(Featured Image Credit: Dustn.tv)
My alarm would chime at 7am. My eyelids flipped open; my hand was already tightly closed around my rectangular life-support, it’s luminous light ready to permeate my eyes and deliver its essential fix. I frantically flipped from app to app, desperate to absorb any information I had missed in the past eight hours of sleep-induced ignorance. I couldn’t even tuck into my bran flakes without first ferociously scrolling through my Instagram feed, scanning every detail of the group chat, sweeping through Facebook in all its pointlessness – liking, commenting, liking comments, commenting on photos I had liked, liking photos I had commented on and so on… I was falling into an endless, unrecognisably vicious cycle of needless oblivion. It was a compulsion.
It was December 2017 when I had a moment of epiphany. I put my iPhone down, just for a moment, and used my brain. After years of imprisonment I began to realise that social media isn’t all that great. So, beginning January 2018 (new year, new me), I decided to remove it from my life. Considering a life without social media seemed daunting at first. How would I track my best friend’s cousin-in-law’s niece’s step-brother’s gym progress?! Even more seriously, how would I share with the world my daily happenings – my funny party photos, quirky café visits, holiday snaps, and fashion finds? Put simply: missing out seemed too big of a threat to attempt a social media cleanse. We have this need to know anything and everything, and immediately – to devour information in its snap-shot frame, just to toss it aside as we inevitably jump to the next update. It took me a while to recognise the destructiveness of this behaviour, but I ultimately decided to challenge my fears. It was a bumpy ride; Instagram was missed significantly and came back for a few weeks, but I just kept reminding myself that we broke up for a reason. And now, with no social media accounts at all, I’ve noticed some interesting changes in my life.
At parties, in interviews, in general first-time conversations with people, I was often asked: ‘So, what do you do in your spare time?’ Of course, I do have interests and hobbies – it’s not got that bad. But, when I thought about this, and was honest with myself, I realised that my spare time tended to consist of me sitting and staring at my phone. I don’t think this qualifies as a particularly sought-after skill by employers, or as the winning characteristic of a particularly riveting new friend. In fact, there are so many things I do love to do, or would love to do, but social media and my phone in general had become the priority. It was as if the time I did spend doing other things came at a cost as I would then have to dedicate extra time consuming all I had missed in the social media sphere.
Generally, I like to think of myself as a very happy person. But, as soon as I mindlessly opened ‘Explore’ on Instagram, or began the zombie-esque routine of scrolling through old school-friends’ tweets, a majestic gravitational force called ‘comparison’ would drag my mood to the floor. My life was never quite as perfect as the countless images I was exposed to, or as entertaining as the 140-character anecdotes I flicked through. Recent articles have revealed an increased feeling of loneliness among young people, and one of the primary causes of this is social media. The paradox of increased loneliness in a world of unprecedented connectivity seems almost unbelievable. Yet it is this constant contact with the events of others’ lives which makes loneliness entirely natural. If you swipe through forty-seven Instagram stories capturing various people having a wild Saturday night then, naturally, your pyjamas, cup of tea and Strictly Come Dancing arrangement suddenly seen significantly inferior – a failure – compared to others clearly having copious amounts of fun. However, the real question is, are they? Sadly, the fifteen thirty-second video clips they have uploaded in the past twenty minutes mean they’re missing the crucial moments of this ‘fun.’ In fact, they may as well have been sat beside you watching Strictly.
Kissing goodbye to this constant comparison allowed me to embrace positivity. My confidence has most definitely grown; in living solely through my own experiences, I am not constantly faced with advertisements telling me how much better I could be. In accepting this paradigm, by which the existence paraded by our online icons, which is often a distortion of the truth, is an unattainable reality, and finding contentment in what you have, the sustainment of happiness becomes significantly easier.
Before, I would often see something and my first thought would be how great it would look on my Instagram feed. On evaluating this thought process, I asked myself why I felt the need to share everything, surely my personal observation and appreciation is more important? Why post it with a dramatic filter, purely in search of validation, when I could simply look at it myself? It seems my eyes digested the world through a lens with set criteria; I was moulding my real life to fit the dimensions of a phone screen. Even worse, my enjoyment of the moment wasn’t enough, my however-many followers also had to approve. We can no longer expend a moment of individual appreciation without the reassurance that the whole world loves it too.
I’m aware this isn’t entirely the point, and I do acknowledge the benefits. Social media feeds can be deeply personal aspects of our lives, and a means of individual expression. They are a valuable way of documenting significant moments, a catalogue to graze through when we’re older, or when we’re going through a tough period. I suppose I’m questioning why these moments need to be so publicised, because it’s this publicization which seems to result in negative emotional effects. I take a lot of photos, but they are just for me. This way, it doesn’t matter if the filter isn’t perfect, because the importance of that image lies in its associations, its memories, and its meanings.
Social media is also a phenomenal means of connecting with whoever, whenever, and wherever. Globalisation has come with the expansion of communication, which widens opportunities, develops awareness, and allows integration with those otherwise unreachable. However, I feel that on a personal and emotional level I was somewhat reduced. My preoccupation with the lives of others physically distant caused me to neglect those sat beside me.
The deletion of Facebook messenger was admittedly a toughy. It was the best way to contact those who I wasn’t quite on the exchange-of-numbers level with. However, I think this in itself implies that online communication with these particular people wasn’t a necessity; those close to me, those whose lives I maintain a genuine interest in, have my phone number and I have theirs. It seems our friend-count has become entwined with our identity. Those with the most are assumed to be successful and their approval regarded as most desirable. Those with less are somehow inferior. But friendship isn’t quantifiable, and worth isn’t measurable – certainly not with social media as the calculator. Of course, we do know this, but we are inclined to think this way when enveloped in the social media world.
In 2017, The Royal Society of Public Health embarked on a study into the negative impacts of social media, asking 1,500 young people aged 11-25 to track their moods whilst using the five most popular social media sites. A BBC report revealed their findings: ‘7 in 10 said Instagram made them feel worse about body image and half of 14-24 year-olds reported Instagram and Facebook exacerbated feelings of anxiety.’ It’s like a poisonous drink that we just keep on sipping. Mental health is crucial, and now that a threat such as social media has been exposed it is paramount that action is taken. For me, feeling secure in myself and understanding the importance of body positivity outweighs the gratification I would feel from a couple of likes on a witty Facebook comment. It’s about shifting perspective in our priorities and focusing on the bigger picture. I know that objectively we would all rather achieve an entire day of sustained happiness offline, than relish in a few brief moments of the illusionary fulfilment felt when that notification bubble blooms.
Perhaps the largest gain from my online retrenchment is something we tend to take for granted – time. I now have a wealth of this luxury to read, to watch films, to socialise face-to-face, to study, and to finally complete the long, abandoned list of things my previous ‘busy-ness’ had tossed aside. It’s highly cliché, and perhaps excessively spoony, but you do only live one life; it would be a shame to live it through your mobile.
But how does one quit a way of life? How does one disconnect from such a vital means of connection? It’s all about being honest with yourself. I do recognise the benefits of the platform and would only advocate quitting if it is truly a detriment to your quality of life. Balance is requisite.
Now, the first feed I get in the morning is a hearty bowl of bran flakes, not Twitter or Facebook. My phone sleeps on the other side of the room. My attention-span is surmounting from its shrivelled form. I have conversations. I make eye contact. I do those human things that humans can do. If you’ve made it to the end of this article without checking Snapchat, you have taken the first step. Now put your iPhone down, just for a moment, and perhaps an epiphany will strike you too.