Our Anti-Social September

by Jamie Scott and Anastasia Boulais, Whole9 South Pacific

Social media has always been a bit of a double-edged sword for us.  Having a presence on the likes of Twitter and Facebook has allowed us the opportunity to share with, receive from, influence, and collaborate with many more people than we would ever otherwise been able to.  Through the connections we have made online, we have been able to forge strong friendships with people we get to meet in person when we travel.  Social media has opened up opportunities for us both when attending the likes of the Ancestral Health Symposium, and has allowed us to launch initiatives such as Whole9 South Pacific, and more recently, the Ancestral Health Society of New Zealand (AHSNZ).

We have sought solace in finding like-minds on the internet and there has been the sense that our online socialisation has been the best we can make do with in the absence of having ready access to real life friends.  But things have felt more uneasy on the online socialisation front after having a series of fantastic real-life social interactions with a great bunch of like-minded individuals spanning much of this year.

Travelling for our Whole9 South Pacific workshops has allowed us to catch up with some cool folk in person.  And we have received visitors from faraway lands such as Canada and the Maldives. But the pinnacle of our real world socialisation came in August.

After a quick stint back in New Zealand, and some time spent with some cool folk there, we legged it on up to the US of A and the Ancestral Health Symposium, and what turned out to be a smorgasbord of socialisation and fun.   The backbone of our Twitter feed – the very people we looked forward to interacting with in 140 character chunks on a daily basis – exploded into full Technicolour 3D life for three fantastic days.

And that is when the problems started.

We returned home, back to our little corner of the world, and largely back to being and feeling isolated.  Sampling good friends in small 140-character slices just didn’t taste the same as being able to devour them whole in real life.  Twitter was now a deeply unsatisfying and a lousy distraction.  It was time for an experiment and our anti-social [media] September (A.S.S.) was born.

The premise was simple – no use of our personal Twitter accounts for engaging in any social interactions.  We had our W9SP Twitter and Facebook accounts, which we would continue to keep active, sharing events and information on.  But the aim was to not use these social media platforms for personal communication.  All social media-related alerts were shut off.  We gave everyone a heads-up of our plans, and let those friends know, who we wanted to keep contact with, our private contact details, stating that we were freely accessible ‘offline’.  Friends were able to reach us via email, text messaging, and Skype chats.

Jamie’s A.S.S.

As the crow flies, I work about 2500km away from my Head Office and approximately 25m from where I sleep every night.  Twitter, for me then, had become not only my link to a lot of the information which is important for the role I have in my work, but also my link to the outside world.  My peeps on Twitter had become my equivalent of office buddies.  So in the first few days of my A.S.S. it was like I had been sat in the naughty corner and not allowed to speak to anyone.  It felt like I had lost a large source of stimulation during my day and I went a bit flat. Sound familiar, sugar junkies?

I used a blocking app to ensure I had big chunks of my day of being unable to log in and check my feed.  I still wanted to access the good links that many people put up but without the temptation to be doing this too frequently.  When I did log back in, I noticed the repeating patterns of posting from some people and how they had been affecting me.   I realised that I was becoming increasingly frustrated by people playing out their every thought, fear, and angst, 140 characters at a time, and just how much this was sucking the emotional daylights out of me.

At the same time as I was getting over my Twitter withdrawals, something very cool was happening.  Away from the public face of social media, I was having some great interactions with people whom I really value.  I was getting emails, sharing more personal text messages, and instead of spending 10 minutes trawling through a Twitter feed, I’d grab a quick Skype chat.

Whilst still not quite the same as the real-life interactions of Atlanta, this deeper level of communication (especially the face-to-face communication of Skype), was far more emotionally energising.  I could feel myself become more focused and instead of just covering my day job and being on Twitter, I have been able to get so much more done, such as getting the ball rolling on the AHSNZ.

I am now back using my Twitter account, but I have an entirely different relationship with it now.  It is largely a tool for me to source information for my own personal development.  It is no longer a place to hang out.  It is not constantly on in the background and I feel no need to tune into the chatter and the noise.  I have set up lists so that I can pull them up, given them a quick scan since the last update, click through on anything of interest, then shut Twitter back down again.  I also have people who share stuff directly with me, so I never really miss out on anything.

I really look forward to those little private and more personal touch points from friends via other mediums.  Getting a text message or email, talking face-to-face, arranging in-person visits, or seeing what friends are up to via a shared picture (which is at least the equivalent of 7.14 Tweets), are all things I value far more that constantly checking in with and trawling Twitter updates. 

Anastasia’s A.S.S.

In preparation for my A.S.S. I deleted Facebook and Twitter apps on my electronic devices. I announced to everyone that I am not retreating into a metaphorical or real-life cave, that I am not giving up on shaving and flushing toilets, and that I will still be contactable via email, phone, or (gasp!) in person, aka Skype.

The morning of September 1st was weird. While we normally have a technology ban during meals, I used to check my Twitter and FB feeds while sipping my coffee. Missing that ritual was a little uncomfortable. Next I got to work and, as usual, started my rounds to see all the patients. Once the rounds were over and we split up to do jobs, I found myself walking along the hospital corridor with a phone in my hand, blankly staring at the screen.

