In this special edition of the Move Your DNA Podcast, Katy Bowman writes a Dear John letter to social media—and revisits her past social media breaks, with lots of advice for your own time-out, if you're planning one.
00:02:40 - Podcast 80— Social Media is Shaping Your Body – Jump to section
00:17:46 - Podcast 101— Social Media is (Still) Shaping Your Body –Jump to section
00:31:30 - Katy's "Dear John" letter –Jump to section
00:42:45 - Katy's interview with Michael Curran –Jump to section
LINKS AND RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THE SHOW:
Katy: Hello, Hello? Is this thing working?
I am Katy Bowman, and this is the Move Your DNA podcast. I’m a biomechanist and the author of Move Your DNA and seven other books on movement. On this show, we talk about how movement works on the cellular level, how to move more, and how to move more of you, and how movement—our movement— works in the world, also known as Movement Ecology. All bodies are welcome here—are you ready to get moving?
Well, hello friends! Where have you been? Oh, right. I have been gone a long while, longer than I expected, but now I am back in your ears because summer is upon us. And for me, summer is more time in the garden, pitching in at my local lavender farm, lots of wild swimming time, and hot lazy days perfect for reading outside. It also seems to be this period of time closest to my book writing deadlines, which means I wake early to fit more in because I have writing that’s due. For all of these reasons and more Summer is when I prioritize a social media break. Over the last few summers I have explored and experimented with minimizing my social screen time. This summer I am taking it to a new level—not just subtracting screen time, but focusing on adding back things that I’ve lost since live, at least my life, has moved more online, and I want to share all that with you.
In fact, “sharing all that with you” has been a theme of these social media breaks. It’s possible you and I connected first on social, or maybe that’s the ONLY place we’ve connected. I use my social postings as an extension of my teaching practice, so my social media breaks have always included some information for you to use in your own efforts to change your relationship with screens and online life, if you choose to do so. This year’s break is no different. On this episode, I’ll revisit my past reasons for putting social on hold for the summer before I tell you what the plan is for this year. Plus, I’m welcoming a special guest who will talk a little about his own reasons for signing off social for the summer.
– Wayne Curtis, from The Last Great Walk, on how long-distance, cross-country walking isn’t really feasible any more
I’m taking a social media break. A two-month-long one at that. I’m used to taking smaller breaks—like for tech-free Sundays and Screen-Free Week—but this longer break feels more significant, as social media is sort of my job. You’ve probably read (on your smartphone, via social media) that there’s this potential new category of addiction—to our smartphones and to social media. Anytime I’ve read about it (on my smartphone, via social media) I wonder, “Do I have that?” And then I quickly forget about it as I make my thumb-and-finger laps through email, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. For, um, work.
I write books (eight of them, so far) about movement and the aspects of modern living that act as casts—sometimes literally and sometimes figuratively—on how we move. Animals constantly respond to their environment (and vice versa). We’re shaped, literally, by the shape of our environment, and our shape influences the environment right back. I’ve written books on how the shape of our shoes affects the shape of our feet; and how the shape of our resting positions (chairs, chairs, couches, chairs) shapes our knees, hips, and spines; and how the distance from what we look at most (screens) shapes our eyeballs. It recently occurred to me that social media is itself a cast, in that it requires us to adopt particular physical movements and positions to use it, which means our bodies are currently being shaped by social media.
Acknowledging that our phones are influencing our physical health isn’t super groundbreaking. “Your iPhone is Ruining Your Posture — And Your Mood,” “Text Neck is Becoming an Epidemic and Could Wreck Your Spine,” and “Digital Disabilities — Text Neck, Cellphone Elbow — Are Painful and Growing” all live on the New York Times and Washington Post websites. These articles offer general advice on cutting down usage, taking breaks, and even postural correctives to reduce the impact of these devices, all of which is great, but what happens when you perceive that to step away from a social media is to lose out on something? What happens when you associate loss—of income, connection, and community—with whatever advice you’re getting from health experts? How do you transition yourself away from relying on this, or any, cast? To me, these articles give us excellent reasons to “do less on your phone” but are missing the “how to” portion that many of us are searching for in vain (on our phones, probably).
To me, what’s affecting our bodies so much is not the devices we’re using, but our adaptation to the relationships—to other people, our income, and information—they offer. I had a phone for years before I ever had a problem putting it down, so at least for me the issue isn’t the phone itself but what I can access on it. To talk in biological terms, we’re adapting to our phone-portal. Not only the permanent bend of our thumbs and the tensions in our chests and shoulders, but to the fact that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter are our frequently used portals for communication and often stand in for the live community we lack. How do we disconnect from our phones when it means we have to disconnect from our world as we know it?
This question—is there a way to connect with the world, with my business, in a way that doesn’t pass through my phone-portal?—is exciting to me. My work consists primarily of creating steps to changing mindsets and lifestyles so that more movement occurs naturally, thus it’s my job to step away from social media if only to create the steps for how to do it.
And, if I see my job to be more than a teacher—if my job, as a person, is also the doing of the things I teach—then stepping away from social media and into a new (read: old) way of connection, one that doesn’t cast our bodies so severely, serves multiple functions.
It’s key to recognize that social media is the portal for communication (and the facilitator of stiff hands and arms) because we keep using it. By using social media as a portal for my information, I’ve been demanding social media movements of both me and my social media followers. Said another way: The fact that I use social media is what makes it something I, and my followers “have to use.” I’m facilitating tight thumbs and elbows and eyeballs. I’m requiring them, even.
