I Gave Up Social Media for 30 Days and I Failed... Yet Here's What I Learned

Reflection by Hanna-Amanda Pant

Before I even start I hear you ask, why would anyone ever give up the lust of social media voluntarily for an experiment's sake? After all, it provides a great deal of voyeurism, also known as the scope of interest and curiosity through which we participate in other people's private (and ever-so interesting) lives. Although some reflections occasionally pop up on many popular newspapers and blogs, so the idea is not exactly novel. That said, my personal objective varied a bit. I am bad at accusing myself in very bad things, and feeling guilty. Although I still know I do a lot of bad things. Pointing at myself as a culprit and using the word ‘addiction' wouldn’t sound just quite right. At least not in this lifetime. But that said, I was sure to check my smartphone and all those apps on many-many-many (more than recommended) excessive occasions throughout the day, from Instagram to Snapchat. Let’s put it this way — I was making sure my idols' Tweets made me laugh during lunch breaks and even obsess-stalking my ex to find out more crucial info about his definitely most recent notorious badass behaviour and new flings and definite infidelity became a not-so-innocent (and definitely not healthy) part of my daily routine. Social media could drag me into a whirlwind of emotions — from hysterical laughter triggered by something my best friends said, to misery and regret, seeing images of people who seemingly did better than me. Seemingly. Even if I am not the one to deeply experience jealousy or misery, these emotions have a rather superficial meaning in my books. However, it was all about a cornucopia of unexpected emotions triggered by the great Fear Of Missing Out, or encountering photos and words I didn't want to see… when I was just innocently flicking through the ‘latest news’. We all know that’s a code word for getting lost in the depths of social media for as long as you’ve lost sense of time, discovered 5 more grey hair and gone from eating lasagna for lunch today to ‘What should I make for dinner?’ the day (or 3 days) after (read: being lost in a parallel universe consisting of monitoring your ex’s latest movements Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, on Twitter, LinkedIn and even the frequency of changing his WhatsApp profile picture. The last is tricky, I swear, from personal experience). 

Social media had sneakily, scarily, without me even noticing, become my own guilty pleasure and served well as a familiar numbing, paralysing substance in the times of being lost and searching for a sort of comforting validation. Needless to say these platforms give great grounds for gossip. Social media was long all that kept me entertained to fight feelings and thoughts of loneliness, even if I was the last one to admit it. The vast availability of online social mediums certainly gave me my daily dose of updates for adrenaline-boosting gossip and a secure, shell-like sense of belonging... somewhere to a pink bubble of yacht-lifestyles in Cannes and Friday late-night adventures avec friends in the most happening London venues. I was all for communicating that to others IRT (in real time). But did I even enjoy the social bubble in the end? Without even noticing, I was more concerned with the innocent act of sharing itself than actually enjoying those bubbly and lively, all-important events, parties and social gatherings. Emotions. Happiness. Sharing moments worth cherishing. I did it via touch-screen only. I was clearly unaware. And a bit lost in life. Roaming around looking fulfilled, whilst in reality, I was just on Cloud 9 suffering from a hangover caused by an all-encompassing digital coma. 

Once it came to me like a quiet epiphany after a long day's night, when I had been to another social gathering, but hadn't enjoyed the moment, because I was too busy with my phone and all these gadgets — leaving myself to be defined by the frequency of phone calls, emails, Instagram's instant snaps instantly sent out to numerous unknown audiences. Not to leave out the amount of Whatsapp messages stating ‘you-should-be-here-all-the-fun-is-here' to all the friends and virtual friends. 

When I finally noticed my subtly existing obsession, my only motive to stop it urgently was concerned with getting back to the real me. If it even ever existed. Who was untouched by fears caused by a plethora of words and images shared on social media. The one who had time to cherish conversations IRL, escape for a morning jog or yoga session, the one who prepared healthy breakfasts at 8am for the entire week ahead... I had lost a great deal of productivity, and had to shrug the weight of wasted time off my shoulders. I was the only one to be blamed for it. I had been far too ignorant for far too long. 

So here's the experiment, as it went. It started on a positive note. And then I stopped documenting my life and feelings altogether. 

Some excerpts from the experiment's SMRD (Social Media Rehab Diary): 

Day 3:

It's not that hard at all... I feel relieved and free... except that...

