Images by Lindsay Arakawa

The first thing I do every morning is grab my phone to look at all the notifications I received overnight. Having moved to Tokyo in October 2018 where I now work as a freelancer, one of the best ways to keep in touch with my friends is through the internet.

This might be obvious, but moving to another country is hard. Maybe it’s because I’m entering the last year of my twenties and all I want is comfort and familiarity, but I’ve never felt more like a fish out of water. It’s a funny thing, growing up in Hawai’i where being a Japanese American feels so natural. You’re surrounded by people who look like you, sound like you, and will understand and accept you even if they don’t.

Having lived in Japan for almost a year now, I explain to my family and friends that it feels like I’m learning how to be an adult again. Without a full-time job, I’ve had a lot more free time—free time to travel, to learn how to speak more natural Japanese, to spend money I don’t have, to kind of just live in a way that I haven’t allowed myself to ever since I set out on paving my career path. With all of this free time, I’m able to observe, think, and maybe be more present in day-to-day activities. become aware of the social media consumption habits I developed over the past few years.

In the second half of 2018, I left my 9-to-5 job as a social media strategist in New York City at my dream job. The decision came a lot easier than I ever thought it would. For three years, I worked my ass off in an industry where being on-call for timely events that needed coverage during early mornings, late evenings, and over the weekend was expected. At after-work drinks, friends and coworkers would ask why I was still working at 9 p.m. and I’d answer with my standard reply: “It’s an optimized time to post on Instagram.”

These habits are the topic of constant conversation among my circle of friends—how we are in dire need of a digital detox, how social media has ruined dating, how we’re so glad it wasn’t as prevalent when we were in middle school, how there’s less of a need to reach out to friends you haven’t seen in a while because of Instagram Stories. I had a friend say to me once, “See you on Instagram!” when we were saying our goodbyes.

Social media has grown into something we can’t live with but also can’t seem to ditch. It’s become so ingrained in how we operate that it takes a conscious effort to realize just how dependent we’ve become.

Lines have always been a little blurry for me when it comes to my relationship with social media. For the past decade, my career has been to advise clients how to best optimize their Instagram accounts for better engagement. Being an Instagram consultant means knowing and understanding the ins and outs of the platform, which means that I need to be logging into the app day and night.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my job and thoroughly enjoy applying strategic thinking to creative ideas. (I’m a Virgo.) But when I’m able to separate work from pleasure, I’m finding that being more conscious about how and when I spend time on social media has become integral to my well-being. I decided to track my social media usage to get a sense of where I could improve, and kept a 4-day journal.

Monday

08:30 Wake up and check emails. 
11:10 Go to a katsudon place in Yoyogi-Uehara based on a restaurant I saw a couple friends tag on Instagram.
11:45 Take a pic of the katsudon (it was fire) and post to my Instagram Stories. Decide not to add a geotag. Instagram makes places incredibly accessible; I feel like it’s starting to change places that felt like a special experience to me. (I know I’m being selfish, sorry!). I probably shouldn’t be posting the photo in the first place if I don’t want people to ask where it is, but this compromise gives me more control over the exposure? IDK, still trying to navigate these situations and feelings.
12:15 Catch up on some personal and freelance work, which requires me to be on social media, at a new cafe in Aoyama (even though it’s technically my day off).
16:30–18:30 Post some art I drew on my iPad to my Instagram feed. Spend the next couple of hours checking in on their performance.
19:00 Check Finsta. Post two images in a photo carousel of my boyfriend photobombing a really nice picture I took of Tokyo Tower. A lot of my friends on Instagram use this app as a second account to post content that’s less curated and meant for a close circle of family and friends. I mainly use my account as a photo diary of recent memories and for posting memes that make me laugh. 
01:00 Scroll through Instagram one last time before bed. Watch some Instagram Stories. Check up on Twitter. For eyesight purposes, I’m trying to get better about not staring at a small bright rectangular screen in complete darkness. Maybe I need to leave my phone charging in another room of my apartment. I spent a lot of time on my phone today.

Recap: Today I was very aware of how I used my phone with it being the first day of tracking my habits. I mostly wanted to make sure that if I tapped into certain apps, that I was productive with my time and didn’t get caught up in any distractions. After I posted my artwork on my Instagram feed I spent a couple hours checking in on its performance. I’ve developed a habit of constantly watching the notifications roll through. There’s something satisfying about it. I didn’t always feel this way, but overtime I started to realize that validation doesn’t always come in the form of Instagram engagement. 

