Just to eliminate any disappointment right off the bat, I’m afraid this isn’t a prequel to 127 hours. I haven’t been trapped by a boulder and had to cut my arm off to survive. No, much worse than that. I’ve spent 100 hours away from social media (just over 4 days to be precise). What comes to mind? Peace? Tranquillity? A whole new plane of existence? That’s what I thought too. In reality, it just consisted of me questioning my existence, watching videos of people cutting soap for hours on end and having more conversations with Alexa than a human probably should. So here’s the tea…
I’d been thinking about partaking in a social media Detox for a while. As a Gen Z gal, I’ve spent a large majority of my life staring at a screen and living my life via social media. It all started back when I was 8 years old, where I had my first taste of speaking to strangers online. Of course, this was through a cartoon penguin and communication was pretty limited. Then came the age of MSN and SP3AKiiNG LiiK3 THiiS, that time I made a Youtube account to upload videos of me singing Mariah Carey, selecting my best friends on Bebo and marrying people I barely knew on Facebook. Whether I like to admit it or not, social media was a huge part of my childhood and teen life, and has continued to play a role in my adulthood too.
Whatever the next social media craze was, I’ve always jumped straight onto the bandwagon. MySpace, Formspring, ASK FM, Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, you name it, I’ve tried it. And to some extent, I’ve allowed all of these sites to take over my life. I know that may sound a tiiiiny bit dramatic, but only recently have I been able to reflect on the impact that social media has had on my wellbeing. Of course, however, there are pros and cons to everything. Social media has the ability to make you feel on top at the world at times, but also make you feel as small as a grain of sand. Unfortunately, I find that I’m more often falling in the latter category. The “on top of the world” usually consists of people enjoying my content, being told that my posts are inspiring and overall feeling loved by the people around me (isn’t it terrifying what a like button can do?). The grain of sand feeling usually comes from feeling invisible, crying out for help (another unhealthy coping mechanism, sorry Twitter) and feeling like nobody hears you, and overall just gauging that your social media presence isn’t positive. I know that not everyone feels this way. But me? I seek CONSTANT reassurance from the people around me. Sometimes it makes me want to astral project out of my body just so I can slap myself and ask WHY DO YOU CARE? WHAT DOES IT MATTER? YOU ARE ALIVE AND YOU HAVE THE POTENTIAL TO DO WHATEVER YOU WANT AND YOU’RE LETTING YOUR EMOTIONS BE IMPACTED BY A FREE APP. It’s pathetic, really, but deeply, deeply entrenched into my head.
I’m wondering whether one of these aggressive internal conversations with myself was one of the reasons I decided to do this, although the true reasons are still pretty unclear. I just woke up on Monday morning, deactivated Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, deleted all trace of the apps and moved on with my day. I think I just opened my eyes and decided that I didn’t want to exist for a little while, and the scary part is, I really have felt like I barely exist this week. You know how it goes, If you didn’t take a picture, did it even happen? If you didn’t take a video your food, did you even eat it? If you delete all trace of your social media footprint, were you ever there in the first place?
If you take all of this away, what’s left?
One of the most important questions to ask yourself: who are you without the identity you’ve moulded on social media? You may have thousands of followers and message notifications that you struggle to clear but if you took that platform away, what would be left? I had that tried and tested for me this week, and the realisation wasn’t pretty. I often use social media to create a facade that my life is going swimmingly, whereas this detox allowed me to notice a rather large instagram-shaped hole where my self-esteem is supposed to be. I’ve never had to fill this hole myself, because I’ve always let everyone else do it for me. I don’t have to like myself if other people like me, right? The worst realisation is that this goes so much further than social media, it just took me removing my BIGGEST distraction technique to see it. Social media has always been a coping mechanism for me. Without it, I’ve probably felt more isolated than I’ve felt in years. It would’ve been a lot easier to come to terms with this had I been able to pass all of my problems off as solely social media-related… but no, there always seems to be some kind of underlying cause. All of these seemingly negative thoughts aside, these 100 hours away have allowed me to become much more in touch with my feelings. Even though it feels SO hard to articulate these right now, I feel this is the start of making changes to myself for the better. I think I’ve known for a while that I need to focus on myself, and even if it did take 5 days of constant paranoia, rumination and downright boredom to come to terms with it, it’s allowed me to think about steps to improve my wellbeing and feed my soul.
