In 2021, we got something fairly novel: a brand-new national holiday. Juneteenth marks the final end of slavery in the United States, and it will be celebrated on June 19 every year.
I am 36 years old, and Juneteenth is the only federal holiday that has been recognized during my lifetime. Before Juneteenth, the last federal holiday designation took place in 1983, for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Juneteenth and MLK Day honor pretty significant events and people. Hard to overshadow those holidays. But there’s no immutable rule that says we have to limit ourselves to any set number of federal holidays, or that holidays have to arise out of any situation of particular historical gravity. We don’t have to be so stingy with holidays. We choose to be so stingy with holidays.
I think we could all use a little more time to celebrate though, and perhaps even a little more meaningful time off from work. So, I propose a new federal holiday, without waiting 38 years for it this time. This holiday we’re not going to necessarily celebrate with a barbecue or a football game or by giving gifts. The major theme of this new holiday is that all major social media platforms would be shut down, voluntarily or otherwise, for one whole day.
Think about it. Before Facebook first opened its platform to anyone over the age of 13 in 2006, we really had no historical precedent for the kind of time-sucking, brainwashing, personal interaction-killing performative machine Facebook and its progeny eventually became. Every day was a social media holiday.
Now we plow nearly a quarter of our waking hours into social media. Before the pandemic, it was widely reported that the average American spent two hours and three minutes on social media platforms each day. Last year, though, driven in part by the pandemic, one study found that Americans spent 1,300 hours on social media on average — about three-and-a-half hours per day. Keep in mind that a full-time job will only take 2,080 hours in a year if you work through the holidays and don’t take any time off.
Spending 1,300 hours on social media in a year is not just a tremendous waste of time, it is also actively harmful to individuals and to society. Surely some people somewhere get the vague benefits that the social media companies like to tout of some sort of positive “connection” that they otherwise would not have gotten. But we also get rampant disinformation, increased sectarian violence around the globe, ease of use for human traffickers, the spread of conspiracy theories harmful to democracy, profound psychological damage to everyone and in particular to teenage girls, sold a lot of crap we don’t need, increased political polarization, an unquantifiable though surely magnificent level of lost productivity, and, oh yeah, inciting a genocide here and there.
I tell people that in 30 years, I think we will look back on the social media industry like we look back on the tobacco industry today. Probably more accurately though it will be like looking back on the tobacco industry getting married to the gun lobby in the middle of a sharknado while the fossil fuel industry officiates.
It’s a problem. Anyway, taking one day off from this whole hot mess of social media sure isn’t going to solve anything permanently, but it’s not going to hurt either to have one day to reflect in which we’re not constantly bombarded by pointless push notifications on our phones. A closure of social media platforms for just one day would probably survive constitutional scrutiny too as a narrowly tailored time, place, and manner restriction on speech.
What do you do on Social Media Freedom Day? Anything you want that is not sitting in front of a screen. Read a book. Catch up on a project you’ve been meaning to get to. Call an old friend for a drink. Send the kids to a matinee and have sex with your significant other in the middle of the afternoon like you used to. Go to a park or trail and enjoy some outdoor recreation. We could even put the holiday on January 6 to commemorate the foundational role toxic social media played in causing that whole debacle, and to keep the fascists from co-opting January 6 into some sort of Confederate-esque lost-cause shadow holiday. Maybe go snowshoeing, I guess.
No social media for a whole day. Sounds good to me. If it does to you too, let’s get our employees in Congress working on it.
Jonathan Wolf is a civil litigator and author of Your Debt-Free JD (affiliate link). He has taught legal writing, written for a wide variety of publications, and made it both his business and his pleasure to be financially and scientifically literate. Any views he expresses are probably pure gold, but are nonetheless solely his own and should not be attributed to any organization with which he is affiliated. He wouldn’t want to share the credit anyway. He can be reached at email@example.com.