Last Monday I was feeling overwhelmed. I was at work during a 13 hour shift trying to keep up with my work demands and the constant pinging of my smart phone. New private messages on Facebook, new likes on Instagram, a DM on Twitter. As soon as I’d gotten around all of the different social media channels that I am contactable on the cycle would start again. Ping ping ping. Reply reply reply. This isn’t me sitting here saying “Oh woe is me, look how popular I am, getting all these messages” I’m just trying to highlight how neverending social media and smartphone use is. It’s addictive and it’s been proven that getting notifications and likes boosts endorphins and a sense of validation but there is a very dark underbelly which is rarely spoken about. Now, you might be thinking “Why doesn’t she just get over it and turn her phone off?” but unfortunately this doesn’t seem like a viable option for me and that’s because I am, in a sense, addicted to social media. Let me explain..
I’m the kind of friend who you would meet for a cuppa and I’d always have my phone on the table and if it pinged or flashed up with a notification I’d glance at it and immediately become distracted. After a while of trying, I’d finally trained myself not to reply to anything until after being with my friends but this physical decision wasn’t enough to ease my worried mind. I’d be continually wondering what the message said, entering into an internal frenzy and the feeling of panic would be impossible to ignore. So whilst you’re telling me about your breakup I was probably thinking about who just liked my photo on Instagram. I’m not an ignorant person and this isn’t something I want to do. Smart phones and my mental health do not go hand in hand and I’ve finally realised just how detrimental an effect it was having on me. Not only the constant ability to be interrupted at any time of the day but also the sheer volume of different platforms that you have to keep on top of. I long for the days when I used to send long-ass text messages followed by “tb” to one person instead of the constant stream of one line messages that pass between Whatsapp, Facebook messenger, Instagram and Twitter following my instant self doubt when someone had God forbid “seen” your message and not replied. And furthermore, not only can you speak in this way to one person but you can have all your friends in one place, all talking, all engaging, all the time.
There are many things I love about my smart phone: Google maps, the notes app and the calculator that keep me from chucking in my iPhone for good and opting for a Nokia 3210 (Not only because I want to play Snake) but there are many more things that I hate about it and that is the constant connection. I was complaining to my colleague about how impossible I was finding it all and she suggested I give up social media because that was clearly the problem here. I’ve trialled hiding Facebook messenger or only using social media on certain days of the week or only looking at my phone when I’m on my lunch break at work but none of this worked on easing the overwhelm and before long the constant use would creep back in. The answer was clear. I had to go cold turkey. Suffice to say after the initial excitement at the idea of going “off grid” once the reality set in, I was not keen. I needed Facebook to be able to know what events were happening, I needed Facebook messenger to be involved in group chats, I needed Instagram to see what my pals were eating for breakfast. Ok the last one was a joke but I definitely needed to be connected.
But do I?
After disabling my Instagram and Facebook accounts I began accepting sooner or later my friends would be calling in a search party because I hadn’t posted on Insta in 24 hours and after realising I’d gone MIA stop inviting me to events or checking in to see how I am. I began to accept the reality that I was probably going to have no friends at all before long and it’d be all my fault. But then I stopped and I listened to myself. This is all bullshit. And the more I think about it the more bullshit I realise that it is. Isn’t it crazy how we all log on to a website to update our “status” in order for our friends and family to validate it by clicking a button that’s a thumbs up? All of the times that my parents batted away my phone at the dinner table with a heavy sigh or friends would glare as I frantically scrolled whilst meeting up for post-work drinks suddenly made sense. I’ve finally understood just how utterly terrifying this all is and I want out.
I’m intrigued to see if as a society this relationship with social media will go full circle and more people will quit the online connections in favour of meeting up and going for walks and calling each other to share news and properly investing in friendships instead of liking a pic every 3 months for good measure. I am not writing this to damn social media as a whole. I love Facebook for being able to see my family who live abroad’s photos or as a means to reconnect with old friends but I don’t think this is how I was utilising the app. Instead I’d find myself endlessly scrolling in a zombie like state whenever I got the chance sometimes finding myself clicking off an app and returning to it within seconds just to look at the same photos all over again. I’d love to be in a place where I felt in control of my smart phone use and be able to use it in a measured way. Maybe one day that will be possible but for now, this is exactly what I need to do.
We have to remember that social media is, for most people, a highlight reel of their life. Dropping in to celebrate key moments such a success engagements, new babies or graduations. I love celebrating the achievements of others but it’s impossible to ignore how damaging this can be and before long we are all sat wondering “Why aren’t I getting a new job?” “Why haven’t I just bough the a house?” or “Why aren’t I eating a smoothie bowl for breakfast?”. Added to this, platforms like Instagram are rife with accounts who heavily edit and filter their content leaving us holding ourselves to a standard that isn’t even achievable in the real world. Even after curating my follows to accounts that made me feel good about myself, one click on the explore option and you’ve entered the Instagram rabbit hole of comparison which even if you don’t think is effecting you, subconsciously, your thoughts are being moulded and it’s a whole lot of hard work to challenge and undo these damaging cycles which seriously disrupt a hearthy mindset.
Another reason for disappearing off Instagram is to give me the chance to question whether the app is honestly enhancing my life and supporting my recovery. On one hand, I have connected with wonderful people from whom I’ve learnt so much from in terms of the political movement body positivity and self love. It’s also made me think more deeply about my prejudice towards fat bodies and helped to identify internalised fat phobia and how to challenge that. It’s given me the chance to talk to fellow anti-diet warriors who reaffirm my decision not to diet every single day. But it’s also made 99% of what I see and read about, be focused on bodies and I want to move to a place where I’m not thinking about my body at all or atleast I’m thinking about myself beyond my body and I’m not sure if Instagram is helping me to do that.
I’d usually share my blog posts through my Instagram account and I’d love to share this to Facebook to explain why I have done what I’ve done. But isn’t that the root of the problem? No longer do we do things for our own gratification but instead to make sure everyone else is 100% clear that we are definitely having fun and we’ve definitely got our lives together and we’ve definitely happy..and for what? A click of a button that gives us instant validation. I want photos to be taken to treasure a memory and not shared with the hundreds of people I’m connected to online and then there’s the scary truth that Facebook owns our information and can do what they like with the details you provide and the images you share. I want my life to be more than that. I’m more productive, I have time to read, I’m going out for walks and having deep chats with friends and most of all? I feel a whole lot better about myself and that is worth way more than anything social media can provide me with. I’m not sure if this blackout is forever but for now I’m accepting what I’ve been ignoring for a long time.. I need a break.