Social Media Detox

Quite an enormous proportion of the human race has convinced itself that our phones, specifically social media, are absolutely imperative for our survival in this modern, tech-driven world. To be honest, I was one of these people, maybe I still am, but there’s a seed of doubt in my mind now.

I’m a college student. We’re in the middle of a pandemic. I haven’t physically met or interacted with anybody in my social circle since March. All my course work, classes and social life are online. Most of the information I get from my university is conveyed via instant-messaging apps (WhatsApp), or through email. While email, to me, is okay because I don’t use it as a primary mode of communication, quitting IM apps seemed like a big deal. I genuinely didn’t think I’d be able to do it.

You see, I’ve conditioned myself to believe that it’s a necessity to be constantly connected, one tap away from all my friends, family and networks. I thought my academic life wouldn’t be able to survive a two-week absence from IM apps. Yet, I was proved wrong.

Two weeks ago, starting 17th August 2020, I quit WhatsApp and Instagram, the only two social media apps that I actually use, for two weeks (that is, until 31st August 2020).

If I’m being honest, I’d been putting it off for a while. It had been on my list of things to do but no time ever felt like the right time to do so. Well, until I decided that there would never be a right time and if I wanted to quit I had to do it now.

So, on 12th August 2020, I made the decision to start my detox five days later. I spent these five days preparing for my time off social media.

  • I texted friends and requested them to keep me updated via phone calls or occasional emails;
  • I informed professors that I wouldn’t be doing any co-curricular and extra-curricular work that they so often call upon me for;
  • I explained to my internship supervisor that I wouldn’t be reachable for a two-week period and arranged for a means of communication for meetings on my mum’s phone;
  • I informed my dance teacher and guitar teacher that they could only reach me through my mum;
  • I let my family know that I would be unreachable on IM apps; and
  • I mentally prepared myself.

I thought of every possible thing that I could do to ensure that I wasn’t missing out on anything, but that’s a problem isn’t it? I had to prepare to go off-grid for two weeks. Social media, instant messaging and constant, instant gratification has become so entrenched in our lives that not having a phone just doesn’t seem normal.

Despite all this preparation, when the day rolled around, I became incredibly anxious. I was worried that I’d have twisted withdrawal symptoms to social media, that I’d miss out on some important information at college, that I wouldn’t be there for someone who needed and a myriad of other irrational, and quite honestly, silly worries.

Still, I made sure that I signed off, switched off notifications and deleted/hid the apps four hours before the time I had decided I’d do so. I can’t describe how it felt in those moments. It was an odd mixture of anxiety, fear, and a sense of incredible peace and calm. It was amazing.

My first day or two off social media, it stayed at the back of my mind. However, after those initial jitters, I was completely fine. I was better than fine. Suddenly, I had more time to read books, take a stroll on my terrace, watch movies, do art, practice guitar, dance, learn a new language on Duolingo, finish assignments ahead of time, and lay in my balcony and stare at the sky.

The reason I’d taken this break was so that I’d have more time to figure out things that I wanted to do for myself, so that I could build a routine outside of checking my phone every few minutes. And this social media detox both lived up to and exceeded all my expectations. I loved it.

If you ask me, I think there was just one downside, and it was that my friends would constantly have to keep updating my about important things that were being announced by our professors or university via WhatsApp. I had a dissertation proposal viva, several assignments, announcement of exams and other news that they let me know of. And I’m incredibly thankful for them, but in the long run, I don’t think it’s sustainable to depend on others to convey your responsibilities to you.

I had an incredible experience, but I feel like I cheated a little. I was still using my university email ID, watched the occasional video on YouTube and maintained contact with my internship team (only when necessary though) through an IM app. Feels like cheating to me.

Maybe I’ll do this again and I’ll be completely off. Maybe I’ll lock my phone in a cupboard. The prospect both thrills me and terrifies me – and that’s how I know it’ll be amazing.

Despite feeling like I took an easy way out in some ways, I have learned so much in these two weeks. I don’t even know where to begin. There is so much to do and learn outside of constantly staring at a digital box in your hand. And of course, a majority of us know this, but very few of us put away our phones and enjoy reality. I’ve learned that I don’t need to be constantly updated on friends, college or Instagram stories. I don’t need to be constantly texting people all day long. I don’t need to unnecessarily send messages that have no value.

I can have long conversations over the phone, when I need to. When something urgent comes up, I can give people a call. I don’t lose out on anything if I’m not on social media and if I do, there are alternative ways of finding out about it.

Having experienced the freedom that comes with giving up social media, there are some things that I plan to take forward into my everyday life:

  • No more notifications for social media apps. No buzzing, no sounds, no numbers on the top left corner of the app.
  • No more picking up calls that I only answer due to obligations. I won’t lose out and now, I know that for sure.
  • Prioritize myself over university, my internship and the expectations of others. Of course, I won’t let myself slack in important areas of my life, but I think I’m going to be a little firmer about the ‘me first’ philosophy. I won’t be selfish, but I will put myself first when it’s right to do so.
  • Set a designated time to check social media. This is something I really want to follow. Maybe I’ll open my IM apps and Instagram only one or twice a day. Other than that, my hands will stay off my phone. I’ll make more time for myself and creative and academic activities I enjoy instead.
  • Staying off Instagram. I think I’m going to make a conscious decision to not use Instagram as often, if at all. I don’t really lose on any important aspects of my life if I don’t have it and honestly, I don’t gain from it either. I’ll open it from time to time, if I really feel like it but other than that, I think I’ll try to stay away as far as possible.

These two weeks truly changed my perspective. It is so absolutely liberating not to be a slave to texts, updates and stories. It is so much better to be absorbed in a book, watching a nice movie or working on something I really enjoy. I would definitely recommend everybody reading this blog post to try out a social media detox. Maybe you can go one step ahead of me, throw away your phone for a week, two weeks, maybe a month. Do it. There’s no perfect time to do it, but trust me, you will love it. I definitely know that I’m going to make a habit of this practice – maybe a short break every few months will do me good.

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