One of my most popular books is Whole Body Barefoot: Transitioning Well to Minimal Footwear. This book, in a (long, potentially run-on) sentence is: Your feet have lots of joints that need lots of movement to stay healthy, you’ve been wearing shoes that are still and have casted the motion of your feet, but as we’ve added thicker and stiffer footwear the world over which we walk has, alongside, become hard and potentially hazardous for your feet, so because your feet are super-weak and not adapted to terrain and because the terrain you frequent is largely unsuitable for bare feet, we need to slowly adapt your feet and the habits of how and where you walk to solve this issue. (P.S. There are more details on how to do this within the book.) I’m bringing up Whole Body Barefoot because we can use a similar approach to Transitioning Well to Minimal Social Media.
We Need a Plan
Have I mentioned that I love social media? I really do. I like social media like I love a great pair of minimal shoes (which are shoes that offer protection while simultaneously allowing lots of movement). To take this long break, I’ve had to figure out all the elements of social media (the anatomy of social media, if you will), the way I have for shoes, and decide whether each element is helpful or unhelpful to my end goal of moving more of my body, more often.
I’ll be the first to say that there are all sorts of great elements to social media alongside the not-so-great ones, and that what places these elements in the “helpful” and “not as helpful” categories depends on the individual. This list isn’t exhaustive; it’s just mine.
Not As Helpful
- Screen time
- Certain repetitive body movements (head, neck, spine, wrists, thumbs, eye muscles)
- Physical isolation
My approach to my break is not “go barefoot” (i.e., get rid of all these inputs) but “change shoes” (i.e., get the helpful elements without the not-as-helpful ones). Here are the steps I’m taking to transition to a different way of connecting, alongside which of my elements of social media they address:
- Inform your following (business or personal) about your break ahead of time, multiple times (as I did on my social media as well as my podcast), over a few months, and include why you’re doing this. In general, people wish you well. They might mourn the loss of constant access to your perspective and daily life, but that’s okay. (Connection, Information, Business.) These are some of the graphics I'll use:
- Offer other ways to stay connected. My social media break is not a work break; it’s a break from the habit of doing things in a way that’s proven to be detrimental to us physically. So I’ve dusted off my old newsletter software, but not to send out the old newsletter style of yester-year—I’m offering shorter, often image-based pieces that match the style of social media. What’s the difference? I’m sending out one a week, max, so I’m not constantly on my phone, and my followers don’t have to worry that they’ll miss something if they don’t log on and do their social media laps. I also informed my followers of how I’ll be using my email outreach going forward so they know what to expect. I also ramped up and reminded my followers of my non-social-media portals of info, like my podcasts and books, and took the time to introduce my followers to each other via a social media ROLL CALL.
If we’re removing a bit of community, then taking the time to replace it—to achieve community in another way—is helpful. (Connection, Information, Education, Inspiration, Entertainment/Distraction, Business, Artistic, reducing Frequency and Isolation.)
- Have a plan for your hands. Many smokers will say that they’re not adapted to nicotine as much as they are to the habit of smoking—they physical practice of the ceremony of smoking. This could be one of the reasons those quitting smoking find themselves needing to put something else in their mouth. They’re used to the motions. So if you want to cut down on your phone or social media use, it might help to keep your hands busy.
There are great lists of things you can do instead of picking up your smartphone, but I’ve decided to come up with five exercises that can actually break up some of our physical adaptations to all that social media time. And P.S. Anyone can do these, social media break notwithstanding, and one of them you can actually do while you’re using your phone. (Reducing physical adaptations to repetitive positioning; adding movement.)
Head ramping (or just back your face away from your phone). Keeping your eyes on the horizon, and without lifting the chin or chest, slide your head back to the wall behind you. This is an easy adjustment that immediately increases the height of your head, decompresses the vertebrae in your neck, and stretches the small muscles in the head, neck, and upper back. SIMPLE and effective.
Thumb stretch. Make a loose fist with your right hand with the thumb pointing up. Grasp the thumb as low as you can with your left hand and move it like it’s an old-fashioned joystick, slowly moving it toward you and side-to-side at varying angles.
Wrist stretch. Keeping your shoulders down and relaxed, touch the backs of your hands together including the thumbs, then bring them down to waist level. Hold there or move them slowly up and down in front of your torso, or right to left. Keep those thumbs touching!
Thoracic stretch. Place your hands on a wall, step back to bring your hips behind you, then lower your chest toward the ground stretching your shoulders.
Nerve Stretch. Reach your hands away from you making a T with your arms and a "STOP" motion with your hands. Spreading your fingers away from each other, slowly work your fingertips toward your head. Keep your middle fingers pointing up, thumbs forward, and elbows slightly bent toward the ground. Think of reaching the upper arm bones away from you as you work your fingers back.
In the end, it’s not my intention to force people off social media (as if I could!) but to inform you, remind you, and demonstrate to you (and to myself, always) how malleable our body, habitat, and habits are. I want to keep alive the idea, and the practice, of choice; to show that we are able to transition out of our culture’s physical casts—chairs, shoes, and Instagram—if we can break down the mental casts that accompany them.
I cannot say enough how important it is to use a stepwise approach to transitioning whenever you’re un-casting anything, and how the steps are endlessly definable by you. My big social media break at this point was facilitated by smaller transitions—for example, I moved away from forums in general, and then forums on Facebook—over a couple of years. With each transition, I find myself moving more and taking more action—literally moving more—for the topics I previously just spent time reading about and passionately discussing via social media.
