Ever fantasize about living with no social media and just…living in the moment?
Over the course of 2017 I’ve set myself a variety of challenges to better my wellbeing. Some of them have been fitness-related, others dietary, and some were (my favourite) for my mental health. I struggle with my mental health as much as the next person in this day and age. Sure, I’ve got my baggage, just as we all do. But was the heavy social media usage creating problems where there needn’t be? During September, I put this speculation to the test by detoxing from all social media platforms in the name of worthwhile research.
I’m sure you know what I mean when I describe social media as a bittersweet symphony. Sometimes I want to throw my phone on the floor, flail in despair and start planning all the ways I can go off-grid within the next 24 hours. Other days, I marvel how cat videos can go viral and the speed at which an idea can be transformed into reality. Social media has become the pulse of society.
At its most basic, social media platforms are tools for communication. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. The problems, however, lie in our human nature and needs going unmet when we substitute real human interaction with the virtual kind. There are numerous other issues too, such as comparing yourself to others and time-wasting, but for me the biggest flaw I see in our ‘social’ culture (oh, the irony) is loneliness. It’s being called a health crisis by many and it’s not difficult to see why.
As a writer, it’s actually really difficult to live with no social media. It’s how I share my articles, support my peers and draw a certain amount of inspiration. I have an insatiable thirst for knowledge and social media is one way of satisfying that. As a scientist, I am forever conducting research both in my field and others that interest me. Social media is a helpful way of learning about cutting research as it is published. And finally, as a third culture kid with friends around the world, social media is an invaluable resource when it comes to keeping in touch through the time zones.
I knew social media was playing an important role in my everyday life, but I set off on this challenge hoping that by the end of the month I’d be able to point the finger at it. Yes, that’s right. I hoped I’d be able to blame it for all of my problems, these being: loneliness, FOMO and an undeniable frustration at the state of the world at large. If my solution and in turn happiness could come from something as simple as avoiding a small collection of apps and websites, surely that was a small price to pay?
Only, we all know life doesn’t work that way, don’t we?
My first move was deleting any apps off my phone. Nice and easy. But for the first few days I had to kick the autopilot opening of all the tabs when I first fired up my laptop each day. “NO, KENNEDY!” I’d wail at myself before frantically closing down my browser. Phew. Safe this time.
By day 5 or 6 this had settled and it was at this point that I noticed what I was doing to satisfy the craving instead: opening up all the different news sites and scouring them instead. Throughout the day, in small moments of quiet when I might have previously perused one or another form of social media, I was newsreading.
I feel like older generations might read that statement and think, “Well done girl, you’re choosing to educate yourself instead!” But as an avid believer that most of our media have an agenda, and are sensationalist rather than unbiased and fact-focussed, I gathered that this new habit probably wasn’t an ‘ideal’ alternative for my mental health either. Digesting one ‘doom and gloom’ headline after another was a sure-fire way of causing my anxiety to creep up.
But as the month went on, I wasn’t able to shake it. I wasn’t able to cope with the not-knowing what was going on in the world. With such a passion for righting the wrongs and fighting for a better future, switching off completely felt to me like giving up. The need to feel up to speed in the hope of getting one step ahead simply couldn’t be suppressed.
I hear some of my peers talk about the state of the world and our future as though they’ve given up hope. In some ways, I can empathize with the perspective of wanting to simply enjoy the good life. Ignorance is bliss, after all. But I have a drive in me to keep fighting for education, innovation and solutions. And it’s my belief that being able to find the solutions takes immersing oneself fully in the problems to begin with.
It’s now October and my problems are all still here; my mental health still far from perfect. I was naive to think that avoiding social media could make it all better. But in some strange way, I think I’ve found my purpose throughout all this. It’s a calling to pave the way to a better future by not being afraid to put into words what so many of us think and feel but are unable to articulate. I’ve got no shame in saying that I have bad days, struggle with loneliness sometimes and straddle the line of anger and hopelessness when I look at all the things that are wrong with the world. But at the end of the day, if I can use social media as a means of reaching out to just one more person about an issue that they wouldn’t otherwise hear about and inspire them to make a more positive decision, it’s worth it.
Have you ever done a social media detox? What did you learn?
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