So, what did I conclude? Well, if I woke up one morning and social media ceased to exist, I’d regret not being present. Truly present. I can think back to so many times where I was likely on my phone when I could’ve just been enjoying the moment. The time I could’ve spent with the people that I love was spent scrolling through endless tweets that left no impact on my life. Yes, the last few days have felt pretty isolating when I’ve been alone. However, when I’ve been interacting with people and having conversations, I do feel more present. I’ve also been pretty productive as a whole, and forced myself to do things I may not have normally found the time to do. I want to feel happiness that isn’t dictated by likes. I want to feel excited without broadcasting it to the world. I want to try and keep a memory without having to physically record it. I want to tell my friends I love them with my words and my open arms and not a gif every few days on the group chat. I need to tell myself that there is more to life than this.
Another thing I’ve concluded – social media is not necessarily the enemy. Social media isn’t toxic, it’s the way you choose to use it that can be. Fortunately, you can mute people and words on Twitter (my muted words are Piers Morgan and Love Island – it’s changed my life), unfollow accounts on Instagram AND limit your screen time. If social media is something you spend a lot of time on, ensure to fill it with the things you love! After all, you’re in control of what appears on your newsfeed. If you find yourself becoming upset by things on social media – put yourself first and avoid it. Unfollow “thinspo” and diet accounts, models who make you feel bad about yourself and anything unauthentic. Instead, follow bright and colourful poetry accounts, home inspo and pet accounts. At the end of the day, I know I’d rather be looking at sausage dogs in jumpers over unrealistic beauty standards (although sausage dogs in jumpers are unbelievably beautiful).
This doesn’t mean I’m going to cut off from social media and live under a rock for the rest of my life, no. I love cat videos and those stupid Instagram quiz filters waaay too much for that. That being said, I am going to pledge a few things so that me and social media can live in blissful harmony:
- BE. MORE. PRESENT. – In social situations, my phone will either be face down or not there at all. I’ve wasted so much time glaring at a screen when I could’ve been with the people I love having… wait for it… REAL LIFE FACE-TO-FACE CONVERSATIONS. Such a rarity, I know.
- LESS SCREEN TIME – I spend 40 hours a week starting at a computer screen, and then seem to come home and spend another 6 hours starting at a phone screen, TV screen and laptop screen. I pledge to spend less time not only on my phone, but on all electronic devices. Instead I’ll…
- GET A HOBBY – I’ve spent so many years of my life investing in hobbies and never pursuing them. I bought a sewing machine a few years ago, it’s completely untouched. I bought a graphics tablet, used it a few times and put it into storage. I have hundreds of books that I’ve never read. I have a PIANO that I don’t know how to play. I have a BRAIN that is capable of learning so much. Sometimes my head feels like it’s going to explode when I think of all of the things I could do and learn and be. The possibilities are endless – and I’m sure if I added up all of my screen time over a lifetime then I would be fluent in AT LEAST 10 languages by now including Elvish.
- TRY AGAIN – As much as I complained, I will try to have social media detoxes more often. This was my first attempt, and it’s likely that I wasn’t in a great mindset to begin with which probably didn’t help. In addition to that, I did a Monday-Friday detox, meaning I spent the whole time working and then sitting around doing nothing. If I were to try this again, I’d do it during a time where I knew I could keep myself busy and truly feel present and appreciative of the places and people around me. These last 5 days have been spent either in an office or in bed, neither of which are exactly the best settings to rediscover yourself.
If you’re reading this, I’m sorry that my social media detox wasn’t the Eat, Pray, Love remake that you may have been hoping for. I didn’t rediscover my true self, but I did become self aware, and maybe that’s exactly what I needed from this. If you ever feel like taking a step back, maybe you’ll find something worth discovering too.