Remember that time you dropped your phone (probably in the toilet) and were forced offline and found that life was different, and not all bad, once you unplugged? This break is a high-pressure environment I’m creating to facilitate (force, really) some adaptations on both a work and personal level. I suspect that, after my break, I will have adapted to some new habits and put new (read: old) systems in place that are more nourishing to me and to my followers in the end. If past transitions—like when I tossed my couch—are any indication, I’ll likely continue to do this type of “transition to minimal” for the rest of my life, delving into change when I tune in to symptoms influenced by an aspect of my environment.
I’m an 80s kid, and I feel like movies from that decade are my elders—I find quotes from them popping into my head when I need wisdom. And lately, when I think about shrugging off the cast of social media from my body, all I can think of is this scene from WarGames, where the talking computer (Siri’s grandfather) is trying to figure out the strategy necessary to win a geothermal nuclear war. The computer quickly plays itself only to deduce that no matter what the scenario, nuclear war will ultimately destroy everything. (Not to get too dramatic about this--it's social media--but it just goes to show you that what you watch ends up part of your anatomy). The computer’s takeaway, and mine, on various matters, more and more often: “Strange game. The only winning move is not to play.”
I did this for many reasons, but ultimately I took a break from the movements social media requires of me: Repetitive movements of the thumb and index finger, movements (or lack thereof) my head and neck, and—ugh—the narrow use of my eyes. Looking at something a handful of inches from my face all the time is really starting to hurt!
Taking a two-month social media break felt risky, given I depend on social media for my work - or at least I thought I did until I realized that I worked for years before social media even existed.
Even though “break” implies a sort of vacation, I actually worked harder before and during the social media break. I had to come up with systems of connection—systems that didn’t have the ease of social media. I found myself needing to go back to old processes, like emailing newsletters and live teaching. Processes I had used to build the foundation of my platform to begin with. As you can imagine, despite the extra work to grow a new process, the break felt very healing to my body. Which is why, as a modeler of movement, it was time for me to revisit this process again to see which stones I’d yet to turn over and look beneath.
Although I spend a very large percentage of my life occupying it, I have never actually “seen” the internet. So the idea that it is indeed a structure somewhere, harvesting electricity and hardware, requiring buildings and people in and around those buildings, had never really occurred to me.
Until one day it did. And P.S. I still have no idea what “the cloud” actually is. I do know it’s not as mass-less, ethereal, or located above us as the name implies. But I get that it sounds better than “server farms,” aka “warehouses located all over the world, full of plugged-in electronics to store and cool all of your stuff that you want to have but don’t have the space for.”
Once I knew that my online stuff was taking up space, actual space, I sat down to figure out all the limbs (or are they roots?) of my internet-tree.
Here's my tree. Are you ready?
Four personal email accounts (each storing thousands of emails, each receiving dozens of spam emails daily). These email accounts also include one from college that was tied to hosting an old website which just seemed like “a lot of work to change.”
I've got five websites to distribute my work directly (that's my actual website, NutritiousMovement.com. I've got a website that plays my virtual classes, a website to access the books and videos, one to book live events, and one to send newsletters to our community).
I've got websites that share my podcast (There's four of them: Stitcher, Soundcloud, Libsyn, and Spotify).
I've got websites that make my e-books and audiobooks available. I use these social media websites (Youtube, Vimeo, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook).
I use a website that allows my staff and I to work together despite living far away from each other (thanks Slack!).
And did I mention the over 800 web pages that are currently storing my blog?
When I took my social media break last year, I continued to maintain the volume of my social media container. I didn’t change the space taken up by my social media, just how often I walked into these virtual spaces I’m constantly creating in the style of a Winchester’s Mystery House. And I'm sorry, that last sentence is a reference for all you northern Californians. But seriously, you can google Winchester Mystery House so you can have a bit of context.
As already noted, I thoroughly enjoyed and benefited from my social media break for all the reasons you might imagine, but ultimately, being off social media just made me feel better. And it wasn’t only because my neck and thumbs being freed from swiping and tapping. My online presence is what keeps me online. When I’m online I’m not in the world - in the non-online parts of the world - the parts that I want to be moving me. It’s like having a huge house full of stuffed drawers and closets and rooms that collect dust. Leaving my fake giant, stuffed house is hard, and not only because there is so much you need to vacuum. It’s hard to leave because it is a vacuum. My online presence is huge and it's sucking me in, and friends…it sucks.
This doesn’t mean I don’t see the value of an online presence, just that mine is not working well for me. This doesn’t mean I hate technology or computers or smartphones, but that, like all things, dosage and usage can only truly be determined by the user once they have a sense of just how much they’re currently consuming. I’ve been using my technology as many would a hyper stimulating, low-cost, low nutrient-dense smorgasbord that's offered and fed to you, in bed, every single morning: too much and in a way that desensitizes me to all the signals that are saying “go out there and get this other thing you need”.
This year, instead of just a social media break, I’m reducing the volume of my internet territory. Instead of simply stepping away and shutting the door to the rooms of daily interactions and observations, instead of not looking at what I’ve created online, I’m going to whittle it down. For me, this is a more #stackyourlife version of a social media break.
I’m not only stepping away because it’s better care for myself; I’m also dismantling some of the wasteful parts of my system. Waste that’s ultimately encroaching on others - both humans and non-human earthlings - in ways I don’t fully understand. Also, the “step away from” is also a big step toward getting the nutrients I’ve been getting online in a more live format.