I have flown twice already. Both times I got my phone out and snapped some photos of airport lounges, a fruit collection and a cliched goobdye-the-city-I-am-leaving from a rainy, dusty plane window before take-off. I was prepared to share them on my Insta story, but hey, wait a minute... I took these snapshots only to junk them immediately and laugh. Right, no one will ever know what I did at 10.15 on the rainy Thursday. June 1st, according to calendar. Along the lines, I junked a few photos of scenic nature, a funny photo taken on the plane again (along the lines of how little leg space I had been left with and that someone accidentally poured red wine on my snow white clothes again... right), my new hair cut!, two times preparations for a night-out, 3 colourful and healthy lunches containing avocado... a thought, 'I have eaten so many exciting things today, but have no one to share them with. Sharing is caring (about what all your friends ate).'

I just liked the idea of taking these photos, as if I was about to use them somewhere. But they're useless on my camera roll and no one's ever going to see them. What's the fun of it all, of doing anything at all, without sharing?

Day 5-7:

Still feeling good. Two friends have asked where I am and if I'm still alive. I laugh a bit and get busy with my everyday activities... I don't tell them what's going on until they get it. I still take a lot of photos that I have no one share with (except my imaginary friends). The odd one gets e-posted to mum at 2pm during my mid-day god-bless-social-media-free-life crisis, when I'm desperate for at least some other than emoji-shaped reactions! 

Day 10:

I like that I have more time, but I slowly start longing engaging with others on the smartphone. I drink more herbal teas, notice if strangers need help and offer my caring hand, sit in cafes, read more books, have more real-life conversations than ever before and even manage to be more productive in terms of writing work. I finally have a moderately hectic schedule that leaves some time for much-needed me-time. The best thing is that people mostly don't even know where I am or what I'm doing, so they actually have to call me to find out, which feels more like early 00s. To the point where I get extremely paranoid from spending so much time alone. Without all the apps constantly blinking and screaming for my attention. But I still feel like something is missing...  probably all that textual noise. Probably, living without the visual assemblage of all these images and FOMO, that I was so full of day-to-day, takes more time to get used to than I had initially thought. I start comparing it to recovering it from a mental disease of some sort. I guess many psychiatrists would agree with me at this point. Ahem.. but still, the joke is on me. 

"What's the fun of it all, of doing anything at all, without sharing?"

Day 12:

It took a trip to NYC to lose my patience and slowly start sharing again. I feel more alive and energetic than ever, boycotting social-media everything. I also feel as if I have more time to take it all in. It's day 3 in NYC, and I still haven't posted anything. Starting to feel a bit anxious, as I have a plethora of images waiting to be shared retrospectively (read: days and days after the trip). I post a pic with a hilarious quote, then delete it soon after. Suddenly I decide to let go and post my first image over a long time. I feel like a failure, but feels good to be on the social media radar again. However, I tend to touch my phone less. Huge surprise: feeling like I have all the time in the world doing things I actually enjoyed before social media era. I take long walks in parks and write my thoughts on a piece of paper. I observe. I notice. I analyse. Moments seem to pass slower, even in such a hectic city as NYC. I don't know exactly if giving up social media is to blame, but I feel so alive. It has been so refreshing not to be so dependent on my phone all these days. Luckily, I don't do anything on this trip only for the 'Gram. Like eat at trendy Insta-worthy places and take pastel-pretty pics of my pink vegan burger or macarons. I don't even document all the magnificent places I spend time at. Or the tasty meals I gorge more slowly than a nanosecond. And it feels ridiculously good. I feel like I am doing things only to please myself. I guess that's what life was like in 2010. 

Day 14:

I'm about to leave NYC when my phone suddenly dies. I mean dies entirely with no chance of rebooting it any time soon. Great news! Especially when you realise the flight is delayed for 5 hours and you have to look for your own entertainment the entire time. Not the most exciting airport to spend some alone-time at. The food choices are also rather miserable. Being exhausted and sunburnt doesn't help much, too. I almost experience a mental breakdown having to wait for take-off for 2.5 hours actually being INSIDE the plane. Luckily I have some friendly folks next to me who help calm me down. I spend the entire pre-flight time... basically... talking to strangers, reading books about world's religions and watching numerous films not actually my cup of tea (but am positively surprised). It's still strange not to use my no. 1 digital encyclopedia on a 9-hour overnight flight.  I even enjoy eating and napping even more. Still annoyed I cannot check anything hidden in the depths of my phone, like re-reading and re-arranging old WhatsApp messages, which used to be my favourite activity on planes... and what I completely miss: note-taking! Aggghhh. More to do with smartphone itself than social media. I write a lot of notes on paper these days (and then fail to decipher the handwriting later on). Even 40,000 feet lost over the Atlantic. 

