It was two weeks ago that I quit social media. My granddad - a man whose greatest foray into the online world has involved setting up a Facebook page, liking one photograph, and then never logging on again - challenged me to quit for seven days. Then, the next day came the news that Essena O’Neill, an Australian Instagram star with thousands of followers across numerous platforms, had quit social media in response to its “contrived perfection”. With that, I hit ‘log out’ on my computer for the first time in years, and sanguinely deleted each of the social media apps populating my phone screen.
My desire to ‘switch off’ is a process that has actually been going on for longer than a few weeks; this was just the trigger. The reality is that I - like many young and old people in the 21st century - have started to become disillusioned with arguably the most powerful social invention of modern times. So engrained was it within my daily routine that it had become subconsciously habitual; from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to sleep, I was hitting the ‘open’ buttons and scrolling mindlessly down my news feeds.
Aside from dictating far too many decisions and becoming all-consuming, it was a massive time-zap. As The Undercover Recruiter reports, the average employee spends around 12% of their working day on unproductive applications, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Of the top time wasters, Internet usage comes in at 48%. Meanwhile Daze Info reports that collectively, we waste 39,757 years as a human population on Facebook in a single day.
Adding to this, social media is also a banquet for anxiety and depression. Some months ago, during a very difficult time in my personal life, I found myself flicking through people’s seemingly perfect lives on social media and wondering why on earth my reality didn’t match up. Steve Furtick summed this up most astutely when he said: “The reason why we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”
We have created a huge social anxiety in which we are made to never feel good enough or like we match up to the ‘ideal’. As many publications have noted, the UK beauty industry was valued at £17 billion in 2014 and is set to grow by 16 per cent by 2016. Numerous studies have found a sharp spike in emotional problems among girls in the last five years, which is thought to be connected to the increasing sexualisation and objectification amplified by social media. Imagine how many industries would collapse if women felt good about themselves just as they are, rather than constantly battling for that air-brushed, filtered, social like-button perfection.
Then I happened to listen to a Radio 4 ‘The Bottom Line’ broadcast – titled ‘Fast Fashion’ - during my time out from online. It was presented by Evan Davis and featured Catarina Midby, the sustainability manager at H&M UK & Ireland, Carol Kane, the co-founder and joint CEO of Boohoo, and Kim Winser, founder and CEO of Winser London. The group explored the impact social media was having upon the industry. With young women now documenting their every movement and each occasion becoming a social snapshot, suddenly an outfit’s lifespan diminishes. It can be worn two-three times, maximum, before it has been seen too many times. Forget red carpet celebrities and their ever-changing closet; now this is happening in houses up and down the country. It is causing young women to buy more clothes and fuelling a throwaway society.
Then there is the increasing number of children now showing signs of autism spectrum disorder; about one in every 2,000 children had autism in the 1970s and 1980s. This has shot up at an alarming rate to an estimation from the CDC of one in every 150 8-year-olds in America now being diagnosed with ASD (including brain development disorders such as Asperger’s syndrome). Some say this rise is simply due to increased awareness of the condition and therefore diagnosis, especially as many children diagnosed nowadays are often not considered as being as ‘severely’ autistic as in times gone by, so the frame within which they are being categorised has broadened out.
However, not all agree and experts are widely and fervently debating their views on the matter. Scientific I may not be, but I’d like to put out my theory – and it really is just mine. Perhaps social media is to blame. Here is a generation whose distracted parents’ eyes and thumbs are locked on their phone. If they haven’t received hands-on attention and eye-to-eye social skills, how on earth can we expect them to be developing in the same way as those who’ve gone before us? Likewise, many young children are passed an iPad to occupy them; gone are the times in which kids played in the street, chatted to each other, and made up imaginary games. Now their world is isolated, and they exist alone.
It’s not all doom and gloom and I’d be lying if I said there weren’t also many positives to social media; it is always great to look back on the things we have said and done that are too easily forgotten in the hamster wheel that life can sometimes become. When people that we love are lost, we’re able to cling on to some more of their memory and, in turn, leave a little of ourselves behind in this world when we pass away too.
Social media allows us to capture moments that bring us joy and happiness and share these with the world; it has brought the globe closer together and made it a smaller place. It is easily the most powerful record of 21st century living; I am sure it will give historians of millennia to come some serious documentation to trawl through. It is also great for social change; we are talking more about broader topics, empathising greater with global concerns and bandying together to effect revolutions. As a journalist, it is a powerful tool for communication (something I am struggling with in my time of abstinence).
Without doubt, we have written the greatest narrative of our time with social media. However, two weeks of cold turkey and I am already feeling better. Switching off, if only for a while, is important to boosting our mindfulness and moods. I’m less distracted, calmer, my anxiety has reduced, productivity has increased, and procrastination dropped… my brain feels like it is going at 100mph rather than 1,000mph. I’ve spent more time paying attention to the people around me and the things going on within my actual world. I’ve been giving my undivided attention to conversations, rather than “scroll-listening”.
I’m not sure how long I’ll stay logged off for; work is already proving tough without it. How will I be able to share and disseminate this article for one? However, I’d recommend we all learn to switch off, if only for a few days, from our greatest addiction and the biggest threat to our social fabric as we know it.
Words: Grace Carter
Image source: Natsya Nudnik