Some weeks ago, I made the decision to deactivate my beloved social media accounts. This decision came after several days of feeling completely saturated with information and interactions-like a sponge, heavy and full, I felt emotionally and mentally unable to absorb another drop. And while this ‘experiment’ was meant to be temporary from the onset, I could no longer ignore my building curiosity to see what would happen, in this hyper connected world, to do something now considered almost “radical.”
As we already know, “they” make it really difficult to leave. In vaguely named drop-downs after an eternity of clicks, I found what I was looking for. In the ‘pick a reason’ field I picked ‘just need a break’. And it was done! Instantly, I felt lighter. Triumphant. I had done it! I felt as if I was suddenly walking outdoors by myself in the fresh air after being on a crowded bus.
Fast forward a few hours and I started noticing how instinctive it was to click open the apps on my phone. At least a few times each hour, I was faced with the Instagram sign in page-secondarily confused to not see my usual kaleidoscope of color and faces. This was my first hint that I had started the behavioral, emotional process of withdrawal. But this was to be expected.
What shocked me the most was the cognitive withdrawal. Over the next few days, I observed that when my mind would wander to thoughts I didn’t like, when I would start to think about something I didn’t want to, I would instantly reach for my phone and open Instagram. This shocked me; had social media been preventing me from exploring my own thoughts? Was I using the world of pretty pictures, tweets and “10 ways to use empty toilet paper rolls” as a mind-numbing activity? Was this self-sedation at its easiest and finest?
Without my favorite blue and orange apps to share the first hour of the morning with, I had to find a new coffee routine. This became a beautiful, phone-less existence by the window, cup in one hand, NOTHING in the other, letting my mind wander and planning the day ahead. Is this what they did in the 90’s? The rest of the week was full of interesting observations and changes. For one, I was returning to tasks quicker, as I had fewer easily accessible distractions. People started noticing my absence and sending me messages. From a socio-psychological perspective, this felt like my own personal goldmine.
The reactions were split largely into two categories-“good for you” and “is everything okay?” And then the questions-when will you be back, how do you feel, aren’t you stressed about missing out, have you become more productive? The first two indicate how we as a global society view an absence of a digital presence almost as a sort of departure from the real world-a sort of death about which you can actually ask the departed-what’s it like on the other side? The second pair of questions indicated that the curiosity I had about leaving the digital world was shared by everyone around me.
The repeated question about ‘missing out’ gave me an interesting thought. Let’s divide our usage of social media into two categories—observing/absorbing content and being observed/creating content. Which category was I ‘missing out’ on more and did I expect this? Before deactivating, I was sure I would miss being a viewer—the audience for the curated lives of my friends and family and into the world of news, fashion, music and movies. I thought I would be disconnected from “important” happenings. But that’s not what I was missing at all. In fact I never once wondered—what’s Negin Mirsalehi wearing today? What coffee table did Pottery Barn debut? Instead, I was missing being observed. Sharing my life, my photos. I was missing ‘being seen’ and alive in the digital world.
The one-week mark brought with it a strong addictive itch to post and be seen. My digital death was starting to feel very real. Not considering myself to be someone reliant on validation in the slightest, it was eye-opening to find myself craving the dopaminergic rush of hearts, likes, fire emoji’s and “100’s.” What was it that I wanted to post so badly; a photo of myself holding a yoga pose? Why? It adds no value to anyone’s life to see it, yet it allows me to say—look how well rounded I am (and flexible).
The end of week two was wonderful. My ‘sharing anxiety’ was long gone. I had also become better at conscious interactions in the real world. When I really cared about something or someone, I was still very much connected. A close friend had a work event that I “missed” seeing online. So I called her and asked how it went. And we had a wonderful catching up session, full of details and laughter that I would never have gotten by just following online.
The last two weeks of my 30-day detox brought several other gifts. A feeling of freedom, strangely, was chief among them with a heightened appreciation for everything around me. At a traffic light, I no longer scrolled senselessly, peeking into the square window lives of strangers. Instead, I noticed the rustle and sway of the tall trees on the green belt and the graceful command of the traffic policeman. Life can be so beautiful if we let it.
So what was my main takeaway from my month of being blissfully (dis)connected. Social media is fun and addictive, we all know this. It is also the junk food of human interaction—fast, cheap and nutritionally empty. It is the drive-thru meal to the rich, gourmet phone call with a good friend. It is the £1 value burger to the fine dining of eye contact, voice tone, hand gestures and smiles. Disconnecting from the fast and easy touchscreen “relationships” online allowed me to connect more deeply with the world around me and myself. And while we all love a good McD or KFC every now and then, it was never meant to be the foundation of our diet.
For me, digital detox has been something I have done again, and will keep doing when I feel I need to re-balance. As for you, take the plunge and see what happens. I guarantee it’ll be an interesting little journey of self-discovery.