The Unfollowing

I did an experiment. It might have been the single most important experiment I’ve ever done. This one feels less like a fad diet for my brain, and more like the start of significant change to my existence. Here’s how it went down.

The fatigue of third trimester is overwhelming. I spend very little of my days on my feet, barely able to keep enough air in my lungs to stand and do the dishes in one fell swoop. Occasionally I forget to eat on time and find myself dizzy, hot and shaking, and I have to sit down while my heart races and I stuff sugary crackers into my face and suck down yet another glass of water.

This forced slowing of my physical existence has been uncomfortable for so many reasons. I had just reached a pretty decent level of fitness and strength when I found out I was pregnant, and then the SPD kicked in and exercise caused me an unreal amount of pain. I had enjoyed being active and busy and strong. Suddenly I felt weak and tired, and I hurt. I didn’t have much choice – I had to stop. Without my outward busyness, I felt my brain begin to churn.

The only things I had to occupy my time were the things I could do from my chair. Most of these things involved overthinking, worrying, fretting, or researching frantically for an instant solution. Things that I had previously felt strongly about but not worried about, like my contribution to the plastic pollution issue, became large and looming monsters, and every scrap of plastic film wrapping that entered my house became my personal failure to do anything useful. I was single-handedly destroying the planet.

I had been doing well at removing my smartphone from my life, little at a time, but the restless nights have left me reaching for something to scroll or look at while I lie awake, battling the acid reflux, and tiny feet stretch up into my ribs, and I have to get up to pee – again. I caught myself sucked into the endless scroll-refresh-switch apps-scroll-refresh-switch habit, and all I got from it was a sense of self-loathing and frustration. I felt depression sneaking in. I knew I had to change something.

I picked up my computer and went to Facebook. This was the first and most vicious suck on my life. The infinite clickbait, irrelevant information, advertising, sales posts, political bickering, and posts telling me that somebody I barely knew had “liked” something I had never heard of. It had to go. I’ve tried uninstalling the app before, and all that ends up happening is I use Safari to read Facebook instead. It doesn’t work for me. I needed to change my whole experience of Facebook.

I have been unfollowing various pages and people for a while now, just to strip out things that no longer applied to my life – dance pages, London news and updates, people I met once 8 years ago and don’t even recall how I met them. It removed a lot of miscellany from my newsfeed, but I still had far too much meaningless distraction showing up. This time, I had to be more extreme. I unfollowed everyone. People I knew as acquaintances, people who were business connections, people who were friends, people who were my family – everybody. I panicked a little as I did it. FOMO, the fear of missing out, used to be a joke on the radio, but now it’s a real issue for a lot of people. As I clicked the “unfollow” button over and over again, I had to take a breath and remind myself that I could always refollow at any time. This was just an experiment. A few people slipped through the net, or I just took advantage of the “snooze for 30 days” function to see if I could live without the constant updates and still feel like I was a real person.

Not just people, but the pages of things I had “liked” over the years. Some of them got full on “Unlike” treatment, others just got unfollowed. I kept a precious few, carefully chosen pages to keep seeing in my newsfeed. One was the Slow Your Home page, home of the podcast that started these thoughts in my head. Another was Plastic Free July, because I can’t pretend that I don’t care about plastic and how to reduce my consumption of it – I really, really do care about that. I kept a couple of Buckaroo and Vaquero pages, because they’re beautiful, and I still like to see beautiful things.

The result was a newsfeed that contained maybe six posts. It had nothing to refresh most of the time. When something came up that I hadn’t remembered consciously keeping, it got unfollowed, or hidden, or whatever else I could click to make it go away. I still get notifications about things that are to do with me or my business pages, so I don’t miss out on anything that is actually important. If my family or good friends need to reach me, they have my phone number, and I still have messenger active. All that other people may notice is that I am less of a presence on Facebook now. I won’t see most things to “like” them, so if you had exciting news of your own to share, the likelihood is that I won’t see it any longer. I’d have to actively go and look you up – which I do!

The sense of control is a huge relief. I still open the app on my phone out of habit, but there’s nothing there to tempt me into keeping it open. I am beginning to close it again within seconds, and the number of times a day that I open it at all are dropping. The FOMO is disappearing rapidly, now that I can see that I am missing nothing. I’m gaining space in my head and my day.

Space to really think about how I’m feeling about being a parent. The chilling observations in this article (Can We Ever Kick Our Smartphone Addiction?) which The Light Phone shared, about how technology is destroying our ability to be actual parents, and it’s our children who are suffering, made me feel sick, terrified, outraged. I resolved to be better than that. Oh god, I want to be better than that. I want to be the kind of mother who watches her baby feeding, however dull it may be, rather than scrolling, scrolling, scrolling.

The mass unfollowing had a curious knock-on effect for me. I stopped getting lured into Instagram, beyond a quick look at the posts at the top of my feed. I stopped mindlessly scrolling Pinterest too. I set my computer down, tired of it, and pick up a pen, or a book. I’m more open to self-reflection – something we laughed about at university – rather than distraction. I glance at the strategies to revolutionise my world and realise most of them won’t work for me, but instead of feeling disheartened, I am becoming more focused on figuring out the solutions for myself.

I think it’s a good thing. I strongly recommend an Unfollowing of your own.

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