Sunday, March 3, 2013

I quit Twitter and Facebook for the month of February and I’m a better husband, father, and worker because of it

I can almost guarantee that you won’t read this entire piece.  As a matter of fact, the first thing your brain did when you opened it was to scan the amount of text and you have already subconsciously labeled this as “too long”.  You see, Facebook, Twitter and news headlines have trained us to digest information in many, many small snippets and that’s a problem.  You already want to leave here and read the next update.

30 minutes in

On an average day my morning commute is about forty-five minutes and about six weeks ago I was thirty minutes into it when I realized that I left my iPhone at home. 

“Damn it.”  I said to my windshield as I assessed my day and realized that it wouldn't make sense to go back for it.  “I’ll be naked today, I guess.”  Yes, that was my first thought. Naked.

Something occurred to me at the end of that day.  The entire day seemed less hectic, with fewer interruptions, and I was much more focused.  Hmm, maybe I was on to something? 

Little Sugary Morsels of Data

A fair estimate on the number of emails I receive on a typical work day is anywhere from 100-200.  On an average day of 150 “important messages”, that’s about 1 email every 3 minutes.   Imagine working on an important presentation or report, composing a proposal for a client, or preparing an agenda for a meeting and every 3 minutes: Ding, Popup.  Ding, Popup. Ding.  You get the idea.

Like Pavlov’s dogs, over time email had subconsciously trained my brain that it was going to get little sugary morsels of data about every three minutes.  Rather than salivate like the dogs when a bell rang, I was constantly interrupted in what I was thinking and over time, my brain learned to want this.  Even if I didn't physically stop and read the email, I saw the popup and used some mental processing power to assess whether or not I should reply now, wait, or I began to think about my reply or action.

Over the past 15 years, without knowing it, email was teaching my brain to learn how to not concentrate for long periods of time and it created a ‘seeking out data’ addiction. After a while - I did such a perfect job at feeding this addiction that all it wanted was data – every 3 minutes.  Hear a ding?  Check email!  Get out of an appointment?  Check email!  Stop at a red light?  You get the idea. 

Home is where your brain is

This trained seeking behavior didn't stop when I walked through the door at home.  My brain still nagged every three minutes “SUGARY MORSEL!”

Because “I read the entire internet to you don’t have to”, I fell in love with Google Reader, a website aggregation tool.  After a few years of using the site, I found myself subscribed to approximately 250 websites and each time they posted a new article – it was fed into my Reader subscription.  If email was a sugary morsel, then reading and marking all of the feeds as unread was like crack. I had it bad.

Social media, it’s being SOCIAL! 

“Sales guy.”  “Makes friends easily.” “Class clown.”  “Open and sharing.” “Seeking the sugary morsel.”
All relevant and accurate facts about me, and a perfect entrée into becoming (too?) deeply engaged with social media.

Facebook is the perfect storm for a guy like me.  I can connect with friends and coworkers in a social way, share interesting insights, status updates, photos, and why am I still explaining Facebook to you? The sugary morsels within Facebook are multi-dimensional and after considering them together, I think you’ll have a deeper understanding why Facebook is so addictive.

For the information seeker:  Status updates!  For the person who desires attention: Likes and comments!  For the visual person: Pictures! For the social: Sharing!  For the lonely: Connection! When you add notifications of likes and comments, Facebook delivers drugs for all kinds of addicts.

Mark  Zuckerberg has built a crack factory where we, the users, fabricate the crack but we have to come back to HIM to get it.  I should really buy some stock.

Dr. Seeker

Twitter isn’t just sugary morsels or even crack, Twitter is these two combined – and times one hundred for me.  Email was like grade school training for my doctorate in Twitter.

Twitter allows all of the same human connections as Facebook, but brings something big and new to the table: Speed.

For me, the speed at which the content on Twitter is delivered is most appealing.  My friends on Facebook only post maybe once a day or just a few times per week, but the people I follow on Twitter are constantly updating.  I also follow three and a half times the number of people on Twitter than I do on Facebook. 

If there is large event occurring, launching Twitter to read about it in near real time is a perfect high for my seeking brain.  I joined Twitter in March of 2008 and as of today I have composed and delivered 21,360 tweets. That’s about 12 tweets per day on average.  Maybe more interesting is that I follow 620 people (down from almost 800 a month ago).  If they are posting 12 tweets per day, I can digest 7,440 packets of crack in cute, 140 character updates, every day. 

Just do it

On January 31st, I tweeted “Could you give up Twitter and Facebook for a month? I'm thinking about doing 

When I told my wife that I was doing it, she said (lovingly) “You’ll never be able to do it.”
Then I did it.  I went cold turkey for 28 days.  I deleted all apps and shortcuts and didn't compose a status update or read either site for the month of February.  

I also turned off all visual and audible email notifications on my iPhone and on my desktop.  I even changed the settings on my phone to download email every hour as opposed to the push settings I had previously selected.

