Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Taking a Break from Social Media: Are you Due for a Detox?

Tuesday, 24 October 2017


Taking a lengthy break from social media has been a daunting and unlikely ambition of mine for what feels like always. Before smartphones and apps were a thing, the best kind of social interaction I could engage in through a phone was an hour-long phone call to my best friend after school (using the house phone and always breaking the rule of not staying on for too long), or spending a good 10 minutes composing a text message that had a character limit on a retro flip-phone, tapping the keys a tedious amount of times to form whatever insightful words my teenage-self desired.

I remember my first proper ‘smartphone’: a pink iPhone 5c I received for my 20th birthday. I was much later on the iPhone bandwagon than everybody else within my age group, it seemed, and I was itching to join the crowd. I’ve always had a serious case of FOMO and this was no exception: you could count the white Blackberry Curve I had before that as my true, first ‘smartphone’, but everybody knows they were severely limited in terms of functions (no Snapchat and Instagram, hello?! There’s surely more to life than Blackberry Messenger!).

Although I did have a brief fondness for my Blackberry, the iPhone was truly remarkable. I felt as if I had re-joined modern society, a previously colour-blind person who was finally able to see colour. Everything was wonderful! This camera is amazing! I can add filters to my pictures?! I was finally part of the technology movement I had longingly dreamed of belonging to.

4 years later, I’m still as app-obsessed as I was in the beginning. I love social media so much I’ve considered social media marketing as a serious career path, and already dabbled in managing a few pages for businesses here and there. Creating my blog encouraged me to see social media as more than just an environment to see what your friends are up to: it’s a way of networking, advertising, and learning. And it’s only getting bigger: most companies, brands, or charitable organisations these days will follow suit to this trend and incorporate social media into their marketing strategy in some way or another. It’s effective, it works, and it’s not going away any time soon.

As with everything else in life, however, where there are benefits there are also downsides, and the huge influence of social media in present society is no exception. According to various studies, heavy use of social media websites such as Facebook and Instagram etc. has been linked to higher rates of depression, particularly in younger individuals. It’s certainly easy to see why – apps like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat have often been criticised for being so ‘image-focused’ – in other words, the emphasis of their platforms are mostly image-based, therefore effortlessly aiding the natural, but usually unfair, urge to compare our lives and selves with others.

People who engage in a lot of social media use may feel they are not living up to the idealised portraits of life that other people tend to present in their profiles.”
Dr Brian Primack, speaking with The Independent

Why is this behaviour so unhealthy and toxic? A quote from Steven Furtick said it best: “the reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everybody else’s highlight reel”. Sometimes a little competition is good for us, and observing how well other people are doing can help kickstart the drive and motivation in ourselves. It’s like the psychological effect of conformity and social learning theory- if you hear about a friend who has started a diet, or decided to give up smoking, you start to toy with the idea yourself, and the more people you know who are also engaging in said healthy activity, the more likely you are to also take part. When it becomes a problem, on the other hand, is when things can start to feel ugly – quite literally. As an avid user/most probably an addict myself, I’ve often fallen victim to the unhealthy, distorted thinking that accompanies the effects of using social media. On Instagram, you only have to click the ‘Explore’ tab to be greeted with an influx of thumbnails featuring impossibly perfect Instagram models. Even in your friend’s feeds, there’s no shyness of a shameless selfie, a loved-up couple with a sickeningly-sweet caption, or an image of a Mojito cocktail placed strategically in view of a glorious beach somewhere exotic and unaffordable overseas.

It’s no wonder our lives don’t add up in comparison, and strike us as merely inadequate.
Facebook is much of the same: at the moment, it feels as if I’m seeing a new engagement announcement every week. Your neighbour is having a baby, some people you worked with a few years ago are off enjoying their honeymoon, your friends from school/college/university are moving on up in the world landing amazing jobs. Someone’s got a dog. Someone else has passed their driving test. Your ex is moving on. Your current love interest is liking that work colleague’s photos. Half of your friends list seem to be backpacking through Europe. The list is endless. And of course – with Snapchat and Instagram ‘stories’ to add more fuel to the fire, there really is no avoiding it so long as you’re logged in. You click them anyway, refreshing your news feed, consistently checking up on what other people are up to. And, maybe in an attempt to try and remain relevant and feel better about our own lives, add your own image, video, or status update with a clever caption, fun emojis, well-thought-out filter and countless hashtags.

Whilst some of this may seem harmless and just for good fun, excessive use of anything can ultimately lead to negative consequences. There’s no shame in sharing an outfit you feel great in, expressing your appreciation for a friend or partner, or wanting to tell the world about your happy news or big moment.  I think the mistake that a lot of us make, however, is falling into the trap of letting other people’s achievements and happiness detract from our own, and becoming so self-absorbed and obsessed with our image that it suddenly becomes important, and addictive, to post constantly and needlessly check up on our friend’s lives every 10 minutes of the day.

I’ve been in this vicious cycle more than I’d like to admit. Spending hours upon hours every day just scrolling through my news feed mindlessly, and honestly feeling pretty fucking shitty comparing myself and my successes to others. I’ve felt that weird disappointment when something I posted didn’t get many likes, and that rush of gratification when something I posted did. The little ‘hearts’ and ‘thumbs-ups’ that are littered around our screens are addictive, and it’s no secret to anyone. Yet, we find it so hard to let go and detach from this weird virtual reality we’ve created. Most people I know have a love-hate relationship with the social media we engage in today, and although we use it, and know it’s bad for us, we can’t seem to shake it. I’ve deactivated my Facebook a number of times only to return within a 24 hour period, and whatever our reasons may be, I bet many others have also tried and failed to cut off completely from this all-consuming technology.

Smartphones simply made this easier, in my opinion, with the ease of accessing apps so quickly at our fingertips. In fact, the most I think I’ve ever managed to limit my social media addiction is when I’ve been on holiday in rural France, where there was no strong network signal or wifi connection. I’ve experienced the withdrawal symptoms first-hand too: irritability, boredom, and basically feeling cut-off from society. I know this is not a normal way to feel, and with all of the negativity enveloping me lately surrounding my use of social media, I guess something just finally snapped inside of me that said ‘enough is enough’. I de-activated my Facebook, and deleted the app, including its counterpart Messenger. I also deleted the Instagram and Snapchat applications, left with only iMessage and Whatsapp to communicate. The superficiality of it all had finally got to me enough for me to seek out an escape, and although my break won’t be permanent (thinking realistically here!), I think a good few days away from social media will ultimately do me some good. I’m not planning to move to a forest and dissociate from civilisation altogether, merely give myself and my mind a much-needed break from the craziness of the fucked-up ways social media can make us feel.

I’ll be documenting the next few days (in a word document, fear not) of my experience, and plan to post a summary of my feelings/struggles sometime next week when I return. It’s probably also worth mentioning that to prevent myself from going completely stir crazy, I allowed myself to keep the Twitter and Reddit apps, and E-mail for work reasons. I figured there is much less emphasis on ‘visual’ image and representation on Twitter and Reddit, yet still permits me to engage with others on topics and even just read about topics that may interest me.
If you’ve perhaps been feeling the same way as myself, I’d strongly encourage you to also take part and join me in this temporary social media-detox. Although I understand it’s very unlikely I would ever be able to give it up for good, my best hopes for this experince is potentially limiting my use of social media websites in the future, and re-learning the art of being more present in my real life social interactions.

Do you also suffer from social media addiction? If you've ever given it up, has your life improved as a result?

Part 2 is live now! Check it out here

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