Two Years On. The Chains of Social Media Are Finally Breaking.
FOMO. Reinstalling apps and re-registering accounts. Endless lapses of willpower.
I used to wake up and instantly find my gaze not enlightened by the soft light that seeps through the window of my bedroom, but instead dulled by the relentless blue-tinted glow of my phone.
A seemingly bottomless virtual pit of content that wouldn’t look out of place in a Gerald Butler blockbuster.
Over the last decade, I had been falling deeper and deeper into the depths of social media, the chains of content consumption and FOMO tightening around my mind, my fingers unable to let go.
Throughout an average day, I would find myself naturally — instinctively — drawn to my phone, or a tab in my web browser, refreshing for notifications, trying to think of something witty/funny to post on Twitter, keeping my eye open as I went about my day for the perfect shot for next Instagram post.
It could be a coffee with a book next to it, an illuminating morning garden scene with a fresh, untouched layer of snow across it, or even just a day where I woke up and I felt like my hair looked the part. It really didn’t matter what it was, what mattered was the Likes. The support from my band of distant followers.
The craving of attention that came from the conscious mind of a stranger or acquaintance that only existed in their minds for less than a second
While at the time this was not what I considered the purpose of my actions to be; more commonly under the guise of sharing what I was passionate about, hindsight and self-reflection have recently opened a new mental door for me.
I left certain social media platforms at different times in my life. The first to go was the all-time-consuming, all-powerful, mind-numbing, completely pointless and totally omnipotent social media deity we know as Facebook.
This was about two years ago. Instagram — the addictive portfolio of everyone’s perfect lives — was next to follow a year later, closely followed by Snapchat — another compelling, yet utterly disappointing platform that was constantly open on my Recent Apps menu.
All that was left was Twitter, a platform I’m seemingly unable to get addicted to because I know it’s population and content consists mainly of trolls, fake news and pointless posts I care so little about.
It could also be the fact that none of my friends are part of the network, and I only follow a select few people — mainly Medium writers — who’s content I actually want to see.
Recently, purely out of FOMO one Friday night while friends were out and I was locked into client work, I decided to reinstall Snapchat.
I hadn’t deleted my account, only the app, so signing in meant I had a lot of missed snaps to go through, as well as an extensive collection of pending stories.
While on the toilet, I delved into to see what I had been missing out on;
Legs in a hammock
Pint after work
World cup at the pub
This revelation led to me deleting the app almost as quickly as it took to watch all these posts. However, it was this act that made me realize that I was starting to break free of social media.
Finally, after two years.
The Hardest Part is Saying No
When I first decided to quit social media for good, I didn’t tell anybody or post a status saying here’s my number, or gave any notice I was leaving.
The thought behind this was the fact I had been a member of Facebook since I was 13, totaling almost 8-1/2 years.
During this time, I had formed a huge network of people, ranging from old school classmates, college acquaintances, traveling companions, or randomly added people from a drunken night out.
Out of perhaps 1,500 ‘friends’, I consistently spoke to about 40 of them day-to-day. People I would consider my actual friends. As for the other 1,460 profiles, I simply didn’t care enough about them to say anything, even if we were close at one point in our lives.
It begs the question; did I ever cross their mind when they realized I was gone? Probably not.
It took about a week for my closest friends to notice my online absence, many of which text me asking if where I was, or whether I had blocked them. Many of them raised their concerns about not being able to keep in touch with each other or missing out on key dates and events.
To this day, I’ve missed nothing. I’m still friends with the same people I’ve been friends with for yours. Of course, my perceived social circle has shrunk, and perhaps the people I spoke to in group chats I now speak to rarely or in passing, but my connection with the immediate people in my life has never been stronger.
Any events that have taken place, such as gigs, concerts, local nights or festivals, I have been told about or received emails from the organizers since I’ve attended before, meaning there’s absolutely no reason why I need to click the Attending, or Maybe Attending button on an event page.
Yet, despite this complete lack of impact on my life, ridding myself of social media did impact me in other areas. For a large percentage of the last two years, I’ve felt somewhat disconnected from society.
Naturally, with the aim of cutting down social media, I cut down my phone usage and started to reply later and later to texts and calls, simply because I don’t have my phone on me all the time.
I work from home, and it got to a point where I could go two days without speaking aloud, only my internal monologue and typing to keep me company.
I would still have phone calls and Skype chats with clients, and finding balance came in time. However, it was hard to feel connected when you constantly heard things like;
‘OMG, did you see that video on FB the other day of that kid with the cat?”
No, I didn’t.
“Did you see that photo so and so put up with her boyfriend? Or her dog, or of his best friend throwing up Saturday night?”
No, I didn’t.
