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I stopped reading social media (sort of) now what?
I'm part-way through my declaration to stay off of social media websites for 37 days in honor of my Great-Grandma Arizona. My experience so far is not what I expected. - photo by Amy Choate-Nielsen
First thing in the morning and last thing at night. Thats when I miss social media the most.

Im supposed to be out of the cyber world until the end of the month thats what I decided to do to honor my Great-Grandmother Arizona, who died at exactly my age, 103 years ago this month. But things havent exactly turned out as I planned.

In the first week that I stopped checking my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds, it wasnt too hard for me to move those icons to the last page of my phone and never swipe left. But first thing in the morning, I was accustomed to scrolling through some kind of social media to slowly coax my brain out of sleep. Instagram and Facebook kept me mildly interested, enough to wake me up a bit, so it was a habit.

In the absence of Instagram, I turned to the news.

It does the job of waking me up, but it can be a little more distressing, waking up to the specter of violence and horror in the world. In the morning, I miss the Instagram feed I follow that is made solely of cute cats doing adorable things. At the end of a week, I decided to check my progress by checking my social media. I know, its a totally backwards lame excuse I gave myself to dip my toe into Facebook and evaluate if I was becoming more enlightened by staying away. And is that what I am trying to accomplish?

I cant put my finger on what social media does to me. I was pretty late to the smartphone game, so I didnt even know what Instagram was until about two years after everyone else, but I started my own blog in 2005, I had a little MySpace profile, and I knew what Pinterest was, so I thought I was pretty up to speed. When I decided to step away from all of those social sites for 37 days, it wasnt because I thought I had a problem. I look at Instagram maybe two times a day, Facebook maybe once a day. I havent tweeted about myself in months, I havent Snapchatted in longer than that, and I dont count Marco Polo video messaging or GroupMe for group messaging in the group of web venues in which we brag about ourselves and spy on each other.

Maybe social media makes me cynical. Maybe Im already a little cynical, but social media also makes me judgmental. I dont know. Theres a part of me that is wary of Facebook simply for the fact that I dont exactly know how looking at it affects me. Is it possible that it changes me in no way? Or is it like a saccharin that scientists will tell me in five years causes cancer?

Anyway, after a week, I took a peek.

I found out that a friends mother had died, a neighbors house had been broken into, a friend was pregnant and had her first baby, my niece is going to Harvard and a dear friend had a relapse with cancer and was in the hospital getting ready for chemotherapy.

I was stunned.

I wasnt missing out on the trends of the day or fodder for water-cooler chatter, I was missing out on actual news about people I care about. I felt sad, like there was a breach in our connection. I felt like I should have known what was happening to them, so I could let them know I loved them and I cared.

As more time has gone on, I have come to realize that for me, social media is like a conversation. When someone else posts something thats important to them, its the opening of an interlude between us. And I have missed posting videos of my funny kids, or pithy observations, or photos of something pretty, because I miss the conversation that sometimes follows. I take the photos for myself and the memory anyway, but now there is silence.

So what is that about? Is silence the thing that is saccharin, and am I becoming dependent on a filtered world for connection? Or, is this conversation I have with friends from all over the country about the first time I did a pull-up just a fun little thing that really has no consequence in society?

Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

Arizona never had to figure these things out, but that doesnt mean I cant. When I do, it will be on my terms occasional peeks and all.