At the end of January, I posted this on my Instagram and Facebook pages:
Initially, I was concerned that my friends would think that I was being melodramatic, or believe that my social media addiction was worse than it actually was. Perhaps some of those who had stepped back from the platforms already were asking themselves why I wasn’t going further, and deactivating my account entirely.
I asked my partner to change my passwords, I deleted the apps from my phone and I logged out of the online browsers to prevent me from sneakily signing in automatically. So why the sudden decision to remove myself?
In my old job, I remember being horrified when a speaker announced that wifi is a basic human necessity, alongside water, shelter and food. I have read the studies where it cites the average person checks their phone at least 100 times a day. Of course, I was no different, but I always assumed most of my activity online was work-related. I didn’t think I had a problem as I had resisted the allure of doe-eye filtered selfies, the endless hashtags and the shaky panoramas of banal Instagram stories.
If I had such a healthy relationship with my social media, why hadn’t I gone a day without checking it?
I asked myself an important question: Could I live without it?
Was it really part of my job to be on there? In my first terrible intern job in London, I had a boss who thought nothing of sending urgent emails at 4am, defending her insomnia by telling us we had to react to the needs of the Asia and American teams in ‘real time’. My treat would be a blurry check on my social feeds for respite. In my next position, my self-imposed role as a social media ambassador meant that I needed to be an expert and show how we could integrate technology into our events (although I never did get my live Twitter wall). Having moved abroad and away from the drudgery of emails, I then felt it was my responsibility to post about my life and experiences to allow those at home a glimpse into my world, however far away it was.
That said, I have always seen the value in disconnecting from technology. I sought out holidays that were off the digital map, where phones and laptops were made redundant by a lack of signal. I’ve scuba dived in a remote National Park, trekked up a volcano far from civilisation, and frequently trample the rainforest paths. If I am honest, though, the phone never strays far from the pocket – it just changes into a camera.
But then I realised something important: I don’t need to have zero bars or a weak wifi cloud to switch off from my phone. I recently discovered the ‘Do Not Disturb’ setting on my phone which enables me to have ‘buzz-free’ uninterrupted sleep. I often switch on airplane mode at work to avoid the tell-tale vibrations whilst teaching my students. I did try enforcing a no mobile zone in the bedroom but after a few alarms were missed, they inevitably crept back to our nightstands.
Despite all these incremental changes, I decided to step away from my social media in a more definitive way. Here’s what I’ve learnt after a 6-weeks hiatus:
- No one cares
This one hurt. I asked my partner about the reaction to my post – was there a public outcry, or an online petition to get me to log back on? No, of course not. Only a couple of my friends noticed my absence as they missed my jungle pictures, so I just pinged them some directly.
- Relationships take real work
Liking my friends’ content or posting a heart-eyes face does not equate to a conversation. Since I quit, I have been actively reaching out to my mates, either by posting letters, calling them or arranging video dates to catch up properly. Technology can be used in a more human way than a mere ‘thumbs up’ or half-arsed meme to celebrate their momentous achievement of having a baby.
- We are all creepy stalkers
Now that I’m inhabiting an offline world, I enjoy the anonymity of my free time. When my colleagues ask me what I’ve been up to, they don’t already know from my pictures. The only downside is that people assume that I know what is going on too, and I have missed a few parties by being out of the loop.
- I sound pretentious
Admitting I have given up social media is a bit like announcing I am vegan. I think people think that I’m trying to be alternative, or denouncing anyone that uses it. Far from it – if you can cultivate a healthy relationship with it and inspire others on there, power to you!
- You be you
The bombardment of smiling portraits, tropical holidays, wedding albums, first house, work promotions, births, engagements, etc. can be exhausting to keep up with. It wouldn’t be so overwhelming if they were indeed just your friends, but your unedited contact list consists of barely-spoken to acquaintances, ex-colleagues, estranged friends from school and brief travel companions. I feel content knowing that if any cause for celebration happened in my friend group, I’d find out about it.
- The clock has rewarded me
I have been gifted with more hours each day. I have been obsessively learning Spanish, reading with an appetite I’ve not had since University and had the energy to write, too. I am less chaotic in my daily routine, and am grateful to be one less zombie trudging to work with my head down. I am sleeping better and my partner is enjoying my full and undivided attention (I am yet to persuade him to return the favour, though).
So, will I go back to using social media? Perhaps. But for now, I am enjoying my freedom far too much to log back on.