Many of us will have witnessed attempts to detox from 21st century addictions; be it Carol’s latest fad diet, Alan’s month-long sobriety or Sharon cutting back to twenty a day. But it wasn’t until I spent hours scrolling through Facebook and losing the war against eleven separate Messenger chats that I sat back and thought, “oh my God. I’m addicted to social media.”
How many hours of my life have I lost to flicking through ‘epic fail’ videos and the latest attempts at trending memes? How much of that time could have been used to eradicate my current lack of book knowledge that could really help with my University degree? Why has the quest for likeability underhandedly overtaken every other aspiration of my life?
Meanwhile, my to-do list has grown out of proportion. My room is a mess; clothes overflowing the washing basket, endless coffee mugs breeding on my desk, important paperwork fanned across the floor. All visually representing my busy brain, while my body sits deactivated, staring at a screen.
Social media has become a highly influential factor of any and every business aspiring to get anywhere. This is because us millennials are symbiotically attached to it, and thus it is the perfect way to reach a large, previously somewhat unobtainable consumer market; the market of the future. The consumer has been consumed. But in order to get into a decent job, you more often than not must know the ins and outs of social media, to jump on the latest ephemeral trends. And thus the vicious, unbreakable cycle continues.
So, like any true addict giving justifiable reasons behind not completely giving up, I decided to try one day social media-free. No Facebook. No Instagram. No Snapchat.
It was liberating.
I got so much done, and I imagine more psychologically than anything, I felt so much more intellectual. There was no mindless scrolling; my mind was active all day. There was no requirement to talk to anybody; just myself and pure, uninterrupted thought. My only conversation was with the barista at Caffé Nero as I ordered my cake and latte. Then I sat, read, and gazed out the window at the Nottingham skyline, a sense of peace in the knowledge I was doing something useful.
I did my washing, tidied my room, took control of my washing up, caught up on reading for my lecture on Friday, ran errands in town, did copious amounts of research for an extensive piece I am writing both for and beyond coursework, began reading Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (which coincidentally ties rather well with the themes of this article) and still had time to game and write! What have I been doing for the past 160 days since I began my Masters? How about in the past ten years since I joined Facebook? I dread to think.
(There’s an online tool that shows me how much of my life I have lost to League of Legends, which depressingly informs me I could have read 152 books in that time instead. That plus Facebook… my brain should have been a library by now!)
And yet, despite its positives, it was so damn difficult. My itchy trigger finger occasionally pressed the button on my phone before I could even realise what I’d done. I quickly swiped away any notifications before I could look too closely at them. I think, more than anything, the habit of checking my phone is like a tick; if I had something to fidget with (downright refusing to get a spinner) I would be fine. But my brain kept wandering back. I wonder who’s messaged me. What if it’s important? Go on. Check.
There were also many things I would normally post about that happened during my day; like when I bought a copy of The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski from WHSmith, they gave me a free copy of The Sun, as if they finally realised it wasn’t worth selling. Which amused me greatly and I assumed others on my Facebook would appreciate. Similarly, my order at Nero looked so pretty that I took a photo, and instantly wanted to upload it to Instagram. I believe I have a common case of social media tourettes.
Have it here anyway as an aesthetically pleasing break from reading. I imagine your attention span is probably as twitchy as mine –
Ooft, that cake…
Anyway, I believe Aldous Huxley was on to something; the trick is conditioning. Condition yourself to remain conscious of your actions. Sometimes having to sign in rather than being automatically logged in can make you consider this. Before you press the Log In button, just think, “do I have to? Could I do something else?” Or it could be that every time you scroll, you think of a trigger phrase like, “Job Seekers” which will scare you back into being productive.
There was a fantastic TED Talk we were made to watch during a Time Management course at my old job. I highly recommend watching it. And when I occasionally resurface from 21st century autopilot mode, I remember, particularly the end of this video, and it motivates me to get my ass in gear. I hope it can do the same for you:
So at the end of this day-long experiment, I have decided to take a break from social media for one day each week, not only for increased productivity, but also for the sake of my mental health. I cannot recommend it enough, and now fully believe everyone like me with social media Stockholm syndrome should find a way to escape once in a while. Go on, try it! Finish reading this and turn your phone off. Do that thing you’ve been putting off. Don’t just look out the window, use the door! There’s a whole world out there.