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I'm Thinking About Quitting
What I learned about meta-quitting from sober October
Last month, I participated in sober October as part of a shared experience for a network that I am a member of. Because drinking is not a vice of mine—sounds like something an alcoholic would say, but no really—I elected to participate with a sobriety from social media instead.
Literally speaking, it was a success. I did not use Facebook, Twitter or Instagram in October. I failed however to achieve what I’d hoped for. Here’s why.
What went wrong
Twitter is my biggest vice of the major social media platforms. It’s something I hop on for a 5-10 minute break at different junctions throughout the day, always hooked up to my IV drip for novelty. The problem I wanted to solve was that I wasn’t actually getting any value out of this practice. By the end of most days, I might have easily totaled to up to an hour or more of mindless scrolling, and gained no information that one 10 minute scroll at the beginning or the end of the day wouldn’t have delivered.
So what did I do when this wasn’t an option?
Well, in those same 5-10 minute windows between my day-to-day workflow, I…
Mindlessly scrolled through emails
Mindlessly scrolled though my google news feed
…At best, I would pull open an app like Duolingo to practice my Ukrainian or read an article I’d bookmarked from earlier—but not as often as I’d have hoped.
What I’d hoped for
As I was going into this experience, I had a vision in the back of my mind for what I wanted to replicate. I should have known that going about it in a different way would lead to different results.
Sometime over the last year, I elected to do something similar, and block off a window of time where I would not use any screens from 5pm to 8pm. This time became a major value add to my evening creative time, my relationship as I was able to be fully in the moment during times like dinner, my reading goals and more. At some point, I fell out of this practice. I had hoped that this social media hiatus would give me a re-entry into a heightened sense of presentness as a daily feature of my lived experience. Evidently, it didn’t.
Thinking about the difference between these 2 tactics is what got me to sit down and riff out this post. Here’s where I think they differ.
Do I owe a royalty to Zuckerberg now for using the word Meta? If there are any qualms, tell him to reach me on Urbit.
“Meta means about the thing itself. It's seeing the thing from a higher perspective instead of from within the thing, like being self-aware.” — Urban Dictionary
This is relevant because in thinking about my attempt to achieve heightened presence, I realized that I needed to quit more than the thing itself. I needed to quit the thing about the thing. In my case, the thing about the thing was all my light up rectangles.
Think of the things as part of a hierarchical structure. In my case, thing A—social media channels—, was nested below thing B—light up rectangles. I thought I could achieve the result I wanted by quitting just thing A, but I had to go up the chain to quit thing B. I had to get over the sickness, not the symptom.
But wait, there’s more!
Running this as a draft through the same network I referenced above illuminated something I hadn’t originally thought of; There is another thing, we’ll call it thing C, and to continue to instill this positive change in myself, I next need to seek out where I can change this behavior.
One peer put it best:
The experiment was not a failure because it revealed that what you interpret as your vice is the shadow of the true vice. Identifying the true vice is definitely hard, and might be a process. Knowing you, my prevailing theory is not actually rectangle addiction, but rather fear of boredom, of stillness, of stagnation.
Whoa, you’re right buddy. Changing a pattern of behavior that deep might be harder than abdicating from a specific action, but it’s not impossible. I’ve already thought about how to exit fear.
Could the same logic be applied to trying to quit alcohol? Hard to say definitively, but take a look at WebMD’s high risk for alcoholism factors and call them our thing C level ‘thing about the thing’. Seeking meta-change in at least 3 out of the 7 might offer a more direct and longer lasting abstinence than laying down the bottle.
Correction: I used social media one time last month, and it was to hop on and share a super fantastic album that a good buddy put out.
He describes it in his own words as "Recorded alone in a closet, “One of Us” is Cole’s damndest yet, living uncomfortably on the outskirts of rock and roll, western and indie.” You can listen to it anywhere here.
Next week, I’m going to talk about a cutting edge scientist’s take on the boundary of a ‘self’.
One step at a time.