Initially, these blows were hard to deal with. Fear Of Missing Out. Yup, it’s definitely a real thing, and it takes willpower to overcome it. When it came to deleting Instagram, I deleted and registered three or four times before finally parting ways with it for good.
It was only when sitting down to write this essay — my inspiration for writing this essay — that I thought back to when I was a child, perhaps 5–10 years old.
Of course, life was easy. I had no worries to think about; only what games I was going to play next and how I was going to spend my day.
Most of us would consider our childhood one of the best eras of our lives, and it can difficult to pinpoint what was so different back then, bar the lack of responsibilities. When I really started to think about it, it became blindly obvious that there was one major difference in how we were.
It was the connection we had with people and with own our physical lives.
When we were children, we might wake up, have breakfast, play for a bit, go outside, go for a walk, watch a film or cartoons, read, and do all the other things we used to do as children.
How excited would you be when you knew you were going to be hanging out with a friend all day?
Those giggles of excitement when you saw their parent’s car pull up, or you were dropped off at their house. When you finished spending time together, and you went your separate ways, you would go back to doing your own thing, whatever that would be.
Or you’d pretend to sleep so your parents would chat and you could stay and play for longer.
Nowadays, we’re connected all the time, constantly, at all hours of the day and night. We all know how true that is, how scarily and shockingly true that is.
While being at home, reading or doing whatever you do counts as ‘you’ time, how often do you interrupt ‘you’ time by having a little scroll, replying to a message, or posting a selfie of you having ‘you’ time?
That’s not having You time, that’s remaining connected to your virtual network. When you were a child, you didn’t have to be connected all the time to have a valued connection with that person; far from it. Even when it was time to go home, you would kick and make a fuss that you wanted to stay, but you would still go home and go back to doing your own thing sooner or later.
In the modern-day, we don’t give ourselves that luxury. Having a connection that’s so constant has meant that our relationships have become pointless. We spend the time to match with people on Tinder we never speak to. We spend hours taking photos to filter and edit to perfection for some likes off a few friends, a few randomers, and possibly some bots that run off algorithms and aren’t actually real people.
We post statuses restricted to 240 characters while trying to convey a complex message or concept, like is on par with trying to summarize the epicness of Lord of the Rings in just 20 words. It’s not going to happen.
If you don’t believe me, check out the top 6 images on your Instagram, or browse the stories on your Snapchat. Not only will roughly a third of the posts be advertisements, but ask yourself these questions;
“Do I care about this post?”
“Does this post bring value into my life?”
If you’re looking at a photoshopped, highly filtered tropical beach from some exotic country, and you think you’re looking at it because you like it and it looks beautiful, bear in mind that an average person spends two hours a day on social media.
From my personal experience as a 24-year-old, I can assure you that this figure can easily reach up to 3–4 hours without you even thinking about.
So, let’s say three hours. Three hours a day is 90 hours per month, and say you were freelancing, or working overtime, or utilizing your time on a personal project, even on $7 per hour, you would have $630 to go towards buying a ticket and going to that place yourself.
You can do a lot with three extra hours in your day
It’s Not an Easy Path
Only today, after two years of being free from the shackles Facebook and about a year of everything else, I’m starting to feel like myself again.
It’s a crazy feeling because it’s made me feel deep-down depressed daily without even realizing it. I’ve felt lost, alone and dulled on a daily basis, and I haven’t been able to put my finger on why.
However, the reflection of what it was like being a child has made me realize my brain is starting to heal. It’s common knowledge that social media and constant access to smartphones is changing our brains.
In my life, I’ve been subject to smartphones and social media for over a decade, which means I have over a decade’s worth of neural hard-wiring, habit, and routine to undo and rewire.
Just because everybody is doing it, it doesn’t make it right.
Two years in and the positive effects are starting to show. I’m not quite where I want to be, but my productivity, my outlook on life, my perspective, the connections I have with other people, and my relationships are all growing in ways they haven’t done for years before.
The connection with myself is growing in ways I never believed possible.
I’m not saying the idea is to boycott social media. Not at all. These platforms are unparalleled when it comes to global communication and are amazing tools in the digital world we live in.
However, they are just tools, and shouldn’t be the center, or main focal point, of your entire life.
Personally, I use Twitter for promotion and getting in contact with people in the writing industry, more like a directory, but refuse to spend more than 20 minutes a day on the platform.
It’s a tool that provides a service to my life, and I use it in that way; not entirely just yet, but it’s getting there.
Technology is a huge and inescapable part of our everyday lives, and it’s not going anywhere in the foreseeable future. With this in mind, and as the first generation of humanity to have access to such an evolutionary-defining tool, it’s imperative that we find balance, as a society, and as individuals.
We cannot forget what makes us human.