You could say that my generation essentially grew up with the digital age. We started off with the original prototypes–the MP3 players, the GameBoys the ENV3’s of the world that seem prehistoric nowadays. Some of the freshmen now may have never even heard of these things. And yet, our generation seemed to be the guinea pigs for every new electrical toy to hit the market from Playstation to Wii to Apple. Along with the advancements of technology came the creation of social networking and a digital era that has since changed the way we communicate for years to come.
Social media has become the limb we feel incomplete without, the crutch we lean on for support and above all else the application we use to feel connected to the world around us. Of course, people did not always need websites such as Facebook to stay updated on their friends and families lives, but now it seems like the only way to prove to the rest of the planet that we are here and the things we’re doing are in fact interesting.
Like most if not all of the people in my life, I am guilty to being a part of this movement toward digital interaction. I’ve come to rely more on the glass of a screen than the reality around me and although I understand its effects, I chose to ignore them. I know that every second I spend scrolling through Instagram into the late hours of the night will not improve how much I genuinely like the people I double tap on or that the God awful Snapchats I send to people daily simply to keep the all important streaks alive will somehow place value on our friendship.
And yet, these are things we do daily.
Social media has become the plate at an all-you-can-eat buffet. No matter how much you consume, no matter how many times you make that trip up to the pancake line, there will always be more to fill it. And thus, the world becomes fat.
For the first week of October, I decided to take on the impossible challenge to fast or more or less diet, if you will. After years of consumption and overuse, I chose to put down that pancake and step back from the plate to see the possibilities the rest of the world has to offer.
For five days, I went cold turkey.
As a student and journalism major, I could not give up all aspects of the Internet, but I did the best that I could possibly do to give up the four main food groups of social media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat.
I made it a total of nine hours into the first day before I broke the streak. Eight hours and 59 of those minutes I was sleeping. Unfortunately, my first instinct after my obnoxious alarm blares into my ear in the morning is to rid myself of every notification on my phone, including social media. After realizing that I had started my week of media free, I immediately closed out of the application I was using and proceeded with my morning routine in a much more timely manner.
The rest of the day was difficult simply establishing to the world that I would not be attentive on social media for the remaining school week. Of which I received gasped responses as well as a series of questions that varied in wording but consistently fell along the lines of “Why are you doing this to yourself?” and “How will you possibly know anything going on ever?”
To those who doubted me, I struggled, but I made it.
Days consumption: Three hours and 16 minutes of screen time and 118 pickups.
It’s hard to give up things that are bad for you when they’re crucial to your very existence. Although social connection may not be life or death, it does become an issue when it’s use is required for other things in your life. In my case, this meant research via Twitter and news outlets for my position as News Editor.
I found that on days, such as deadline for the paper, when I was busy/preoccupied with work and extra curriculars, I spent a lot less time on my phone than anticipated. For this particular week, the time I did spend on my phone was a struggle because of the information I was barred from in this social media block.
The itch in my thumbs to press each application was very real.
Days consumption: One hour and 38 minutes of screen time and 87 pickups.
In spite of not being able to communicate with others through some of my favorite apps, I spent much of my time during this break to communicate via phone call and FaceTime. My mom sincerely appreciated my media break as she was my point of contact walking to and from class and my procrastination break during homework sessions.
In light of those who attempted and failed to lure me back to the dark side through tagged pictures and instant messaging spams, I found more time for them in person as I became less and less inclined to pick up my phone mid conversation and more prone to eye contact and genuine interaction.
Days consumption: Two hours and 24 minutes of screen time and 119 pickups.
Although I was working on myself to become more engaged with those around me, those around, unfortunately, were not. I developed an extreme case of FOMO, fear of missing out, this late in the week as the red bubbled numbers continued to increase on each app and my friends constantly laughed at Snapchats I couldn’t open and notifications I couldn’t attend to. I felt the need to be on my phone in social settings to mimic their own actions but found myself staring at an empty screen instead.
Days consumption: Three hours and 27 minutes of screen time and 127 pickups.
The home stretch.The entirety of this day was pretty much getting through it. Counting down the hours, the minutes, the seconds until freedom. Although I knew it wasn’t the right wording, ‘freedom’ still felt like the only appropriate choice for how it would feel to finally be ‘connected’ again. The Snap Streaks my roommates kept for me would finally get to see my face resurfaced. The links posted in the Facebook groups I needed for sign ups and tabling would officially be accessible. All of these things and more would be within the touch of a button the minute the clock struck midnight.
And in that very minute, they were again.
Days consumption: Three hours and 24 minutes screen time and 144 pickups.
It wasn’t impossible to go five days without what many consider the essentials of everyday life, but I won’t lie, it was indeed hard. Overall what I found to be the most difficult out of the entirety of the experiment was simply reminding myself what I was and wasn’t allowed to use. It was instinct for me to turn to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat in my down time or in reference to a person, place or thing. Without access to these applications, I felt lost. That feeling of helplessness is something I won’t ever forget.
In a day and age where we, as people, rely so heavily on the technological aspects of our mundane lives, we become more and more useless with each passing day. Although this data detox was short term and experimental, it did open my eyes to a reality that many overlook.
Social media keeps us connected but it is the real world, the real life connection beyond the face of a screen that brings us together. For those who’ve forgotten that down the digital beaten path, take a week, five days or even a singular day to remember.
You won’t regret it.