I deleted my social media apps because they turned me into an idiot | Lydia smear

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In January I deleted all social media apps from my phone because they were turning me into an idiot.

For months, I had avoided engaging in anything difficult or stressful. Worried about where I’ll be living next year? Dive into Instagram. The tax bill stings me to the bottom of the head? Open Facebook. This heartbreak that I thought I had still dealt with piercing? Disappear into the realm of likes and follows and push feelings away. Distract. frenzy. Escape.

Whether it was the Pavlovian thrill of little red circles of similar notifications or a genuine need to connect with others, there was something that kept me and 1.86 billion others coming back monthly active Facebook users. With social apps so accessible on my smartphone, this had turned into compulsive checking. Statistica research shows that 47% of UK adults use social media every day, and a GlobalWebIndex report found that at the end of last year people were spending a global average of almost two hours a day on social media. social networks and messaging. I was one of them.

Hours of my nights out, train rides, and lunches have been flipped from app to app, seeking attention in the form of likes. I opened Facebook, then Instagram, then Messenger, and by the time it took me to look at the last two, there was a chance something had happened on Facebook. So I would go back and open it again. Then Instagram. Then Messenger. The cycle would continue. It was really annoying for me.

It wasn’t even meaningful attention I was looking for – if social media wasn’t available, I’d dive into work email, or even my banking app, hoping to find something there. new. I just wanted something – anything – in the form of a new notification. I felt like a frantic lab rat waiting to hear a bell ring.

Daniel Gerrard, family interventionist and founder of Addiction Helper, believes that social media addiction is an addiction process similar to gambling: “The more you do it, the more you want to do it, and the more you block out the outside world. So, whether you win or lose, you always feel that elevated feeling, and the more you do it, the more you block out what happens.

I didn’t think I had an addiction, just strong habits. I could, however, understand the appeal of social media as an escape from the real world.

So I went clean. I removed them all from my phone. I would always use social media on computers, but I wanted to make sure it wasn’t always with me every second and everywhere.

Freedom

With my apps gone, I realized that I felt bad more often than I thought. All of a sudden, I had to deal with some delicate emotions. I lay in bed at night with thoughts racing, making lists of worries to try to slow down the anxiety. It affected my relationship: I was unloading on my boyfriend and asking for more comfort over annoying thoughts. I would come home at night and sit on the couch, thinking that I didn’t have enough energy to read a book or watch a movie. So I picked up my phone, then realized there was no toy there, and wondered what I was going to do with the half hour I had to kill.

“Choosing to dive down a digital rabbit hole to be stupid didn’t seem like a good choice to make in your thirties.” Photography: Frédéric Cirou/Getty Images/PhotoAlto

I could have turned on the laptop and logged into Facebook there, but in the time it took to pick it up, I realized that the silly comments I was about to make were pointless and didn’t weren’t a good use of my time. Worse still: the effort involved made me embarrassed – choosing to dive down a digital rabbit hole to be stupid didn’t seem like a good choice to make in my thirties.

It would be a neat story if I could say that after initially struggling to get away from digital frivolity, the clouds quickly lifted and it made me more functional. But it wasn’t that simple.

Being more proactive gave me a greater sense of control and confidence in my ability to overcome small obstacles. But I also missed the control apps gave me over my mood. Some research has indicated that part of the success of social networking sites is due to how they make you feel. An academic paper by Mauri et al in 2011 showed that the Facebook experience is different from a state of stress or relaxation, but has its own unique baseline state of flux. While avoiding trouble altogether isn’t necessarily a sensible way to approach life, taking time to feel good is — and to some extent, social apps have given me more control over my mood. immediate.

