First published in Guernsey Now – March 2017
Confession time: I’m a social media addict. I love Facebook. Absolutely love it. I know that the accepted thing these days is to say you hate it, or complain that it saps your concentration, or do a ‘friend cull’, curating your friendship list down to the bare minimum of people, but not me. I will keep anyone on my friendship list forever, just in case I might want to speak to them again one day, despite having met them once at a festival, for an hour, three years ago. I love seeing what other people are up to. I live for the likes. I’m a big Instagram fan, and I’ll browse through Twitter on occasion. As for Snapchat, I’m too old to understand why you’d want to post lots of selfies in bunny ears, but I’m open to persuasion. However, since I’ve gone freelance and work from home, without the structure of an office, I’ve realised that my social media addiction has got out of hand.
The crunch point came when I realised I couldn’t read a full article in a magazine without stopping to look at my phone. Something would spark a memory – need to buy a new saucepan/check my gas bill/look up facts about llamas – and then I’d automatically click through to Facebook and spend ten minutes scrolling through the newsfeed before realising that I’d forgotten to buy the saucepan, look at the bill or find out that llama’s ears are shaped like bananas.
I was completely unable to watch TV without falling into an Instagram trap and missed half the plot of Sherlock because I was too busy wondering how to make avocado toast look more appetising (Juno and adjust the brightness, if you’re interested). In the absence of a local ‘Social Media Anonymous’ meeting, I decided it was time to give it up – but only for a week.
I asked one of my best friends, Rose, to change my passwords, which she duly did. My social media blackout had begun…
The morning begins with a nagging feeling, like I’ve left the oven on. What if all sorts of exciting things are happening on social media without me? This is the digital version of the time I was fourteen and grounded on New Year’s Eve. Fortunately, I have a lot of work to get on with, so I crack on, with noble thoughts about increased productivity and concentration. Scientists from the University of Copenhagen have recently concluded that social media ‘lurking’ – spending time on the sites without connecting with anyone – can make you irritable, and given that my emails have crashed twice today and I’ve broken my favourite mug, I don’t need any more reason to be irritated.
Half an hour in, I finish writing an email and automatically reach for my phone, my fingers clicking through to Facebook before I realise what I’m doing. Obviously, I’m locked out. I put my phone down and make a cup of tea instead, realising that under ordinary circumstances I would have lost at least ten minutes to the newsfeed. But I’m losing ten minutes to making a cup of tea – is there any difference?
I’m due to attend a Brighton female entrepreneurs session, which has been organised on Facebook. Automatically, I go to the event page to check the location – and realise that I can’t access it. I don’t know anyone else who’s going. All I can remember is that it’s in an organic juice bar. As this is Brighton, there are more organic juice bars than there are seagulls, so I end up ringing around all the juice bars I can find on Google to ask if any of them are hosting a women’s event today, and after several confusing exchanges, including one with someone who appears to think I’m trying to sell him a woman, I track it down, and arrive 15 minutes late. This would never have happened with Facebook.
There is an amazing sunset over Brighton pier that’s just begging to be photographed (#sunset #lovebrighton), my dad sends me a photo of me and my mum that I know would be perfect for Facebook and then when I go to the off-licence to drown my sorrows, I see a new beer called Yeastie Boys, just begging for a Twitter joke. I go home and sulk, planning multiple updates when I get out of Facebook jail next week, before realising that I’ve watched an entire hour of TV without looking at my phone once.
I realise that now that I don’t spend time checking my social media channels first thing in the morning, I am at my desk and ready to work earlier. This is the first indication that not using social media is making me more productive. I feel instantly smug and consider swapping my morning coffee for hot water with lemon in the morning, doing some meditation and talking about my chakras, whatever they are.
Days 5 – 7
I go for a long weekend snowboarding in Andorra with a group of friends, where photo opportunities abound. Initially, I snap every snowflake in sight, before realising I can’t post the photos anywhere. If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? If a photo of Andorran hot chocolate is taken and there’s no one around to like it, does it still exist?
Due to lack of signal in the mountains, the use of phones on this holiday is low. I realise that I am not feeling the usual pressure to document every moment and post it immediately, then check for reactions and comments, and consequently, I feel more relaxed and able to enjoy the weekend.
When I return, Rose gives me my passwords and I find when I log into Facebook, very little has happened – or if it has, I’m not that interested. My immediate feeling is of irritation when I start scrolling through the Trump updates and Brexit rage, and I start wishing I’d signed up for a fortnight of Facebook ban instead.
Two weeks on, and while I am still on Facebook and Instagram, I am checking them far less frequently. I often find that I forget to go online until lunchtime and I am actively Iimiting my mindless scrolling. I feel like I’ve broken an unhealthy habit. Although I did just post a photo of my breakfast so I’m not teetotal just yet…