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    A Blog from GradHacker and MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters and Social Sciences Online


Breaking Up With Social Media

Put down your phone.

April 5, 2017

Kathleen Moore is a Ph.D. candidate in Higher Education at the University of Toronto. You can follow her on Twitter @kathleenmoore_ where she tweets about graduate education, mental health, and disability.



Several GradHackers have written about how graduate students can use technological tools to not only enhance their productivity (See here and here), but also to establish and build a strong digital identity (See here, here, and here). My love for social media began when I started my doctoral program. I checked all my social media accounts before I even got out of bed. I often justified my time on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn because of ongoing recommendations that graduate students need to build their online presence. Checking my social media accounts soon began to occupy a significant portion of my day. I checked Facebook compulsively to see if I had missed anything since the last time I was on there (likely two minutes prior). I caught up on the news by regularly scrolling through my Twitter timeline. There was something about getting so much information in one place that appealed to me, not to mention I could make new connections with folks I otherwise wouldn’t have talked to. I loved social media and had a fear of missing out if I was not on it all the time.  


Breaking Up

I recall realizing social media was affecting my productivity when I started to fall behind in my program. I tried some different applications (like Pomodoro) to help me focus on writing, but in the end, they didn’t really work for me.


There will be points in your program where you really feel the pressure to focus and get some sort of task done. The task could be a checkpoint such as completion of a course paper, comprehensive exams, dissertation proposals, ethics, data collection, data analysis, or the final write-up. For me, my dissertation proposal had to get finished to achieve candidacy. This is when I came up with the idea of not using social media until I finished it.


Easy, right? How hard can it be to not log in to your social media accounts?


Temporarily quitting social media didn’t work initially. I could go without it for a couple days, but then I would cave and log back in. When I realized this, I gave all the passwords to a friend. I told this person to change my passwords and not give them to me until I was done my proposal.


During this time without social media, I had feelings of:

1. Embarrassment. I had to literally give my passwords to someone because I didn’t trust myself to not log in. Enough said.

2. Loneliness. I often felt cut off from my people. I still had a close support network but it didn’t feel the same as when I was on social media.

3. Anticipation. I couldn’t wait to get my proposal done so I could get back onto my accounts!


It took about three months to get the proposal done. It was agonizing, but it worked. In a great post called “Now You See Me… Now You Don’t,” Regina Sierra Carter reflects on disappearing during the final writing period of the dissertation. “Remember: you are practicing social abstinence. It’s temporary. Once you are done with the dissertation, life will (hopefully) resume its regularly scheduled programming.” In my case, once I was done with my proposal, I resumed my social media usage. This is the main thing that kept me going.


And in addition to having a completed proposal, there were two other main benefits to take a social media break:


1. Reduced fear of missing out. One of the reasons I check my social media accounts so often is because I am afraid that I am missing out on something (I’m sure many of you feel this way about e-mail too!). When I was taking a social media break, this feeling began to subside. Eventually, this fear didn’t even bother me anymore. Interestingly, when I got back on social media I remember being excited but then realizing that the things I missed out on weren’t really that important to begin with.


2. Increased focus. Logging out meant my brain had fewer things to process. On Twitter, you are being exposed to a lot of information and your brain is trying to keep up with processing this. When you try to start writing afterwards, there’s a transition period where your brain is still processing what you saw on Twitter. Not being on social media meant there was one less thing for my brain to process and it made it easier to get into a writing groove.


If you are thinking about taking a break from social media, you might also consider your internet use. Another GradHacker, Natascha Chtena, wrote a wonderful piece called “How Killing Your Home Internet Can Boost Your Productivity.” Chtena shares benefits of not having the internet at home: more time to think and write, more time for non-academic reading, increased feelings of calm and well-being, reduced computer vision syndrome, and better sleep quality.


How to Make it Work

In the posts by Regina Sierra Carter and Natascha Chtena, the authors provide insights into what to expect when you are disappearing to write or taking a break from home internet. Examples of these suggestions include: paying attention to your caller ID, looking and acting determined when in public, hiding out in your writing space, being prepared for your life(style) to change, communicating your altered schedule to those who might be affected by it, and being patient with yourself. I agree with these suggestions and would add the following:


1. Think about why you use social media to begin with. Are you using it to build your online presence? Stay up to date on the lives of friends? Share research findings? Finding out your rationale for using social media can allow you to set yourself up for a successful social media break. Think about other ways you can fill the void that you might feel because you can’t do whatever it was you were doing on social media. For example, are there other ways you could connect with colleagues aside from Twitter? Can you catch up with friends in person rather than on Facebook?


2. Consider the goal. If you are taking a social media break to complete something, you need to know that there is some sort of end to this. Be clear about what you are going to achieve during this break. Is it one question for your comprehensive exam? Your research ethics proposal? Write this on a sticky note and put it somewhere where you can see it.


3. Be honest with yourself. I’ve done a couple of these breaks now (for my proposal and my ethics application) and when I tell people I did this they sometimes respond with how they also want to take a social media break. Some people (like myself), however, can’t say, “I’m not going on Twitter” and follow through with it. There will be people who say they are doing this and then go back to social media within days. If you really want a break, you need to be honest with yourself about whether you are going to be able to keep your passwords and stay off your accounts. If you can’t (like me), give your passwords to someone else and talk to that person about your goal and why you are doing this. Yes, it might suck, but, in the end, if it helps move you forward in your program it’s worth it.


Have you taken a social media break before? If so, what challenges did you experience? How did you make it work?


[Image by Flickr user Yoel Ben-Avraham and used under Creative Commons licensing.]


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