Waste of time

One of the ways the heavy use of social apps unambiguously weighed on my feelings, however, was the guilt that came with wasting time. Studies by Christina Sagioglou and Tobias Greitemeyer in 2014 suggested that using Facebook can lead to a bad mood afterwards and the feeling that you haven’t spent your time doing anything meaningful. In my case, it was painfully true. I hadn’t paid for my accommodation, I had lost contact with my friends, I had neglected my hobbies, I went out less than before. I hadn’t read a book for six months. I would become a mental hick. It was not only a question of social use, but it took me a lot of time.

Dr Ciarán McMahon, a Dublin-based academic and author of a book on psychology and social media, said this sense of time wasting is a problem for Facebook: “They want you to be there all the time, but it can make you feel like you haven’t gotten anything. It’s a pretty nice feeling, a state of flow reasonably similar to reading a book. But after reading a book, you can say you’ve read 20 pages, but if you spend the same hour on Facebook, you have no sense of accomplishment.

After deleting Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram from my phone, I was alarmed at the amount of free time that suddenly emerged. I used to think I was too busy to read these days. But within a month, I had read two novels and listened to an audiobook — all in my spare time, when I would otherwise have been prowling around social apps in search of validation. If I had made this change, say in June, I could have read the entire Man Booker Shortlist, plus 14 other novels. In the moments before bed, while waiting for my boyfriend to finish brushing his teeth, rather than checking Instagram, I put a notepad and pencil on my bedside table to sketch out some photo ideas.

Beyond that, I also found that in times of boredom, I texted or emailed friends or relatives I hadn’t spoken to in a while. I even phoned some people for a catch-up, which I thought was weird at first. The need to interact socially, which can be difficult in a big city, was no longer supported by a passive screen presence. If I wanted to see how someone was doing, I had to actively get in touch and find out. It felt a lot more meaningful, especially with older parents, who were probably on the same page – on social media, but not compulsively with a smartphone app.

fall back into

Part of the reward of social media is the feeling that you matter. “You can be alone in your house but have a million friends on Facebook or Instagram – that can put you in a false reality,” says Gerrard. Without this false reality, I was living in the present, and felt like I was bleeding life from my fingertips. Learning, creating, communicating in a meaningful way seemed healthier than the narcissistic cesspool of selfies, likes, followers and favorites. So why did I come back?

Scene at the Women's March, London
“During the Women’s March, social media wasn’t just liking someone’s cat photo – it was a way for millions of people to communicate their political stance.” Photography: Andy Hall/The Observer

When I went to the Women’s March at the end of January, I desperately wanted to connect with other people – friends or strangers – who were also there, felt the same and shared the same values ​​as me. The most immediate way to do this was to redownload the apps, search, and share. So I did. Social media wasn’t just about liking someone’s cat photo — it was a way for millions of people to communicate their political stance. I had also missed Facebook and Twitter as instantly accessible ways to consult multiple news sources, which in the era of Trump and Brexit felt like something I shouldn’t be without.

I would like to say that, with the cycle broken, I let apps come back into my life, but only to use them occasionally, for healthy purposes, while continuing to have offline relationships and read a lot more.

But it’s hard to handle the lure of compulsive verification. Unlike other bad habits or addictions, abstinence isn’t really an option – work, news, and socializing now depend on this technology.

Two months later, things are… complicated. It’s not quite the same between me and apps since the big break. But just like going back to an old lover, it’s easy to fall back into the same old dynamic. I love being logged in, but occasional use can quickly turn into compulsive checking, and when I catch that, I go nuclear and delete them. But then I’ll be out and want to post a pic on Instagram, or check to see if anyone has tried to contact me, so I’ll upload again. And the cycle continues.

I don’t know if this ritual is more functional than what I was doing before. It is disconcertingly easy to leave when you know you can come back whenever you want. I notice faster when I’m wasting time, though. I do more and feel less like a 31 year old. And yet, I worry about how easily it is possible to fall into the trap. It worries me that these networks encompassing everyone I know offer empty, addictive rewards for unnecessary behavior. And it worries me that as long as I have a phone in my pocket, this scrolling idiot that I am capable of being is never more than a few mouse clicks away.

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