I’d like to acknowledge that in many cases being online or on social media can bring about immense positive changes, especially as it enables mass mobilization. My choices aren’t a judgment of anyone else; they’re just what I’ve decided I need to do. This year, instead of focusing on a social media break, I’m working on a social media prune.
People prune trees for a couple reasons: to shape the tree to produce a greater volume of fruit, or to prevent something like a limb falling (possibly on someone or a structure). And my reasons are similar. My direct way of using the internet has become overgrown. In my effort to meet everyone’s needs, I’ve created a shape that’s pushing back on me and others as well. It’s an injury in the making. As for fruits, if fruits are “likes” or “dollars” you could say that the shape is working, but we get to name our fruits and these are not the fruits I’m after. Or maybe we all want to be liked and to be able to make a living in our society. In this case, I’d say that for me, the correlation between online likes and the need to be accepted as I am can be done in a way that also meets some of my other needs - for community, less screen time, more nature… or whatever else you can think of.
Like walking through a large, empty house snapping off a bunch of lights you’ve left on on, I’m cutting down on my personal online wastefulness. Keep in mind this doesn’t automatically mean I have to reduce the use of what I have figured I require at this time, just the use of the stuff I don’t. I teach movement. And I know (because I’ve done it for at least a decade before doing it on line) that it can be done with my person. My teaching movement does not depend on my avatar.
I'm gonna read a list of what I've decided to prune this go-round. Like a keen arborist, I’ve walked around the tree, considered what shape I’m after, and thus chosen which branches I can gently remove.
This is what I’m finding easy to let go of:
The two old email addresses from 1998 and 2000. I mean, this is a lot of storage and spam and clutter. I see old email accounts as huge junk drawers stuffed with outdated address books and folders of emails from personal and business relationships long past. I lost both my dad and my best friend last year and even though these email accounts are full of love letters from them both, I’m closing them anyway. I read through a few of them but I realized that, while I love knowing that those letters are there, they aren’t required reading for accessing my memory or gratitude for our time together. So...DELETE.
An old website that I’ve been hosting. DELETE.
My Myspace account. DELETE. Just kidding. I don’t have a Myspace account. ANY MORE!
Twitter(s). So, I’m not a huge fan of Twitter and can’t see how it relates directly to anything I’m trying to get done in the world for my work. Twitter has been an easy way to read thoughts of people outside of groups that I spend lots of time in, thus they’ve been catalysts for personal growth and positive changes. However, everyone that I to stay connected with has alternate methods of sharing their points of view. And it's also nice to just listen versus talk, so I can read Twitter without feeling the need to shape the conversation to what I think. I’m happy letting other people’s thoughts grow in my brain for a while. Also, I just realized that I have TWO Twitter accounts - one which hasn’t been used for a couple years. Nice! DELETE, DELETE.
This is what’s more challenging to let go of, but I am working on my exit strategy:
Facebook. There are 50 thousand people connected to my Facebook, which I could argue is beneficial, but I’m not convinced this platform is necessary. It’s just easy. Just as I do with the social media break, I’ll let Facebookers know where to find me (newsletter, podcast, Instagram), and that if they subscribe, I’ll find them. Meanwhile, I’ve created what I’d like to brand as “Live Facebook Live” events. And this is where I come and talk to groups of people in rooms of various shapes and sizes just as one would do for the people in the “virtual room” that is Facebook. This could go viral, mark my words. (And in case this doesn't translate, this is me doing sarcasm. I just mean that I’m going to be able to do more live events instead of presenting things to people on Facebook.) If you are currently following me on Facebook and want to keep hearing from me after I exit, which I'm not sure when it's going to be. It could be anytime between the end of this summer and more towards the end of this fall, go sign up for my Vitamin Community Monthly newsletter and subscribe to my podcast right now. I will wait.
I'm also going to be downsizing my own website. This has taken a bit of creativity, but it’s sort of like, my website is this huge home that I was describing and I’ve realized that the life I’m seeking requires a tiny-house; a house with many similar features as my large home but using much less space. I want a Tiny Website, people! I need a website that’s figured out how to get a guest bed stored in the wall, and cupboards built under the kitchen table, and whatever the internet version is of a loft. With lots of windows. I mean, I don’t want a bed in my actual website, I just want all of this built into my tiny house website. It’s an analogy, people. “Keep up.” - Bruno Mars.
This is what's not going right now:
As a mover and movement teacher and natural quantifier, really, I cannot escape how clearly I see that the environment I’m in most often is not my house or walking on flat and level surfaces or even that I’m in footwear. The environment I’m in most often is on a computer that’s online. My body cannot move online, and I’m not talking about my thumbs. My entire body and all the systems within it are in an online cast and these are the steps I’m taking towards actual stepping in the non-online world.
I am fine with social media as a tool - using social media to facilitate the work that I do. I’m less fine with social media being the work I’m doing. There are so many different ways to be online less. One of those ways is to have less online. I’m doing a social media prune so I don’t break.
And P.S. I am also taking a break from social media July and August. I won’t be on Instagram during that time, but I will be putting out my newsletter and my podcast so you can subscribe to these items to stay connected. (Below are some sample images of what I do to alert people to my break!)
There’s lots of information headed your way even while I’m “on break”! If you’re new to the show and are wondering how or why one steps away from social media when they use it for work, listen to podcast episode 80 and check out the show notes for this and that show—there you’ll find steps and samples of graphics that help you communicate your intentions well with your online community!
