“I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction . The world will have a generation of idiots” Albert Einstein.
I do not believe that we are living in a society of idiots but perhaps a society where our social media and smart phone usage has changed how we communicate and interact with each other and is inevitably effecting our overall health. Smartphones are, for many, like a drug. Evoking compulsive, addictive behavior, In a very short period of time, we have found ourselves all plugged into the same drug. A couple on a romantic date but both looking at their phones. Parents enthralled in their screens as their little ones are calling for their attention. Everywhere you look you will find someone lost in online distraction. Just because something is common doesn’t make it normal.
So I decided to try the abnormal, detox from social media for one month. My social media usage was starting to become a chore rather than something I really enjoyed. With all the free time I had off social media I started to research the topic. I watched various TED talks, listened to podcasts , reviewed research and reflected on my own learning and experience. Here is what I have learned.
You might think your relationship with social media is healthy, until you go off it. Checking your phone up to 200 times a day (an astounding 81 percent of us have our smartphones within arm’s reach nearly all the time), following other peoples lives, constantly comparing, posting pictures to get likes and gratification all seem normal until you stop. At the start of the detox I was for the first time aware of how many times I picked up my phone. It was frightening.
During the first few days off social media, I felt disconnected, lonely , like I was missing out. The truth is I became less distracted , available and present . My phone wasn’t there to distract me, numb me and pull me from the present moment. Life goes by so quickly, even without the endless wasted hours spent scrolling on our phones.
When your not online there is that state of boredom. It’s in this state of boredom that I found creativity or doing things I really want to do. Inspiring things like listening to music, reading, writing and cooking. So what happens if you just leap to your phone , creativity is missing. Ideas and innovation happen when our minds wander when our phone isn’t there. Innovation we’re taking away by those moments on our phone.
I am now more emotionally available. When I am with someone I am fully with them. I have no need to check my phone. I can give the person 100 per cent of my attention. This is rare these days. During the 30 days I was off social media, in all the interactions I had the only person I received this back from was my 87 year old grandmother. The amount of times I was left idle while the person I was with was stuck on their phone. Think about it are you emotionally there for someone if your checking your phone. Basically your sending out a signal saying sorry you are not the most important person right now. My phone is more important.
Being off social media made me crave real interactions more. I met up with people more face to face and engaged with them on a deeper level. No amount of social media replaces real interactions. In fact its prohibiting real interactions. Think of the typical times you pick your phone up in public, on the train or when the person you are out for dinner with goes to the toilet, in these times I’ve sparked up conversations with people. You are missing out on interesting people who are around you and replacing it with fake connections. Replace screen time with people time.
can engage in something and not worry about capturing it but simply enjoying it. I remember standing in front of the Mona Lisa in Paris, everyone and I mean everyone was looking at the painting through the lens on their phone. We’ve become so focused on self-validation through documenting, snapping, measuring and sharing, we are in danger of overlooking the value in the spontaneous, the experiences that cannot be recorded. The stuff, in other words, that makes life rich, colourful and unpredictable.
From years of social work I’ve realised that human connection is why we are here. Biologically that’s how we are wired, the ability to feel connected, but is social media making us feel the opposite. As its the quality of your close relations that mater does hours on Facebook give you a close relationship? Real connections take time, effort and availability. Were living in a society of millennials of instant gratification. We get everything we want straight away. We want a date, swipe right on tinder, but really the important things in life take time like, love, connections , relationships and job satisfaction.
When I deleted instagram 70 per cent of the people I interacted on that I have not spoke to since. That thought me that social media is promoting alot of informal communication which is just not required. Yet this informal interactions is distracting us from being emotionally available to person sitting in front of us. Secondly I realised that alot of the people I interact on social media aren’t people I am really connected with, think of your Facebook friends list. The people I have stayed in touch with since being off social media are my close friends. It makes me sick to think I followed so many peoples lives who I am not even close with.
Our lives are as much digital as they are real but if our digital self is completely idealised what happens to the real us. We use the internet to control how people perceive us. Look at me, in my ideal life, how can we ever live up to that idealisation. On a recent night out two people approached me about my photographs and travel. How do you do it, how can you afford it, you have the life and so on. The reality now is that I’m unemployed, broke and the most exciting sunset I’m seeing is from my back yard. So there we have it my online self versus my real self. Do people realise that a photo these days only captures a mere second of someone’s life. Don’t get my wrong I’m very very content in my life but don’t be fooled its not all sunshine and trips to the Amalfi Coast. Take peaches Geldof for example who died following a heroin overdose. Her social media was an arrangement of beautifully filtered images, which ignited pressures to live up to an unrealistic view of motherhood. Her story is a reminder of how far someone’s social media account is from their real lives.
From the research I have done there is substantial evidence highlighting the fact that prolonged and excessive usage of social media usage is really not good for us. Facebook usage has been linked to depression. Research highlights that the more you use social media the more isolated and lonely you will feel. Constant exposure to your friends carefully curated positive portrayals of their lives can lead you to feel inadequate and depressed. Continuous checking of one’s phone can also permanently reduce your capacity to concentrate and decrease your memory. Harvard university condutced research in 2012. It found that talking about oneself on social media releases feel good emotions the same way food, sex and money does. Social media is therefore highly addictive and our happiness can be reliant on it. Social media such as Facebook employ attention engineers who use the same principals as Las Vegas casinos to make social media apps as addictive as possible. So social media is like a form of entertainment rather than a means of communication . A form of entertainment that’s never left behind or tuned off. When you leave the casino at least you have some time way from it, with your phones people are exposed to the stimuli 24/7. With this comes a state of high alert and anxiety.
Instagram for me started off as a place to share my photography. Last month one of pictures from Italy went viral getting over 1 million likes on different instagram accounts. This experience made me learn something. This photo wasn’t my best photo nor even my favourite photo. I have always loved taking photos and being creative. Do I really need my photo to go viral or to get a certain amount of likes to get recognition that I’m a creative person. Well the answer now is no. Creating art even if no one sees it is enough.
Life has become more peaceful. When I look at my phone I am no longer over whelmed with all the notifications and people that ‘I have to’ reply to. My sleep has improved and overall I feel less anxious. Also I am more content with the decision to move home to Ireland. Constant reminders on social media of the life that I had left behind in Sydney was unsettling.
In conclusion I believe one can have either a healthy or unhealthy relationship with social media. Social media can be used to stay in touch with people we are actually connected to, it can inspire us , we can inspire others, it can motivate us, keep us informed and open our eyes to the world around us. For me to keep the relationship healthy I will be limiting my social media usage, turning off notifications, leaving the phone down when I am interacting with people, unfollowing peoples lives that I don’t know and if I feel any negative feelings I will put the phone down. I am dedicating more time to real connections than virtual ones, creating art for arts sake and creating a memory rather an instagram post.
More social, less media.