At the start of the year I challenged myself, self confessed Instagram addict, to limit myself to one check a day. Just one. Which is approximately 37 times less than my usual mindless habit allows. And it was all because of the handy iPhone feature that shows you exactly how many minutes of your life you spend scrolling. For me, the number was synonymous with ‘well and truly hooked’. Hooked on the dopamine hit that comes from instant social ‘connection’ and hooked on photos of far away people and places to distract me from my day to day life in Melbourne. I thought it’d be almost impossible to cut back, that the little camera symbol would be too alluring and the withdrawal too strong, but actually, I was pleasantly surprised by what happened.
After the first day I felt a bit lost. It had become so natural to reach for the app on the train, and when I woke up, or when I was bored and had a tiny space to fill. But as the week went on and the feeling wore off, it wasn’t such a big deal. I had learned to breathe in the boredom, and regained eight or so hours of my life a week. Every night I logged on to get my social media fix for the day. It was nice to see what my friends had been up to, but I was no longer glued to the Explore page- it didn’t illicit the same buzz as before.
My mini digital fast gave me clarity that I wasn’t expecting. The way I experienced the world shifted from a blurry kaleidoscope of colour to a reliable routine and I realised that all the adventures my brain felt like it was on, didn’t actually belong to me. I had been subconsciously living vicariously through others online, but it was all just a beautiful illusion. We jokingly announce to each other when someone goes on holidays that we’ll be “living vicariously through your [insert sunny European capital] adventures”, but maybe there’s more truth in jest than we thought. Instead of letting other people’s creations add to our lives, are we are letting them replace them?
Social media is a relatively new phenomenon and we’re still adapting to this world where it’s possible to upload almost every second of your day and overdose on content. Gone are the days when reaching out meant picking up the phone and information was limited to the amount of pages in the Encyclopaedia. We now have visibility of strangers in countries we’ll never visit and lives that will never physically intertwine with ours. I wonder if it leads to us confusing our own personal narratives. I read a quote the that said, “This generation might miss their destiny because they’re scrolling through someone else’s”. It’s a terrifying, and not entirely impossible, thought.
Of course, the flip-side of the coin is that social media fosters creativity and connects us like never before. There are enormous positives to the new digital era, not limited to spreading awareness of issues that were previously invisible, bringing together like minded individuals and making information more accessible. But the balance between focussing on our own lives and getting caught up in others’ is hard to strike. Are we getting swept up in a tidal wave of content at the expense of our own private islands? Attention is the most precious commodity in the twenty first century and sometimes it gets confusing where our attention actually lies.
For some, social media isn’t enticing in the first place and their feet are firmly planted on the real-life ground. It’s easy to dip in and out, or forego it completely. But I think for most young people, there’s some pull to upload part of your life, and download someone else’s. Unless you’re off the grid, digital connection is inevitable. We can choose to break the loop, but only if we’re conscious of it. After seven days, I felt less frantic and more focussed. Of course I’ve been back on the social media bandwagon since (I’m a millennial after all) but I’m much more aware of the effect it can have on me, and committed to creating a colourful world offline too.
Are you addicted to social media? What effect does it have on you?
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