I’m making a deliberate effort to reduce the amount of time I spend on social media. Sometimes it feels like it’s working. Other times it doesn’t.
I imagine it’s a bit like trying to give up cigarettes, that sort of ephemeral, temporarily distracting fix. That numb and mindless addiction. Social media seems a necessary evil that’s hard to entirely avoid if it’s linked to your work, and if it’s a deeply embedded behaviour you’ve had for a decade.
Smartphones aren’t for phoning
Today’s broadly covered OFCOM report shows the dominance of the smartphone on our lives has never been greater. The headline for many is that the number of mobile calls we make has fallen for the first time. Our primary use for smartphones is no longer to make telephone calls. Perhaps it hasn’t been for some time. (You might also suggest this is also a symptom of clogged up mobile networks, poor signals and a dwindling faith in telecoms providers).
As explored in a previous post about a digital detoxing, my relationship with my phone is a regular wrestle.
Certainly it can become too much, too controlling, too instictive and ingrained. You have a spare nanosecond so you take out your phone and open an app. And how do you feel afterwards? Invariably worse. This is the case for me at least.
Twitter makes me sad
After a scrolling binge on Twitter, and to a slightly lesser extent Instagram, I usually either feel a bit sad and inadequate: how I am so woefully unsuccessful compared to that other person who I admire or envy, how they are doing much sexier, more interesting, more important work.
Or I would feel more generally glum about the world and all its super dumb people, in that toxic aggressive sense, the mass popularisation of unfathomable stupidity – Donald Trump. And / or glum about its pallid anaemic weakness, its volume of empty bland forgettable messages commanding unfathomably large audiences. (How is this guy such an important ‘influencer’ when he spouts such utter drivel?)
So I have started using it less, which is actually easier than I imagined. I feel more free of noise and don’t miss it at all. Sure, I dip in and out now and then but less instinctively and not when just faintly bored, to fill a moment or two.
Facebook bores me
It’s been several months since I deleted the Facebook app from my phone, which felt liberating, somehow eliminated an obligation. I still look in on the desktop, usually to manage a page or take a look at a group, and still look at my personal feed.But there are no regrets about not having it on my phone. Those urgent needy red flag notifications grew bizarre and infuriatingly irrelevant: Friends I May Know (who I certainly don’t know), a casual acquaintance has posted yet another photograph of their child. That’s great Facebook, thanks, bye.
Facebook is like a boringly repetitive loudmouth in the pub who keeps a terrifying photo shrine of you and all your family in his basement. I have no interest in going to that pub anymore. Its user numbers stock market value indicates I am not alone.
Social media increasingly leaves me feeling flat. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t have to depress yourself like that – unless you are a social media manager for British Telecom or something.
Care Less. Leave Your Phone Alone (Sometimes Off).
If it’s not your job though, why would you? Just put your phone down. Or you have a second thought about picking it up in the first place. You control yourself, reach for a book. Maybe give yourself a certain strict period of time (there are lots of apps for this), perhaps read only one fairly neutral platform for news, if possible.
You can reprogram and rewire, at the very least taper and develop an awareness of your usage. Decide not to care how many likes you get because it is all fairly meaningless. Dare to post without a hashtag.
Otherwise, you risk investing a disproportionate amount of meaning amongst the frighteningly lost hours lost staring into that screen. The link between rising mental health issues and excessive use of smartphones and social media is blindingly obvious.
These devices and their applications are engineered to tap into our insecurities and neuroses, to hammer us with notifications and never leave us alone. We are forgetting how to communicate, or never learning how in the first place.
It is not easy but we can choose to resist. We can look back to go forward. I find continued comfort in books, glossy paper, print. The old school hard versions and the Kindle versions. They don’t usually distract you with links and send you scurrying away down another rabbit hole of information. Also ebooks or podcasts. Take a walk and a listen and look at the world around you, instead of that screen.
Remember you can and probably should turn off that thing altogether from time to time. There’s lots of other stuff out there. It is not your God, it’s a phone.