P.P.S. I am excited to announce I am not taking a break from podcasting through the summer. Instead we’re going OLD SCHOOL ALIGNMENT MATTERS! And for those of you who’ve been requesting I record an Alignment Matters audiobook, the answer is still "No"! But, I will be reading and commenting on essays from that book, grouping them into, I hope, entertaining ways. Trying to create essentially a funny, light, perfect summer series (or sorry, Australia, winter) to weed, walk, or work along to.
That starts in July. I cannot wait!
I will be back next week with a regular show but until then, keep this in mind, friends: "Yep, I said it before and I'll say it again. Life moves pretty fast. You don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."
It’s here! That time of year when I take a social media break. I enjoy and benefit tremendously from social media, but I am also looking forward to stepping away for a couple of months, as I’ve done once a year for the last four years.
The first year I took a break simply because “screen-free week” had been on my radar for a couple of years and I wondered, if screen free week is so great, what would happen with three weeks not entirely away from screens (I still do a lot of my work on the computer) but from all unnecessary screen time?
The second year I took an even longer break—two months—because I benefited tremendously from the year before. During this break, I focused not only on screens, but also on the movements being on a screen typically creates. Social media is a sort of cast, and in order to understand a cast’s effects, it has to be taken off now and then. I wanted to take off this cast to see what happened, and I invited you all to do the same. To make this more possible, I wrote out the steps one can take to keep work going if social media is a tool, as well as a set of five exercises to de-phone our hands, arms, and neck. I argued that the habit of being on the phone is more than a habit in the brain, it is a habit in the rest of the body too. The reaching for the phone, the cycling through the apps are just mindless, phone-centric fidgeting. If chewing gum keeps our hands and mouths, used to smoking, occupied as we’re trying to kick the cigarette habit, how about some exercises to keep the upper body in motion as we’re kicking the phone habit?
The third year, I combined my social media break with an internet-space/social media prune. I took a good long look at the infrastructure involved in so much of my life being “online.” This process shed light on the actual presence of “server farms” that take up literal space, energy, and resources that impact our planet. I found that while our phones are small, they are taking up a lot of space we don’t see. So I took inventory of all the websites, email addresses, and social media platforms I was constantly wandering within, and started pruning away what I didn’t need. Particularly for those of you who run your own businesses, this can be a big deal. Again, I wrote out the steps I was taking so you could join in if you wanted. In this case, my time away was more than a temporary break—it was about breaking away from the parts of social media (and internet use) that weren’t even important to me. Does Marie Kondo dive into the art of tidying up your online life? It was like throwing out a bunch of crap in my closet that I didn’t even like but kept hoarding anyway. That year was quite liberating, and one year later, I’ve been in a continuous online break from everything I got rid of. I still marvel at how simple it was to turn a two-month-long, full social media break into a year-long (and likely life-long) break from the parts of “online” that were unnecessary.
This year I’ve decided to focus my planning not on the stepping-away part (I’ve got that down), but about what I’ll be doing while off. My approach to social media is similar to my approach to being #furniturefree. On one hand, it appears to be about minimalism—less stuff, less time cleaning, fewer shopping trips, less packaging. But to me, minimalism is simply the result of my own personal maximilism. I want more movement in my home, so I have less of the stuff that keeps me from it. Minimal furniture, maximal movement!
Similarly, I’m framing my social media break this year not as a way to get less of something—less time on social media or less screen time—but as a way to get more of what I want, need, and love. It’s a way to get the more “whole,” more real-life #vitamincommunity (and also, it turns out, more movement, more nature, just more more more).
As most of you know, I use my own accounts for work, and during my break I beef up the systems I’ve created to communicate with and educate readers. I’ve used these systems for fifteen years, and they’re mainly my newsletter and my blog.
But what about the rest of it? To start, I broke down “being on social media” into what I’m doing while on there. So, paying attention, I found I use social media in a very specific way. When logged on, I’m…
• Checking in on both near and far-away friends. I see you!
• Seeing what great meals folks are making (Because I love a good, simple, whole-food recipe post, something that really helps me take immediate action, I love those. So thank you, everyone who’s posted one).
• Finding great books I’ve never heard of.
• Following accounts championing issues I feel strongly about.
Here’s some of the ways I’m filling and expanding upon the ways that I was using social media (and you can note the difference in movement between the online and live versions)…
• For movement work: Teaching more live classes in my local center where I live in Washington.
• For checking in on friends: I’ve been sending “whole” mail. I love real mail. I love sending it and getting it. I also love books, which mean I often have many loved copies on my shelves. One of the things I love to do but have a hard time finding time for is mailing copies of loved books to friends I think will love them too. I had a friend that did this for me and it’s the best! That way, I’m checking in on those far-away friends (and closer friends), but instead of just passively looking at their photos, I’m sending them something I think they’ll love.
• For recipes: Starting a cooking group. I really love cooking. And I love learning new recipes. So if I cook with other people and we trade recipes and tips and techniques and flavor combinations, I’m coming out with way more knowledge, fun, and snacking than I get just from online recipes. I’ve reached out to my broadest local community to attract people from different generations and backgrounds, and therefore different approaches to cooking!
• For finding great books I’ve never heard of: Get vocal at libraries and bookstores. I love walking into a place full of books and asking the workers, whether librarians or booksellers, what the best book they read that week was. I get out of practice, because my reading list of books I heard about online is always so long. Word of mouth has led me to some fantastic books! And P.S. I’m hoping my friends all start sending their books around because it’s a great two-fer. That snail mail that’s a package—the best—and also a book, which is just a feeling or a set of ideas someone wants to share with you. So maybe I’ll get some books back in the mail, which is exciting. Instagram has never once sent me a book.
