By: Adrienne Williams, TDR Staff Writer
At Three Day Rule, I am the go-to social media gal. At any given moment, you can find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr or Pinterest. My head is buried in my laptop and/or smartphone for 16 hours per day, 5-6 days per week. That adds up to approximately 5,000 hours that I spend online per year. Social media is a 24/7 job. I am always thinking of the next thing to post, re-post, tweet and re-tweet. So, I’m always “on”. I never truly paid attention to how it affected my personal relationships until I had a personal social media breakthrough.
When I would go out on dates, I was never really paying attention to what was happening. My date would do his best to woo me, but I would only hear bits and pieces of what he was saying. I was waiting for him to say or do something off-the-wall so I could write about it on my blog. I would snap a photo of my gorgeous meal for Instagram before saying “Thank You” to my date for going out of his way to feed me. Whenever my date would get up to go to the bathroom, I was checking my likes, updating hashtags, checking emails, and answering Tinder messages – rather than just enjoying the evening.
I went on date after date making no connections. My conversations with friends revolved around the implications of Instagram posts, what we learned about ourselves from a Buzzfeed quiz and crafting the perfect text message to our exes. But, I started to notice a problem. The more digitally connected I felt, the less connected I felt in real life. I was disconnected from my physical surroundings, my career and even potential mates. I hit a wall.
Last summer I challenged myself to go “Facebook Free” for the entire summer. I thought I would last for two weeks and go right back to it, but what happened was completely unexpected. I ended up having a life-changing summer.
By simply putting my phone down, I learned a few valuable lessons:
1. I learned how to be in the moment. While taking a break from Facebook, my general phone use naturally decreased as well. I became far less concerned with my phone and began to just revel in every single moment. Jack White is one of my favorite musicians and I had the opportunity to see him in concert last summer. Before he began to perform, he made an announcement that gave me confirmation that I was making the right choice in putting my phone down for a while. He said something to the effect of, “Ladies & gentleman, I have hired a wonderful photographer to take photos throughout the night. I want you to put your phones down and enjoy the show. That’s what you came here for, right?” You could see the look of panic throughout the theater. No one really knew what to do. But, everyone knew he was right. The show was electrifying, because every single person (well, most, lets be honest) was simply in the moment and the energy was palpable. There were moments I would have missed if had been “checking-in” to the venue and thinking of the right hashtags.
2. I was reminded that truly connecting with people actually takes effort. Smartphones have become so efficient that we’ve actually become lazy. Remember when we had to pick up a phone to find out what was going on that weekend? During my digital break, I did just that. Since I wasn’t able to access a social media calendar or announcements, I had to pick up the phone and call my friends. The responses were comical and frustrating. “Wow. Adrienne. You’re calling to see what’s going on this weekend? How very 1997 of you.” “What do you mean? Didn’t you see my Facebook invite?” Yes, it was annoying at first and time-consuming, but the phone calls I was making gave way to conversations that maybe never would have happened. I also found myself suffering from severe FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), that I was accepting date offers more often. I no longer had the option of swiping through options. I wasn’t able to keep up with my friends lives’ while in bed or at the gym. I had to actually connect.
3. I began to focus on my dates, not me or anyone else. Dating has seemingly become a numbers game. We don’t settle because we can afford not to. We don’t give people our full attention, because we don’t have to. When my phone was no longer glued to my hand, I began to focus on who was in front me. I was listening more intently to what my date was saying and picking up on cues that I maybe would have missed before. I also noticed that the pressure to brag about my date was removed. I was no longer waiting for signals to take the perfect “Ussie”. I wasn’t rushing to the end goal of changing my relationship status. I just listened and focused. I met someone during this break and had a whirlwind experience. On our first date he said something that stayed with me. He said “Wow, most women I go out with are checking their phone every 15 minutes. You haven’t picked yours up once. That’s impressive.” I never even realized I was one of those people until I made a conscious effort to connect with my dates.
4. We are far more interesting than anything going on in your phone right now. In the digital world, the phrase “content is king” is something you hear quite often. When you put your phone down and focus on the here and now, YOU become the content. Not only is it important for you to put your phone down once in a while, it’s also important for you to be present, participatory and engaging so your date doesn’t even remember that they have a phone. It sounds backwards, but the more questions you ask, the more interesting you become to your date. If I look back at the best dates I ever had, there were lots of questions asked. The questions led to great conversation. Those conversations lead to questions of my own and the cycle continued until a connection was established… without a phone in sight.
5. I was forced to learn and trust rather than research and suspect. Admit it. We all do the pre-date Google search, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram check. While dating during my social hiatus, I wasn’t interested in my phone at all, so doing an extensive online search was no longer a part of my pre-date ritual. I had to learn about my date from the person who knows them best, my date! While doing an online search about your date is not a bad idea, from a safety perspective, it gets a little dicey when we rely on it too heavily. I’ve been on dates where I did so much research, that by the time I got to our first date, I knew everything about my date that he could possibly tell me. I came off as unimpressed and even cold. My point is that putting your phone down before your date can benefit you just as much as it does during your date. Limit your search to 15 minutes and let your date take it from there.
Live in the moment. Make an effort to connect with new people and even familiar faces. Focus on the person in front you, and only them. You may like what you see. Be so compelling that you don’t even know what kind of phone your date has. Let go a little and trust.
Do I still spend several hours on my phone? I certainly do. Old habits die hard. But, I leave it in my purse on a date. I shut it off on a great date. Last year’s challenge taught me that when I put down my phone amazing things can happen.