Are you spending too much time on social media? Alexander Blayney-Crewe shares the experience of deleting his online profiles.
Like many people my age, I was an avid social media user for most of my teen years. Scrolling through endless news feeds and uninteresting Snapchat stories became embedded in my daily routine. I would spend hours of my day on Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook, meaning hours that had the potential for productivity were inevitably wasted on my phone.
But I’m not alone – it’s estimated that three billion people worldwide use some form of social media, and on average we spend two hours a day on these sites. It’s therefore of no surprise that many have become addicted to this modern phenomenon. In a 2016 Tedx Talk, Dr Cal Newport, an associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University interested in the intersection of technology and society, highlighted that numerous social media companies hire “attention engineers who borrow principles from Las Vegas casino gambling among other places, to try to make these products as addictive as possible”. Apps like Facebook and Instagram were sold to us as the modern way of sharing with our friends, when in truth they have become distorted versions of reality that keep us hooked by offering rewards of false validation in the form of likes, hearts, shares and views.
It was after seeing an interview on the American daytime TV show The View, in which technologist Jaron Lanier revealed that many of his Silicon Valley colleagues don’t allow their own children to use the very apps they create, that I decided enough was enough. This was an indescribable red flag for me. I couldn’t believe the hypocrisy.
I knew in that moment that I needed to break out of this toxic dystopia in which my self-worth was determined by the number of hearts below my photo. In one afternoon I deleted my Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat accounts – dismantling a world I had taken so long to construct. I deleted all content from my Facebook profile and massively culled my ‘friends’ list, only retaining the account due to the site being the primary means by which university societies inform their membership (arguably highlighting just how ingrained social media has become in all aspects of our lives).
Admittedly, I was concerned that by cropping myself out of social media culture I would become isolated and alienated from much of modern society. How would I stay connected with my friends? How would I keep updated on current trends? Was I disadvantaging myself by not having an online presence? Would this affect future job opportunities? I came to the conclusion that people had survived and functioned successfully for millions of years without these modern technologies, making me confident that I too would be just fine without this twenty-first century medium.
It’s now been six months since I changed my relationship with social media, and it’s completely transformed how I live my life. Ironically, I already feel far more connected to my friends and family than I did when I used Instagram or Snapchat. Now, when I’m with those I love I find I’m far more present in their company than before, and I genuinely believe this is due to removing the anxieties and distractions that come with social media.
Time I previously spent checking my phone for likes and retweets or digesting mindless content, I now put to more productive use such as tackling uni work and taking time out for self-care. By quitting the apps that once dictated so much of my day, I inevitably use my phone considerably less, and I’ve been surprised to see physical changes already taking place. I am less tired, less prone to mood swings, more motivated and more comfortable in my own skin. I quite frankly no longer care about the opinions of people who are not important in my life. I feel free from the shackles of a cyberspace that values photo-tuned constructions over authenticity.
I realise that this article may sound like I’m suggesting social media is an unrecoverable evil that is slowly destroying the very foundations of our society, but this is not my intention. I will happily concede that these platforms do have their positive aspects, such as enabling people to raise awareness for worthy causes, and to communicate in an entirely new and valuable way.
However, I do believe that the full extent of social media’s mental health implications are still to be fully realised. Arguably, we are still in the infancy of the social media age and many regular users already report increased feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, stress, and depressive qualities.We are yet to see the long-term side effects of this modern culture. Admittedly, it’s encouraging that we as a society are feeling increasingly comfortable to talk about mental illness, with fantastic movements such as the ‘Heads Together’ campaign shedding new light on a previously taboo subject.
But we are not there yet. If social networking is to persist for some time, which I believe is very likely, then it’s of critical importance that we continue to have a wider discussion about the mental health repercussions. Additionally, the corporations behind these applications have their part to play also. They are simply not doing enough to protect their users from online abuse and are failing to safeguard our data. We must seek greater transparency and demand that they be more accountable for their actions, as their technology is affecting the lives of so many.
The real world is happening now and so many of us are missing it. My mum always told me that, when in London, it’s so important to look up at the incredible architecture, to take in your surroundings and appreciate where you are. But this can be applied to anywhere and everywhere. I’ve realised that so many people spend their day with their heads down, fixated on the screen in their hand, obliviously sleep walking through life. You only need to take a tube journey or walk down Oxford Street to see how we are becoming more isolated and desensitised to the people around us. These applications supposedly designed to make us live in a more connected world have consequently had the reverse effect.
I’m not asking everyone to quit social networks for good, but I would encourage you to take a more balanced approach: to have the confidence to log off every now and again, take stock and look up – because it’s amazingly liberating to look at life through your own eyes again, rather than the filtered lens of social media.
This article was originally published in Issue 722 of Pi Magazine.