And finally, how can I replace staying current on important-to-me-issues in a time when it’s critical we stay aware of what’s going on? Since writing Movement Matters, I’ve been feeling pretty urgent in my need to separate “armchair activism” from taking more physical steps to make the world better, and to do more things person to person, face to face. From the important book Farming While Black: “Too often our generation centers ‘arm chair activism,’ which may consist of nothing more than online pontification or defeatist headshaking about the inadequacies of others’ efforts…. To the extent that our resources and physical ability permit, we, too, are obligated to get our hands dirty in direct mutual aid.”
So, mulling on it and thinking about it, my final replacement for the way I’ve been supporting issues and being active on Instagram, it didn’t take me long at all to find there are many local groups doing the work on the important-to-me issues in my community.
• Supporting issues/activism. It didn’t take me long at all to find there are many local groups doing work on important-to-me issues, in my very own community, I didn’t even know it, because I hadn’t connected to the more proximal avenues for doing that work. And these groups have meetings and presentations! I was most concerned with breaking away from staying informed/proactive, but have been happy to not only find ways to stay informed, by breaking from media, I’ll be able to deepen my connection and give personal physical labor to these important-to-me issues.
So to be clear, I do not hate social media; I actually think it’s great.
I just did an interview about being furniture free, and I was asked about my relationship with technology. I answered that I do the bulk of my work via technology. But because I, like so many, have a digital infrastructure for almost every minute of my workday, and because this digital infrastructure has become ubiquitous in a short period of time (we’re talking less than ten years), we have yet to conceptualize, let alone come up with, a set of good use practices, neither for grownups nor, perhaps more critically, for children, beyond “keeping screen time down.”
My self-created good-use practices include not infusing a digital structure throughout my home and ensuring there are very few digital elements to my non-work life. I work to maintain a balance that centers our family’s human parts—like our physiology, the nourishing practices of connection to those immediate and other people (live! In person!) in my community, and nature. My social media break is part of keeping all my relationships healthy and getting my hands (and knees) dirty.
As I do for all my social media breaks, I will be working. This is not a work break, it’s a very specific check-in with a very specific element of digital life. I will be sending out newsletters and all that good stuff, but I won’t be posting (or scrolling) on Facebook or Instagram through the end of August. Until then…
I'm taking a break, John. It's not you, it’s me.
P.S. It’s actually you. I mean, I love you, but you’re just not that good for me.
Katy: Ok, so that’s me, thank you for listening. But I am but one person in my house.
KB: How’s it going?
MC: It’s early in the morning.
KB: You’re not really a morning person, are you?
KB: I’ll keep it short, because we have a lot of things to get to do.
MC: I will, too!
KB: OK good. This is my fourth social media break, have you ever taken one?
MC: Um, yeah, I think I took a social media break at least one of the other times that you have, and probably most of them.
KB: I’m thinking
MC: But I don’t remember
KB: I feel like we did a screen-free week, I mean I know we’ve done screen-free week as a family. What do you use social media for, and how often are you on it?
MC: Um, I check it every day, usually in the morning on the toilet, usually I look at Instagram mainly to look at Nutritious Movement Instagram and see what the buzz is, and then flip through everybody else real quick. I post a picture on Instagram probably once every month or three, so I use it completely as a filler of space that I otherwise would be doing nothing.
KB: Well, you’re not doing nothing. Are you doing nothing in the bathroom? Is that’s what’s taking you so long in there?
MC: That I otherwise would be concentrating,
KB: yah or reading
MC: or reading
KB: or doing something else
MC: or back in the day playing Angry Birds and hiding from my baby.
KB: that’s a question! That I have for you, that I didn’t realize until just now. You used to play a lot of Angry Birds. I feel like when we had our first kid, and got our first phones, which happened at the same time, You got into this Angry Birds thing for a while. But then it went away, years ago. What was that about? I’m interested in how people change their online behavior, or smartphone behavior, so, what’s that?
MC: I think it was just at the time that our son said, that it was, that it was, or how was it? He said why do we have games on our phone, or entertaining things on our phone, if our kids aren’t allowed to look at them. Why don’t you just take them off?
KB: That’s right, he was like two.
MC: He was like two when he said that, and I think that was it. I think that's when I took them off. And I don’t miss them.
KB: No. So are you going to take this social media break with me?
KB: Do you feel like it’s going to put you out at all?
MC: No. I feel like it’ll tune me into whatever another thing is that I’m going to do on the toilet.
KB: Why do we have to do anything when we’re in there?
MC: I mean, I don’t. I’m not proud of it.
KB: No. Um, you mentioned Instagram, what about Facebook? Like I feel like Facebook for you, you still have personal accounts on Facebook. Do you do Facebook more than you do Instagram?
MC: No, far less.
KB: So that’s like a once-a-monther thing?
MC: No, I still check it almost every day, but it’s just a habit. I scroll through, I look at about ten posts, just to… it’s kind of like reading the newspaper, in days of old, where it’s like I just want to check in to it to make sure I’m not missing anything, and one hundred percent of the time I get verified in that I’m not missing anything. But I spend about five minutes, unless I end up in a little rabbit hole, but I don’t have an addicted-to-screen style. I have other addictions, but not to screens.
