Sunday mornings are for late wake-ups, brunch, and the New York Times crossword.
That, and a notification I dread: “Screen time weekly report now available.” After the morning and I become acquainted, I sit down at my desk to be assailed by the same message on my laptop. The subheadings of these notifications — which I’m not necessarily proud of — provide insight into how much time I’ve spent in front of screens in the past week.
Putting these two numbers together essentially maps out my days: an average of five hours a day on my phone, and nearly double that on my laptop. My entire life is built on screen time. Whether it’s the screen itself or the innate responsibility that comes with pressing the power button, the new digital era we live in can weigh you down. Our beautiful campus no longer unifies us in the way it once did — breakout rooms have taken over that playing field.
And when we can finally pry ourselves away from Quercus or Zoom, how do we reward ourselves? By streaming Netflix, scrolling through Instagram, or playing a couple of rounds of our favourite video games. With a lack of in-person interactions, our screens have become looking glasses for the time being. Maybe instead of looking through photo albums years from now, we’ll look through our old Instagram pages instead.
While some of this is inherently unavoidable, I have begun to feel like I am living my life vicariously, watching the world melt away before my eyes. Though the endeavour may seem fruitless during COVID-19, the idea of liberation from monotony is compelling.
In an attempt to fight back against what feels like the plot of Ex Machina, I opted to complete monthly challenges throughout 2021. For February, it was a month without social media.
There’s a number of reasons why someone would want to take a break. Some people find that social media prompts them to compare themselves to others — when we constantly see what others have, we instinctively want it too. Others find that feedback or attention from others draw them in.
Social media preoccupies your mind through perpetual boredom, making you feel less alone. And due to this, a common side effect is hindered productivity, distractions from work, and poor mental health.
In my case, I believed the negative side effects to be wasted time and becoming distracted, so I allowed myself to continue texting my friends and close ones. This wasn’t a challenge to limit my communication, just my mindless scrolling.
As expected, the first few days were the most challenging. Like many people, my brain had been hardwired into compulsive checking. I grabbed my phone mindlessly, unlocking it to swipe back and forth between screens, looking for something, but what? Likes? Comments? Direct messages?
From my time off of social media, I learned two things. First, you are addicted to social media — whether you realize it or not. The location of apps on my phone was ingrained into my muscle memory. I’d reach for social media without even thinking about it, only to realize that I was just pressing phantom buttons.
When I logged back in after the month was up, everything pretty much looked the same. There were no pressing messages, no crazy posts, nothing screaming at me to stay — which leads me to my second point.
Nobody gives a shit! Though it may sound harsh, the truth is that, more often than not, people are neutral about you. Chances are, the majority of your followers consist of people you’ve crossed paths with on campus, friends of friends, and finally, your close ones. The extent of most of these relationships is the knowledge that you exist — nothing more, nothing less.
Social media isn’t the be-all and end-all of your relationships. By taking a break, I’ve noticed specific people who genuinely want to keep in touch with me will make the effort to do so.
While the majority of the challenge had positive results, I found that I was a bit late to receive information. Social media has become an outlet that sometimes surpasses news. Somehow, there’s a colourful infographic about the latest social issue before news channels cover it.
It’s definitely a useful tool for informing yourself, though this comes with a caveat: the volume of information to take in is overwhelming. After logging back on, it only took me a few minutes to remember why I took a break.
So, now what? I spent a month off of social media, and now I’m suddenly some uber-woke individual who looks down on the digitally addicted?
On the contrary. I finished the challenge about a week ago, and I still use social media. The difference lies in how and when I use it. My screen time has decreased significantly, and I’m no longer spending my 24 hours the way I used to. In a strange way, there’s a sense of clarity in taking time away from compulsively checking the screen.
So, if you’re in the position to, try taking some time off of social media. It may seem difficult at first, but the urge is only fuelled by the perpetual fear of missing out.
When you reconnect again, you’ll realize a simple truth: you won’t miss a thing.