I recently decided to take a break from social media.
It was a Friday, I was feeling quite down and isolated, and I knew if I were to spend the upcoming weekend watching other people enjoying their ‘much better, more interesting lives’ online, then I was just going make myself feel worse.
So I logged out. From Facebook, from Instagram, from Snapchat.
And it’s a good job I actually logged out, because my resolution to stay off social media wasn’t enough.
Socially Wired Brain
As much as I told myself I wasn’t going to look at them, my brain is seemingly wired to automatically open Facebook and Instagram when i’m on a mental break. When i’m sat on the sofa in front of the tv, when i’m at a lull at my desk at work.
Before my brain even realised what was going on the app was already open.
This default behaviour died down after the first day, and I began going to the app less and less.
What’s going on?
At first I was a bit like, “what’s happening? what news am I missing out on?”.
By ‘news’ you realise I don’t mean real life, ‘state of the country’ type news, I meant, “so and so’s pregnant, x and y got engaged, thingy is on holiday… again’.
After a couple of days without this stream of updates on people’s lives I began to realise I didn’t care.
Coinciding with Mother’s Day weekend I happily skipped the plethora of “Happy Mother’s Day / Best Mum In The World” posts.
After a discussion we had had a few years ago I already know my own mother much prefers sitting in the same room as me for a few hours, than some OTT declaration on Facebook.
(The same applies to birthdays if you were interested… “if we’re in the same room you can say it to my face”).
Benefits of Quitting Social Media
Cal Newport is a great believer of living a social media free life, although as he has never had a social media account you could argue that he can’t really talk about what he has never tried.
He gave a TED talk about quitting social media last year, and explained how social media can have the psychological effect of making someone feel lonely, isolated.
Cal also explained how breaking your attention through the day, by checking your various social media accounts, reduces a persons attention span, and can permanently reduce a persons capacity for concentration.
The pros of leaving social media being that you are more productive, with no disruption of concentration and no stimulus overload.
“If you lose your ability to sustain concentration you’re going to be less and less relevant”
Life Without Social
After getting past my FOMO from not being online I actually began to find better things to do with my time.
I had less distraction at work, where it’s very easy to just open a new tab for Facebook and be sucked in for 15 minutes.
Although I wasn’t doing anything extra, I was getting more done in my spare time. The online course i’m doing had my attention for longer, the books i’m reading actually got finished quicker.
I did find that people tend to assume that you know what they had been doing at the weekend for example, as they had shared it online. Which, though it’s understandable, is a bit weird when you think about it.
But although i’ve not been on social, I wouldn’t say it has affected my relationship with any of my core friendship group.
I still communicate with them as usual, I still know what is happening in their lives. In fact in the past week I’ve spoken to all of them, either over dinner, or on the phone, and not had the distraction of social media when I was with them.
Which is the main point of seeing them isn’t it, to be sociable.
Sherry Turkle gave a great TED talk entitled ‘Connected, but alone?’ back in 2012.
Focusing on technology and how it is so psychologically powerful. Stating that it is something that has changed what we do, how we do it and who we are as people.
“We’re getting used to a new way of being alone together.”
When discussing why people have started to shy away from real life conversation she explained that it’s because it happens in real time, it doesn’t give us time to think, or edit our natural response.
“Social media let us present the self as we want to be.”
The feeling of ‘no one is listening to me’, caused by this lack of conversation, is what makes social media appealing, as you have a ready and waiting sea of automatic listeners.
Going Back To Social Media
Interestingly, because I hadn’t been on Facebook, I found they started sending emails telling me about my apparent ‘notifications’, as well as certain friends activity – e.g. ‘x has uploaded a new photo’.
Interesting, but clearly not true. I can’t remember the last time someone poked me on Facebook, and 18 messages? That’s my yearly quota, not what I would ever rack up in a few days of being offline – so I wasn’t tempted to log on.
After my set 2 weeks of being away I have logged back on, (and checked out my non existent notifications).
I will definitely go back to using Instagram, as I do love my photography, but I definitely won’t check it as much – now i’m out of the habit i’ll try and keep it to a minimum.
Facebook will be getting a good clear out, I don’t want to delete it entirely as it is a good way of staying in touch with family overseas, but I definitely don’t need half of the people on there cluttering up my feed.
Overall I definitely found it a good exercise, and it is something I may do again in the future. I’d recommend giving it a go, just to show yourself how much social media does, or doesn’t, control your life.
And if you want a funny take on social media controlling your life, watch Renny Gleeson’s amusing 3 minute take on ‘Antisocial Phone Tricks’.