KB: That was another question which is, yeah, I don’t think social media is… I use social media for work and I really feel obligated to do it for work, so much where, when we’re doing something I’m like, ugh, like I haven’t posted anything in two days, and that used to feel pressure, there’s no… that’s a total self-induced feeling. Is there anything else, like, you’re doing social media with me, and it’s not an issue for you, would there be something else on screens that would be way more challenging for you to break with for the summer, that would impact our summer, like I was even thinking it’s not only the break and the movement, its… I recognize maybe four or five months ago, maybe it was even a year ago, last summer, where we were doing something, we were camping, and one of the kids was like “you should take a picture of this and tag this company so they can see…” and I was like ugh, that’s not part of the things I want going through their mind about this experience that I’m having, especially when they’re outside, like is it documentable, is it sharable, is it potentially commercial, that’s not, like, that’s something I've created in their childhood, through my behavior. So when we are out doing things, there are so many times that I’m not bringing my phone at all. I’m actually, I’m often asking you, because I didn’t bring my phone, like, can you take a picture, but then also just recently in the last four or five months, I’m not taking pictures of anything. Or just like for a family photo, one, or two, but nothing that’s for the purpose of social media. So is there anything like that, for you, that would change your experience of the summer, if you
MC: I think the, I mean the questions I’m looking at right now as my phone is malfunctioning and I’m bringing the screen in, what has been the consequence of the last two weeks when my phone has been malfunctioning
KB: and what’s malfunctioning mean?
MC: yeah, sorry, the touch screen is not working properly, I get about 15 seconds of use out of it before it starts having a mind of it’s own, and I don’t get to use it.
KB: So you’ve switched to texting people on the laptop,
MC: I’ve been texting on the laptop, uh, I’ve been having to, I mean basically everything, it’s made me face every time that I want to use my phone, texting is by far the main one.
KB: Oh yeah, you’re actually interrupted. The mindless reach for the phone to do something is interrupted by it not working, to be like well do I really need to do that?
MC: Well, it’s not only do I have... the question is what am I going to do right now now that I can’t do it. So whether it’s necessary or not necessary I gotta figure out another way to accomplish it. So texting is the main one and for aobut three years now I’ve had a fantasty of getting rid of my smart phone to some degree, mainly for ethical reasons, just as far as the devices themselves and what goes into making them. But also for lifestyle reasons and reconnecting to nature is a lifelong priority. So I’ve been looking into alternatives, um I’ve found that I can text on the computer but I think I might need to have a smartphone account, um, but that‘ll be the biggest sacrifice of getting rid of a phone, but I haven’t figured out how to do it.
KB: And so texting, but you feel
MC: I made a face.
KB: Yeah! is there anything else that you do on screens that if you didn’t do… that’s non-essential… that if you didn’t do it for one week or three weeks or a month or two months, would change your experience of this upcoming period of time.
MC: On any screen?
MC: Um, well I’d hate to give up Spotify
KB: Music, yeah, music’s your thing. Ohhhh, I hadn’t thought about that.
MC: That would be tough. Although I did want to start a record collection. I already have one.
KB: We should start with a record player.
MC: Yeah, well I figured, once I have enough...
KB: There’s plenty of record players at the Goodwill.
MC: I suppose that any version of watching something would be something I could give up with a positive impact in my life. I would feel it. Whether it’s… just any entertainment, TV shows, movies. I’d have to find a different way of filling that time. Would be impactful.
KB: What could you fill it with? You’re talking about like streaming a show, or streaming a movie.
MC: I could read, I could meditate, often I opt for sleeping, which is sort of my, um, it’s my not- overly-healthy default, where if I have nothing to do I’ll just go to sleep, or nothing that I have to do, I should say. Probably meditating should be the best thing to be filling in any missing screen time. Probably meditating/ doing yoga are probably the top two things that I have that I feel like are easy, I have them, I know how to do them, they would make my life much better and I don’t do them regularly.
KB: How well do they slot into the sleepy times in the evenings, that’s the other thing?
MC: Really poorly. Sleep slots in really well to the sleepy times in the evening, starting at about 6.
KB: One of the biggest questions is “I want to do X, how do I get the other people in my house to do X too?” and I mean, I don’t know, I mean, we’re all adults.
MC: Even our kids are adults.
KB: We’re all autonomous folks, so everyone just has to kind of do their thing
MC: Yeah I don’t know, probably just having, I mean I think just having the conversation, you and I are always having the conversation to make sure that we’re on the same mission statement, have the same priorities, or at least mostly overlapping priorities, so I think it’s just if that is not something that is clear, then conversations have to be had, so if you know for example that someone is not willing ot give up screen time that you know where the difference is, you know what is the source, “well, I have to do this for XYZ,” so, OK
KB: Well I think sometimes just identifying, you know you can ask me questions, like I, for this social media break, what am I even doing on here, I haven’t really looked at it that critically before, so just conversation and talking about “going screen-free” it’s like, let’s list the five things or the ten things that I’m using it for. And then you start to see, this came from myself, I started to see where I was using it that I wasn’t even interested in using it.
KB: Thanks for coming on.
MC: You’re welcome. Why do you want to be screen free? What’s the main benefits you want to get out of it?