Tuesday

07:55 Wake up to my phone’s alarm for a call with a client I have in New York City. Check Instagram DMs before I even sit upright. Nothing interesting.
08:00 Dial into a client call to chat about an Instagram strategy. Log into their account to update their Instagram Stories. Analyze previous posts to discuss performance and a plan for the month of June.
10:30 Repeat the same song on Spotify three times in a row. I’m working out of a client’s office just a 10-minute walk from my house. Make an effort to look at my phone less during my commute. 
17:30 Watch hella YouTube alien explainers and puppy videos and nap on my couch. Back home after work, this is how I chill tf out. 
18:45 Check Instagram. The amount of times I check the app is almost routine, and a part of me is trying not to fight it but instead be more conscious of what I’m tapping into. I want to engage with a purpose in mind.
01:00 Watch a new Korean drama on Netflix on my iPad. Another screen-friendly habit I’ve developed is having a program on as background noise when I fall asleep. Don’t check my Instagram because I’m too tired to care. 

Recap: I’m finding that opting into time spent scrolling through social media apps has become sort of an escape for me from work or other stressful situations. I think my relationship with social media will be less about decreasing my browsing time and more about how I choose to use each app and what positive satisfaction I want to get out of each opt-in experience.

Wednesday

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09:00 Wake up to my alarm in a panic. Check emails.
11:10 Check in on a creative project I’ve been working on that went live today. Notice my Instagram handle wasn’t tagged in the copy of the post. Get a little annoyed, as any exposure to build awareness of my creative work has been semi-crucial when working with brands that have bigger followings. I try not to let it bother me, so I set down my phone and cook eggs for breakfast.
13:00 Turn on Screen Time. Social media makes it so easy to click from one post to the next, and before you know it two hours have passed and you haven’t moved.
20:20 Research different Instagram accounts and trends for new social media strategy projects I have in the works. Save Instagram posts in a scheduler. Ignore the Screen Time limit I set for myself.
23:25 Download apps that will help me with productivity and mindfulness like Headspace, a meditation app. Go to bed while listening to a Sleepcast.

Recap: Today there was less downtime for me to get bored. I noticed that every time I picked up my phone, it was to get a task done. I don’t want to get to a place where I end up thinking of my phone as a source of stress.

Thursday

08:10 Wake up and check email notifications. Go back to sleep.
08:30 Wake up again and my boyfriend tells me he doesn’t know what Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century is. Open YouTube to get him up to speed with a couple videos. 
08:45 Log onto my Finsta to check up on close friends
09:05 Watch a YouTube video about baby beavers and my favorite drag queen program, The Trixie & Katya Show, while eating oatmeal to start the day on a positive note. It’s easy to identify social media content that makes you feel bad about yourself, so instead it’s been refreshing to find what type of content excites and inspires me.
09:30 Look through Instagram accounts via the desktop app for another client. Evaluate different captions for Instagram feed posts.
14:05 Browse through the Instagram feed of an eyewear brand that wants to gift me some glasses. I choose a pair in a color called “matcha green.”
16:15 Don’t look at my phone because I am focused on packing for a flight to Seoul for vacation.
18:30 Switch my phone to Airplane mode. While waiting to take off, I start to get separation anxiety from my phone. I realize my relationship to it has become one of extreme dependence. Beyond using it as a communication tool, my phone also helps me navigate from point A to point B, answers all my burning questions, and more. It’s a little personal assistant I might have a hard time living without. I try not to think about disconnecting.
22:05 Land in Seoul. Pick up a SIM card at the airport. Arrive to my Airbnb and pass out before I can check my phone again.

Recap: Because so much of my work revolves around me being on my phone, it’s been interesting to navigate my feelings toward this dependency. It used to really upset me, and I would start to question my chosen career path and get down on myself. But after a conversation with a close friend, I felt that instead of fighting that dependency I needed to accept the roles that social media and my phone play in my life. Like most relationships, the one I keep with social media is not always going to be perfect. There will be days where I’ll feel like I’ve got a hold on things and other days where the best solution is to take a break. The habits I’ve developed with and around social media have become so routine that it could be helpful for me to continue to apply positive intention to my habits and that social media can only become as unhealthy as I allow it to.