It took me full 10 seconds to realise that I must have pulled it out to check Twitter but since there was no little blue birdy icon on my screen, my brain was totally confused. For the remainder of the day I continued to notice that I pull my phone out whenever I walk between wards, when I have a minute between typing discharge summaries, when I have another coffee, when I have lunch, when I walk down the stairs with a cup of coffee (what could possibly go wrong in this scenario…), you get the picture.

For the next few days I had to re-teach myself not to touch my phone unnecessarily. I started to look around as I walk the familiar path between surgical wards. I started to LOOK at things: a new poster on compartment syndrome (how long has that been on there?), patients pushing their IV pole, co-workers giving me a friendly nod, fluffy bunnies in our courtyard (yes, really!).

All of a sudden I had MORE TIME. I found that I could do menial tasks like documentation associated with discharging a patient without needing to mentally hop to something different. It was like endurance training for my mind: maintaining concentration on one task without feeling foggy, restless or mentally fidgety.

This new focus reminded me of something Mark Sisson says in his books “The Primal Connection”. One of the Ten Habits of Successful Hunter-Gatherers is Be Present. If you are not present in any given moment, if you let your focus drift, if your eyes became unseeing, you will not survive for very long. But being present is not just about being vigilant. It’s about absorbing the world around you through all your senses and enjoying the smallest moments to the fullest.

I have since returned to social media. I missed the interactions with those who share our passion for health, good food and vitality – most of them live so far away. But I watch like a hawk my habit of shutting myself from my immediate real world. I try to still my “monkey brain”, which has been conditioned to jump from one sound bite to another. When I interact with my online friends I give them my full attention, because this is what they deserve.

Could You Use a Social Media Holiday?

Like the Whole30 and food, our social media experimentation changed our relationship with it.  If you feel social media dominates your time and attention too much, we encourage you to run your own anti-social [media] 30 to regain some control and maybe even some better quality time with friends.

Have you ever taken a break from social media? How was your experience? What tips would you share with others considering it? Share in comments.


  1. Madeline Ferdinand says

    I would love to unplug my social media. I do it mostly on vacations, and camping trips. It forces you to seek out real human connections. My advice is to call up a friend or family member to chat, and use the free time to exercise a bit more.

  2. Kat says

    What a coincidence, I decided to take 30 days off FB and I’m on Day 20… I just got tired of all the bragging and whining that goes on among my particular “friends”. It has forced me to examine why and what I am posting. After all what we hate about other people we really hate about ourselves!

    I am now more conscious that for me, I want my interactions to be inspiring, amusing, informative… sorry to sound like a Pollyanna but if I go away feeling bad I’m not interested! This is my free choice, the way I spend (precious) downtime.

    So on November 1st I will be starting 30 Days of Gratitude, and we will see where it goes from there. Meanwhile I am enjoying my little break and getting a strong sense that the “real” world should never take second place to a virtual life.

  3. Garrett says

    This article hit home. I’ve been reading the book “The Compound Effect” By Darren Hardy (highly recommend a read. Powerful, life transformative), and he mentions habits… certain habits being not that great for us… that we do on a consistent basis. He specifically mentions spending lots of time on things which may not necessarily be very beneficial for us. He does mention Facebook.

    That kicked me in the ass.

    Since then, I’ve been cutting down my Facebook time significantly. As well, being -very- aware of when I am on Facebook, and the time it’s, in a sense, costing me, to choose that behavior. Then stopping said behavior ;)

    So I’m going to set up the Facebook 30 for November. I may not cut it off completely, but I will set it up in a way where I’m not on there all the time. Using Hootsuite for business (setting up my posts at the start of the day, to automatically post throughout the day, without my assistance… and then checking it later..), and finding out ways to USE it as a tool (with small amounts of time), rather than choosing to be absorbed by it, for long periods of time.

    More free time for personal development and reading of REAL-book ;)

    1000000% thank you, so much, for this amazing article. Yes!

  4. Sarah Zabal says

    Back in October I experienced a convergence of.. signs, this post included, all pointing me to hit the eject button social media in all forms for at least a month. I have now been off of all social media for six months and the revolution in my habits, thoughts, and the way I interact with people is, well, mind boggling. To be fair, I had a very toxic relationship to Facebook. I kept people on my feed that I had outgrown, I checked in multiple (upon multiple) times each day, and I let the impact of a “like” or a comment or evidence I had been left out (all my friends were together without me?!) unhealthfully alter my sense of self worth, belonging, contentment, and daily happiness. No more. While learning to live without social media (not so terrible after the first week, to be honest) I’ve found new ways to connect with people, more meaningful interactions when I do spend time with them, many more hours in the day for walks outside yoga or naps, and a profoundly new self image that does not rely on having a really cute new profile photo every other week. I’m less self obsessed and less threatened by other people and I’ve been able to convert my competitiveness with them to being competitive with only myself and focusing on my own growth. So, in short, thank you for this blog post. You inspired me to completely alter my personal slice of the universe and I’m a much happier person six months on for having taken on the A.S.S. challenge.


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