finance, psychology

A Social Media-Free Birthday

I celebrated another year of life a couple of weeks ago! I like to think I celebrated it during the whole week of July 13-20. I had this idea a while back that I wanted to do an Analog Birthday with several friends: in a park, no phones, maybe even an old-school boom box or cassette player, and disposable cameras. Of course, this year I wasn’t able to be in a place where a large number of friends were, so I put it on hold, maybe next year.

This year I let myself do a little shopping. My YNAB budget now has a category called “Clothing Upgrades” in the category I’ve labeled “Investing In Myself.”  That category also includes Hobbies, Subscriptions, and Personal Care.

Everything fun I bought I considered a birthday treat to myself. I didn’t really buy much, but after so much austerity during the pandemic, I felt like a shopaholic!

I nearly talked myself out of buying anything at all, out of fear of not saving enough in these uncertain times. But then I told myself: “your budget goals are met, and your rent and bills are paid even into the upcoming months. You have an emergency fund. Treat yo self!”

So I let myself buy a few things leading up to and shortly after my birthday: sunglasses, dessert, a dress, and a guitalele, which is a cross between a ukulele and a guitar. So far I’ve massively enjoyed all of them!

Not Quite Analog, But Social Media-Free

This is the first year since probably 2005 that I haven’t gotten a slew of birthday messages on my wall. (Do we still call it a wall?) I haven’t completely deactivated all my accounts, but I removed my birthday to see what it would feel like. While I was contemplating deactivating all social media a few weeks ago, I had a moment of panic thinking “Wait! What if no one remembers my birthday?!” After a few minutes though, I reminded myself that: 1) I’m not turning six, and 2) Why do I need random greetings from people I haven’t kept in touch with anyway?

Facebook has revolutionized our social lives. It’s become our one and only centralized calendar where everybody’s birthday is stored. Who needs to remember anymore, when you have an app to remind you? It’s so easy to pop off a quick birthday greeting to Fulanita Whoever when you get a notification without even thinking whether you’ve had any interaction with that person in the last year. It’s harmless, yes, and it’s even fun. Who doesn’t love getting adoration on their special day? But I decided to try to live without it this year to see how it felt.

What did I notice? 

Some people still remembered it! I have a handful of friends who don’t seem to rely much on social media anyway. And still others who use it plenty, and remembered anyway. I appreciated their messages so much more because they made an effort to remember or put it in their calendars.

Of course, plenty of people forgot. But I didn’t focus on who didn’t remember, probably because my expectations were already pretty low that anyone would remember anyway! I suppose there were a couple of people who I thought I’d hear from and didn’t, but we are all busy adults.

I’d previously been in the habit of posting a photo on my birthday. You know, the old Instagram “+1” post. That’s a habit I picked up from some former teenage students, I’m slightly embarrassed to admit.  Nope, this year there were no selfies or even normal self-portraits. Okay, there may have been a couple of selfies, but they weren’t taken to share. The point is, I wasn’t feeling pulled in to any app or platform to check messages or likes. It was just a normal day peppered with a few nice and thoughtful text messages and calls. I also painted watercolor flowers with a 12-year-old student on Skype (she even made me a hand-crafted card)!

I realize none of this is revolutionary – this is how people have been celebrating birthdays for years. But in untangling myself from the web of social networks, these are my observations.

What else am I noticing in this social media-free space?

I’m really enjoying this mental space. I tend to forget how cluttered my mind gets after I spend time scrolling the feeds. I’m enjoying having my own thoughts, not planning captions or posts (though that is a HARD mental habit to break!), not feeling the need to endlessly keep up.

I still have to use LinkedIn for work, although I schedule posts with HootSuite. But to check the stats of the company account I still have to use my own login, so I see the news feed there. What a weird place, that LinkedIn news feed. It’s full of rants against HR departments and recruiters. “Dear HR managers, please stop ____. Employees want ____.” Or if it’s not that, it’s full of humblebrags about new positions. Or depressing posts about layoffs. This is another account I’ll be limiting MUCH more in the future. Really, do we even need LinkedIn? My immediate response is “but the job market! how will you keep up with the job market!” And that, my friends, is how they keep us coming back.

I’m using my spare time to practice playing my little guitalele. Already knowing a good number of guitar chords really helps me have a head start, and since it’s small, it’s a lot more manageable to play. I take it out even in little 5-minute windows of free time.

Could you be any more adorable?

I felt a craving for connection, but rather than get back on social media, I reached out to some people I’m messaging with here in my new city who want to do conversation exchanges. Then I scheduled a couple of phone calls with friends. All in all, it was a very eventful week, but giving myself mental space to process everything is a gift in itself. So, happy birthday to me!