Last March, my oncologist told me that the probability of my surviving a PALB2 Breast Cancer cancer diagnosis (though early stages) without massive intervention would be about 20%.

Twelve months and aforementioned interventions later, it’s more like 98% to 99%.

This change in percentage outlook has required work, soul searching thinking and extensive research.  

It’s no surprise that I have been thinking about what is important to me. 

One change for me has been my use of social media, email and the internet in general.

Being “connected” virtually has become a lot less important to me. It’s got a lot to do with focus, which was the topic of my last piece of mail to you. 

I haven’t wholly disconnected my social media accounts; it’s just that I rarely use them these days. When I do check back in, it’s for a particular reason and for a brief time.

For years I have enjoyed Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. I’ve loved telling stories, creating graphics and being involved in groups. Social media can a great tool for reconnecting with old friends or keeping up with what is happening with friends and family elsewhere in the world. 

Yet I feel uncomfortable with the ever-increasing issues coming to light of subtle manipulation, media persuasion, addiction and surveillance capitalism.

Social media’s primary goal is to keep you on social media for as long as possible. The engineers, behaviorist and algorithms employed by these profiles figured out that negativity ramps up engagement. The more outraged and anxious you become the more you’re likely to share, comment and keep scrolling. It’s an evolutionary bias in humans that, intentionally or not, creates a feedback loop.

I notice people glued to their screens, “doom scrolling” for the latest updates on the crises in the world and are oblivious to the world around them? When out and about in the community, the usual conversation I hear are war, COVID, illnesses, stress, mental health problems, cruelty, confrontation, voices of disrespect for other points of view.

I ponder the reports from the research that say the increased screen time we are subjected to has led to increased attention problems and hyperactivity, especially in children (ADHD). I bet it’s connected to the perceived uptick in poor adult behaviors too like: increased hostility, poor emotional control and a general lack of respect and civility.

My answer to what was the straw that broke the camel’s back is a fairly obvious one.

There’s nothing like an existential diagnosis to make one sit and re-evaluate… well… everything… Especially time.

Someone once said to me: “The average human lifespan is 39,420,000 minutes if you are lucky. How are you currently spending your life minutes? Where are they going? 

And are you OK with that?”

I became unhappy with my answers and stepped back from it all. I then filled my newly liberated minutes with family, good friends, reading for pleasure, preparing and enjoying good food, exercise and getting out into nature. 

The benefits I’ve noticed include sleeping well and being better able to manage my day. My time has become flexible. There are rarely any feelings of overwhelm, and I’m getting things I want to do, done. I’m back to taking long walks, indulging in mind wandering and enjoying being creative again. I’m not too worried about getting things “right” because there is time to repeat

Was it easy to do? Yes… and no.

First I removed all social media apps from my phone that way the only way I can check them is when I’m at my desk on my computer. I also use the focus mode feature on my phone to silence notifications during work and “me” time. *Kudos to Apple for building these features into iOS – I assume (hope?) there are equivalents on Android phones as well. If you’re aware of these kinds of tools drop me a note about them so I can spread the word. 

I also power off my phone at 9pm and it doesn’t get turned back on until 7am. 

Next I started evaluating the multitude of newsletters I receive in email. Not all at once – just as they’d come in. More often than not when I’d ask myself “do I really need this information?” – the answer was no… So.. “unsubscribe”!

I often answer texts by picking up the phone calling back, and asking a friend if they are OK? Every day, I reach out to someone I haven’t spoken to within a short while. Not texting has resulted in having better and deeper connections where I can “hear” the tone in a voice or the intake of a breath, which leads to a better understanding and a deeper connection.

Our small communities have nurtured and nourished us through sharing common values and intentions. They have also helped to provide psychological and spiritual support. With this healthy support and time to think, we can more easily  “tune” into our intuition and creativity.

Is turning down or turning off social media and the internet for everyone? Perhaps not. 

I’m still working through this and taking you along with me.

If you are like me though, you will love the changes that come back into your life.

They include more time, a feeling of space, a head that thinks clearly, feeling more rested, having the time to connect more deeply with the people and things you love to do.

If you are open to an experiment, my suggestion is to turn off social media on your phone. Only use it on your desktop computer for now.

Be curious and fascinated about your anxieties and symptoms of withdrawal. Notice the feelings that come up for you as you begin to disengage? They will be there! You might be surprised how many times you automatically reach for your phone. 

Then, after at least one week, take some time to work out what you want your life to look and feel like. What’s your social media policy going to be?

While the tech is not going to help you do this, you’re not alone. Reach out to me if you want someone to share your struggle with. I starting to design a workshop on this topic for the future. If this interests you, let me know and I’ll keep you in the loop!

XO Susan

PS. A friend of mine shared this brilliant animation based on a TED talk from 2011 that relates to what we’ve been talking about. It’s especially profound (and prophetic) in light of the state of things today. The Innovation of Loneliness.