than let “Groups” keep you from fully disconnecting from Facebook, consider… literally anywhere else on the internet, which has quite a bit more to offer you on your hobby or passion, and in a much more “mature” and “personalized” format.
Over the same period of time, I’ve been a social media user I’ve also been a member of three “online communities” related to three of my long-time hobbies. I traveled around the country for events related to these hobbies — with others from these communities — and formed some of my most cherished relationships along the way.
First of all, forgive me. I wouldn’t let them edit that.
With that out of the way, let’s get into some of the hacks you can employ to boost your chances of a successful detox, no matter what your relationship to social media was, or your reasons for scaling back.
Turn Off Your Social-Media App Notifications
If you disagree with every word in this guide and choose to do nothing else outlined here, at least try disabling the notifications associated with your social media apps.
Continuing the trend of blunt honesty here: there is a reason Fabriq relies on push notifications primarily to help you build healthy habits like talking to, you know, your friends and family. That reason is our phones and its notifications are behavior modification devices. Make no bones about it. The only question is, which apps have been secretly modifying our behavior to make us more predictable for its advertisers, and which are offering healthy-habit-forming-as-a-service toward goals we set for ourselves.
Turning off your social media notifications removes the most dangerous weapon these services employ to addict you through dopamine responses to the pot-o-gold on the other side of that “Like” notification. Cutting them off is half the battle.
Delete Your Social Media Apps
A “social media detox” guide that leads with this recommendation is just wasting your time. As you can tell, the point of this guide is to thoroughly cover all the challenges around the periphery of simply deleting your social apps, because they are ultimately what will determine if you end up just reinstalling them. With that said, you probably know why fully deleting the apps is important.
It’s about dopamine. The reason you formed the habit of mindlessly checking social media when you’re bored in the first place is that your brain has been trained to use social media as one way it can effectively solve for negative or neutral emotional states like boredom and loneliness is to open up those apps.
Why? Well, in the second after you tap on the app icon, but before you even see anything on the screen, your brain is going wild with anticipation. The possibility of the “variable reward” is ultimately more important than what you actually find when you get there. This is why you have those little red badges on your apps. They represent something rewarding on the other side of that tap. It doesn’t matter what it is.
So for many of us, we need to remove the ability to feed or tempt these responses by deleting the apps entirely. (Don’t worry, this won’t actually delete your account on the majority of the platforms.)
If you want to take a wean-off approach to social media rather than walk away altogether, consider applying strict time limits to your usage. iOS and Android now have built-in options for managing screen time of certain apps, and there are browser plugins to do the same. Limiting to 15 minutes per day is a huge reduction for most people, and you might be surprised by how much of the ‘itch’ you can scratch without crossing over that limit.
Make a Point of Reflecting
This recommendation comes in two flavors. One, make a point of observing any anxiousness, nervousness, or uncomfortability that may arise in this process. Try to observe it as it happens. It’s inevitable. The goal is simply to be mindful of it when it comes up.
I had moments where a funny thought or joke passing through my brain created an involuntary reaction to reach into my pocket for my phone to share them (otherwise, nobody will know that I think I’m funny, right? Tragic.) only to soon recall that I’d deleted Facebook. Now, I could have gone right back to my daydreaming, but that would be missing the crucial opportunity to reflect and acknowledge what this occurrence really means about how my brain was wired.
I arrived at really powerful insights by reflecting on these little moments of compulsiveness as I was detoxing, and the ensuing disappointment only motivated me to double-down on my commitments. As a type-A person, I wouldn’t have kept it up without them.
For some, having another person to share these thoughts with, can be helpful too. Detoxing with a friend, partner, or family member helps keep you accountable to your commitment and gives you the much-needed support when things get tough. We call them “accountabili-buddies.” (I know…)
The second flavor of reflection is more deliberate and scheduled. Let’s say you set an intention to take a month off from social media. In this case, find time weekly to check in on how it’s going, how you’re feeling, what you miss, what you don’t miss, and which phenomena you’d characterize as expected or unexpected.
If you simply fill your newly freed hours with other distractions, if or when you return to social media, you might be overwhelmed with the task of reflecting on the entire month’s worth of ups and downs you had. So break it up, and keep your sense of progress on this intention closer to the surface of your consciousness.
Be Gentle with Yourself
A lot of this guide has dealt with questions and potential revelations that may cause discomfort as you unravel the extent to which social media is influencing your life. Be gentle with yourself as you ask yourself these questions, notice your behavior(s) more closely, and try to limit self-judgment along the way.
If the discovery of underlying motives in the social media behaviors you’ve read here creates a lens through which you see the social media use of others, then be gentle with them too. It’s important to understand the extent to which our society has been hacked by Silicon Valley behavioral designers over the last 15 years. Many of whom have recently started repenting while we wake up to their methods as if they created the housing bubble crisis of 2008 and are now offering to “fix things” (and sell more books). It’s not your fault.
Finally, this process is about replacing the truly ineffective means of pseudo-socialization and retraining ourselves on the methods of connection biologically proven to keep us safe and happy. So use them! Lean on your real friends and family to help you as you explore what life is like unchained from your feeds, and consider bringing them along for the ride, too!
Let Fabriq Help You
Fabriq is designed to let you safely step off the ledge of unhealthy or unwanted social media use, without the risk of losing touch with the people you care about.
Using your brain (and only your brain), you’ll think of the names of people who matter to you, and with whom you truly value connecting with and spending time. You should not expect an app to decide this part for you any more than you would expect an app to decide who should come to your wedding. It may take longer than 5 seconds, but it’s crucially important to get at least your top 20 people in at first. You can add the rest later.
Our users tell us this prioritization exercise is, surprisingly, a very powerful and rewarding experience — and it happens in the first five minutes of using Fabriq.
After you think through family, friends, mentors, colleagues, neighbors, etc. and add them to your Fabriq, increase your chances of detox success by telling them (on social media or otherwise) before you go dark. Explain how you’re taking them with you, because they matter that much.
Make It Fun, and Social!
Consider how much easier it would be for you and your friends and family to scale back on social media use if you made a collective intention for 2021 to remain connected through other means while taking a break from the posting and scrolling? Remember, this isn’t an “everything digital detox.” It’s not about vilifying everything tech. It’s about taking a closer look at our behaviors, waking up to why we truly use certain apps, and discovering how it all makes us feel.
Tell Us How It’s Going!
Email firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know how your detox experience is going.
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Science-backed and the first of its kind, Fabriq is designed to improve your social health and make building better social habits easy, so you can focus on what (and who) really matters.
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