The results

My fellow seeking addicts won’t want to read this part.  Get ready to hate me, because it’s all true.
Primarily, I felt calmer and this sense of peace was evident almost immediately.  The need to devour data, read updates, and interact was waning and doing so quickly.  No constant checking of my phone for emails, replies, updates, and messages.

I found that I had more free time to do “things”.  Not plopping myself in front of the computer to read Twitter and Facebook easily saved me 2 hours a day to do other things that were clearly more important.  Like reading a real book or engaging thoughtfully with the family.

According to my wife, I was a better father and husband.  I interacted much more with the girls, offered to help more with homework and to play together.  Becky and I had deeper and more intimate conversations.  We really connected and stayed connected mentally.

I was able to concentrate better for longer periods of time at work and felt like I was much better prepared mentally for the regular challenges of being a successful sales manager.  I had better one on ones with my reps, and made more strategic as opposed to reactionary decisions.

I also became acutely attuned to observing others addictions.  Everywhere I went - I couldn't help but notice how many people had their face in their phones, or who were distracted by a DING or BEEP or buzz of a notification.  You've got it bad, people.  Really bad.

What’s next?

I can’t get rid of email and I don’t want to get rid of Facebook and Twitter, so I’m back on both sites and will continue to use them.  However, I've already begun to reduce the number of people I follow and who I am friends with in an effort to eliminate the noise.

I've turned off 100% of all notifications, badges, sounds, replies, and pop ups on for email, Twitter and Facebook.  I plan on only reading each a few times a day and focusing on finding the balance.

After all, isn't most of life about finding the balance?

- S. Patrick Kaine

Two sites you may find interesting:

Just how fast does Twitter deliver information?  Check out

Avoid News Towards a Healthy News Diet By Rolf Dobelli


  1. Great post. I've definitely felt overwhelmed here and there with social media, however, if it's a part of your life via your job, quitting isn't so easy, I think the best thing to do is find a balance that includes social media.

    This same type if article could have been written after the invention of the phone. "Instead of calling my friends on the talkie box, I wrote them letters and visited their houses and I can tell you, I felt more connected than ever."

    I think we all can benefit from bing more aware of our social media habits, however. Reading fun articles like this, you can get a better perspective on how you use it in your life and perhaps modify at usage so you aren't neglecting other facets.

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment, George. You're right, when social media is part of your job - it's impossible to give it up completely and you, of all people, better not! You do a great job at keeping it fun and positive.

      We will continue to find the balance together.

  2. I actually do not find your post as well as your revelations and your decisions going forward very surprising.

    I am encountering more and more people who are giving up their phones/smartphone's entirely and going to a tablet device instead. When I asked about phone calls, they will use VOiP or some other means. I also inquired about "emergency" (i.e. family stuff) situations. None seemed particularly worried about this.

    Though I am not necessarily ready to take that step, nor adopt all of your changes, I too made changes recently. I get no audible notification of email. I check it when I check it, though admittedly I do find myself regularly looking at my device.

    Your experience and outcome will obviously serve you, your wife and your daughters very well...kudos!


    1. Your observations are interesting, Scott. People are finding ways to use technology and being connected so quickly. If you think back to how communication has changed throughout history - there was Gutenberg and then there was Social Media. What will be next?

  3. I have cut back as well - not checking my phone while playing and interacting with the kids. It's a start! I feel I was raised well, and I didn't even have my own computer with Internet until 2000. Thanks for the article - and for some motivation!

    1. Allison, I feel like it's easy to start something casually - then the next thing you know - it's more than casual. Being home with the kids more probably lends itself to you wanting to connect with the outside more?

  4. Wow... what a fantastic read! (And yes, I read the entire thing!) The irony of learning about this post from someone on Twitter makes me smirk a little...

    As I was reading through it, I couldn't help but wonder what was going to happen at the end. To list off all the positive changes throughout the month... and then get back onto Facebook and Twitter to tell the world about it seemed "2 steps forward, 1 step back" ... but it looks to me like you are actively striving for that balance. You're waaaaaay ahead of me! :-)

    It's only been 3 days though... I hope you do a follow up post at some point!

    1. Stephen, you make a very fair point... I honestly didn't know what I was going to do after the month was up - however - it never involved quitting completely.

      I look at this like a diet. You still have to eat, so control it, right?

  5. Good post. Some of the problem doesn't seem to be social media but more about how you configure media on your phone. I turn notifications off for almost everything because I hate my phone chirping at me all the time. Email and social media notifications could make for a pretty annoying experience.

    I've learned there are times to shut off both when I need to work. While I'm on leave I make Mondays my only email day, and when I have to be writing I close down Tweetdeck.

    Facebook's the hard one. I've been thinking about leaving Facebook for a while and the only tug is that it's how our families (all based in California) keep up with us.

    1. Jeremy,

      I've been thinking about your comment a lot. I believe you may have nailed the number one culprit - notifications.

      I've turned almost all of them off now, even the red icons. I'll get to them when I get to them, right?

      Thanks for your great (as always) insight.