Irony is this. I design social media strategy and content for brands. I know social media marketing. I know what kind of posts go viral. I know how to increase engagement. I know this. My professional life has been entwined with social media for the past eight years.
Yet, I have no social media accounts of note apart from LinkedIn. I don’t even have WhatsApp! Somewhere, the Universe is laughing at me.
The backstory: Why I quit social media
Last year, I deactivated Facebook. I have always been a reluctant participant on FB. But I got back on FB in 2014 or so because I needed to post ads for my travel start-up, Trippin Traveller. Once there, I tried to use the platform in ways that I thought were me. Whatever that ‘me’ means. I would share content that I hoped would brighten someone’s day. I would share deeply personal posts that I hoped someone would find a degree of resonance with. I tried to cheer those I found struggling. And I laughed with the ones who were sailing through life. I know that a few of the ‘friends’ online really looked forward to those posts.
But then, in March, I walked away from FB. I just couldn’t handle the pretense any more. We all lead whitewashed lives of pure grandeur if you look at FB. I seemed to be the only one on FB who had any problems! Have a new boyfriend/girlfriend? Put it up there! Break-up with that person? Silence. Went on a vacation? Put it up there! Haven’t gone outside your house in three months? Silence.
This is not life. This is life as we wish others to know us. FB is the grand version of our greatest illusion – that we are all leading lives of great happiness, contentment, and joy.
So, when we stopped using Ads on Trippin Traveller and hired a social media person to handle the accounts, I no longer needed to be online. I logged off, ignored Facebook’s vile warnings that someone or the other would miss me (no one will), and have not looked back since.
I then stuck around on Instagram because my friend wanted me there. For a while, I posted a few pictures, scrolled mindlessly through countless memes. Then, in August last year, I went to Kollam, Kerala. I had this house by the beach. (If you know me, you know I love love the sea). The waves were peeking in. Dolphins were actually jumping around. The window showed nothing but an endless horizon of blue. And what was I doing? I was scrolling. Checking my phone for the notification of a like or comment. I stood by the window of my room, horrified, holding the phone in my hand, and then and there, I deleted the app and asked my friend to deactivate my account.
The facts that scare me
Social media usage has been known to decrease self-esteem. In 2014, researchers in Austria found that participants reported lower moods after using Facebook for 20 minutes compared to those who just browsed the internet. (Source: BBC). People using social media reported higher anxiety levels. The relentless comparison, cyber-bullying, and trolling have meant that social media use is also causing more depression.
Life without social media
So, how’s life for me without social media? I need to have LinkedIn because I ghostwrite a few “thought-leadership” posts there for appropriately famous people. Goodreads will not allow me to delete my own author page, and that is anyway not a troublesome social media platform. But on neither of these platforms do I scroll. I don’t miss any app. I don’t miss a single notification. I did go through some withdrawal pangs, pining for the artificial connection of a comment, but that quickly faded away, and I am left with this:
Blessedly, my phone stays silent except for text messages from the few friends who want to be connected to me. I don’t have the urge to keep checking my phone. I only need to do so when my friend in Dublin messages me on Skype – probably the only reason why I even have a smartphone!
Staying away from social media has given me more time to read and do what I love. I am realizing more and more that time is finite. More than we think. And I want to spend that finite time with those I love and care for. Commenting or liking on yet another glorious post on FB or Instagram is not connection for me. Those are pseudo-relationships, crafted to give you a dopamine high for an instant.
Not checking my phone constantly means that I really can be present more and more. I haven’t gone to a beach since my Instagram-ruined trip last year (My heart aches), but I can concentrate more now on just enjoying the moment. I find that I have more focus. I am not lost taking that perfect Instagram shot. I can be here. I can be there. Breathe in.
You would think that I would lose connections if I went off the 250 ‘friends’ on FB? Wrong. I instead find that I talk more. I pick up the phone and speak. Just simple communication the way it used to be before we complicated it. I have always struggled to have long conversations on the phone. I still do. But I can at least have short conversations. I like hearing the voice of a friend. I love meeting that friend in person even more. No. I don’t speak to 250 friends. Only a handful. The ones who disappeared when I left social media – well, I wish them well – but I don’t need to know about their life through broadcast messages.
I would like my friends to connect to each other with the whole smorgasbord of life changes we go through. Whenever I am at death’s door, I won’t remember some social media ‘friend’s’ comment. But I know I will remember the friend who stayed with me all my life.
I am not against the use of social media. I feel like such a hypocrite when I give workshops on social media to clients and I write like this. I believe that technology has indeed brought us closer. I found some wonderful people online who I would never have met otherwise. But it has also driven us apart. I believe we should use social media with caution. We should keep our ego aside when we communicate online. It would be nice if we can keep our ego aside any time we communicate. But that’s a topic for another day. Troll is a word best used in ‘The Hobbit.’ Let’s leave it there. And as for that horrible word, ‘blocking,’ I shudder. I have been maimed and scarred by friends I trusted who used the ‘social’ tools of blocking to cause indescribable pain and hurt.
We should remember that we use social media to connect – use these platforms to like and comment by all means, but don’t leave it at just that.
Please reach out more. Our parents and grandparents built long-lasting friendships without WhatsApp and FB. We can do that too.
Pick up the phone. Don’t use the phone for just texting. But actually speak.
Meet. And when you do, please keep aside your phone. (I am so tired of people who talk to their phones instead of to the person in front of them. If you want to meet me, please meet me without your phone in sight).
Write letters. Not just emails. Actual handwritten letters.
Take a digital detox now and then. Switch off the phone or deactivate your social media accounts for a while.
FOMO is sometimes just hype. I like to think of FOMO as the Fun Of Missing Out. Not the Fear. Just what is it that we think we miss out if we are not on social media? I have no idea if my friend from high school got married in the year I have been away. Does it matter to me? No. I don’t know about all the endless vacations others have taken. If I am single, I don’t feel sad because everyone seems to be coupling up and showing cuddly photos. If I am in a relationship, I don’t feel sad that the single ones seem to be really living it up while I fight with my partner. But really. We are NOT missing out on anything. Social media is not a substitute for actual interaction.
Scroll sparingly. Follow only those who really mean something to you in your life. Celebrities, usually, are out of that list.