KB: I feel better. I feel physically better because so much of my work requires a computer. I say that… I guess I could hand-write a bunch of stuff, but eventually I’d just…. Everything has been moved onto the computer. If I want to read research papers, before it was getting them from a library, reading the journals that they’re in, and making photocopies, and now it’s all digital archives. So it’s a way of making me physically better, it allows me to produce things that are less… flighty is not the right word, I find that the work that it takes me to produce a social media post even if it’s short, synthesizing an idea, typing it out, editing it, posting it, that when I do that regularly, it takes out the steam of me producing something that has more longevity. That’s what I mean by flighty. I could be synthesizing something that has more lasting power, like a book, or even a bigger essay, so it takes the winds out of my creative sails, and it keeps me from producing anything that's not…. You’re the word guy, perishable isn’t the right word either… social media, it just comes up in front of your face, rarely are you searching through the archives to find, to work your way through an idea, and because of the work that I’m doing and I’m synthesizing many pieces every day, sometimes it’s modeling, and it just has no staying power, it’s disposable, and so by taking 60 days off, it allows me… so many people are asking why can’t I get this bigger thing done, and I’ve found that the daily doing the tiny thing, reading the short bit, making the short post, prevents me from creating something that’s…. grrrr… what is the word? That I’m looking for?
MC: I keep thinking “thought out” just something that is more thought out.
KB: It is thought out, it’s not that, it’s just that it’s fleeting and it has so much more impact in useabililty when it’s in a large group, and that’s not always the case, but
MC: yeah, but as we’re… I wasn’t prepared for this interview, so I’ve been doing my thinking
KB: That’s how they do it! They just get you in and then they’re just all pew pew pew pew!
MC: That’s why this has been fascinating… for everybody. But I’m just thinking as we’re talking about taking off screens, I like to build the environment that makes it so that doing the thing is not a temptation, I guess, so I’m just thinking about, you know, again, the wifi timer and maybe only plugging it in during certain times, or the thing we’ve been discussing which is getting a cord instead of wifi so that you have to plug in but to make it to where those defaults are of flicking on the screen and the internet are not even available, but I’m just thinking about how to make it easy for me to automatically stay screen free by changing my environment rather than always making the choice of “oh my phone wants to do that by I’m not going to.”
KB: Mmm yeah
KB: That’s why you’re just always “let’s just sleep outside.”
MC: Let’s just sleep outside.
KB: Let’s just go camping.
MC: Mmhmm it’s my default everything.
KB: Well it’s just the fastest way to get exactly the environment you’re after.
MC: Why do we have a house again?
KB: I don’t know… because it’s awesome.
MC: It has good things about it.
KB: Alright, thanks for coming on!
MC: Thank you. Love you.
KB: (laughs) That’s embarrassing.
MC: I know.
KB: I love you too.
Katy: Thanks again Michael for coming on the show and after we did that interview we kinda came away with a nice bullet point that I think can be helpful, and it was at the heart of why I wanted Michael to come on, which is I think many times when we’re entertaining this idea of wellness, and whatever it means, making your life meet more of your needs, I’ll just put it under a blanket statement like that, we want everyone to be doing it with us, which is, of course we want that, but the way of going about it is often “you need to give up social media! We need to start eating this! We need to be going for a walk!” So I think that what I have found is, even for when I am teaching the folks out there who are listening or reading, is to keep giving information that allows you to come to your own conclusion. And conversation is a really great way of doing that. If you have a conversation, versus a mandate, or even a suggestion, like not even a suggestion, just a conversation, just a, well I’m really big on bringing out lists. And it’s like, what would be the one thing everyone would like to get out of this summer. What are the three things or the four things you’d like to be able to do, and you start getting ideas that you didn’t even know you had, and then you write them down on a piece of paper, and then you start to see that almost none of them are “more youtube!” you know, and “more likes!”
Child, breaking in from the background: Likes or leeks?
Katy: "Likes." You know, more leeks might be on your summer list, who am I to say?
So it’s just that. Start having conversations and see where it goes.
So! There is a wealth of resources for you online if you decide you want to try a social media pause, prune or break. You can find the transcripts of my earlier podcasts about this at nutritiousmovement.com/podcast, with lots of links and photos to help you navigate the information.
And here’s a little business, as I sort of mentioned a bit earlier in the show, one of the things I’ll be doing this summer when I’m not on social media, is working on a new book I am very excited about. It’s a book about kids, family movement and movement ecology, I’d love to include your stories about how you move with your kids and how your kids move with and without you, and how you’ve changed habits and habitats to get more movement and nature time into your life.
Everyone’s stories matter tremendously; the more diverse a range of stories, the more folks this book can speak to.
So, I’m asking you to share your circumstances, and your solutions. Urban and rural and everything in between are welcome, as are international submissions and submissions from those with (or those who have kids with) disabilities.
There’s no particular story I’m after. Transitioning to more movement, more nature, and more natural movement is a lifelong journey of small steps, and often small steps are the most attainable for others just starting out. If you’ve found any step, big or small, that helped you create magic and movement for your family, I’d love to include it in Grow Wild.
You can find all the submission guidelines in the show notes for this podcast. If I use your story, you’ll receive three signed copies of Grow Wild when it comes out!
That’s it for Move Your DNA this time. Thanks for listening. It was great to spend time with you again this way. We can spend time together in person this summer… I’ll be back in Cambridge, England on August 31 for a one day course called Alignment and Human Movement On and Off the Mat. You can find details about that at nutritiousmovement.com under the live events tab.
And while you’re there, sign up for my newsletter. It’s a great way to stay connected to what I’m up to, and to get examples of a movement rich life in your inbox on the regular.
Alright, that’s it! Bowman out!
VOICEOVER: This has been Move Your DNA, a podcast about movement with Katy Bowman. We hope you find the general information in this podcast informative and helpful, but it is not intended to replace medical advice and should not be used as such.