Day 21:

I've already given up most parts of my experiment's achievements, but still try to reflect on my daily experiences and what I see on social media. I don't look at it first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I get too busy living my real life and having long dinners and Left Bank walks in Paris on a dreamy Sunday. I get too busy living my real life that I fail to notice how fragile and empty my social media presence has become. I forget to reply to messages and e-mails and ignore all social media feeds. I quit paying attention to it and attributing huge importance to it. I try to remind myself that life is more than just pretty pictures. The good things happen in real life only. Being in Paris whilst saying this does help a great deal, however. 

Day 30:

I guess you cannot completely abandon sharing nonetheless, whatever benefits virtual isolation brings. Like having more control over your own life, having stronger and more meaningful relationships and family ties and having more control over the way others perceive you. You become simply less fragile. By avoiding social media faux pas-s. Everyone can curate a non-existent reality in the huge realm of digital media. I, however, have noticed that I actually want to be more real. Realness, in a way, is also trending on social media, e.g. personal essay has become a huge thing... meaning long texts below the standard 4x4 squares. Or photos that look like 90s hyperrealism. It has huge benefits, but the solution, after all, is establishing a more healthy relationship with the system and taking it all with a dose of good humour. That way it doesn't perhaps lose all its integrity. 

"I feel like I am doing things only to please myself. I guess that's what life was like in 2010." 

I Gave Up Social Media for 30 Days... #Savant

Maybe it's somewhat hypocritical of me to long for the old days and criticise a platform with so many benefits and opportunities, as we all should constantly adapt to new, innovative technologies, they have become a natural part of life. I am pretty much all hands and feet involved in the digital realms, and it has made life much easier, to say the least. So where's the catch?

Although I still get the gist of its plethora of benefits to be cherished, like self-promotion and communicating your personal ideologies. To this day, I am not denying its incredible, enriching impact on our lives: it gives us a way and space to share our values, personality and personal brand with the world. And connect with others. Often through a single snap. Or curated feed. Meaningful, or not, but it's more to do with the speed of spreading information: you can now share who you are and what you believe in a single instant. Not bad at first sight. Not even to mention the lucrative commercial aspect of it: practically everything is sold via Instagram nowadays, or at least marketed. Hashtag AD. And now to make ends meet...

The month without s... ocial media (I know what you were thinking, shame shame!), however, came with a few bonuses. Right, let's not forget that I failed to master the experiment, but wouldn’t entirely consider myself a failure, as I learned a lot. For instance, throughout the month, I learned to listen more carefully, and to be a better family member, friend and even boss, to some. I learned to enjoy the outdoors. To be more present. And how to truly listen to my own thoughts, record them as the most significant voice, and proudly mute out the rest — the overwhelming, plentiful visual and textual noise that I almost thought being a part of me, as it seemed so inseparable. I ended up making friends. Although negative thoughts surfaced in the beginning, when I had too much time to be really entirely on my own, I learned to fight them. Because I knew it's a precaution important for my own sanity. If we're all surrounded by that visual noise day-to-day, it's too easy to mute out your own feelings and thoughts. And mistakenly believe other people's opinions and thoughts are our own. They're not. Yet they quietly become a backdrop of our existence, and form an agenda for our actions, whereas only our own thoughts should take the leading role in our own lives.

Because we're too busy consuming other people's lives that we even forget to look up when we walk. We're too busy absorbing other people's thoughts and daily lives that we forget to look after our pets, ask our partners 'How was your day?', or give a helping hand for the needy. The button in our brain that gears forward rational thinking and regulates compassion has entirely gotten stuck, if not stopped entirely. Yet it's extremely necessary to keep our society operational. Due to social media presence, we're only motivated seeing things through the prism of our personal desire and needs. And we want everything instantly. We yearn for an exciting life and we envy those who have somehow seemingly made it (even though it may just be the pretty, carefully-curated side, not the real side). We hide behind the screens and fail to be our true selves. It's so sad we have gone so far as a society that I almost run out of words. Or am just too cautious with judgement, because I feel an actual weakness I cannot change the harm already done. And continue simply being a part of the system.

"If we're all surrounded by that visual noise day-to-day, it's too easy to mute out your own feelings and thoughts. And mistakenly believe other people's opinions and thoughts are our own." 

Day 30... 

Everyone must have their own code of conduct on these pastel-pretty, carefully-curated virtual worlds. But let's say my relationship with these magnificent, dreamy worlds was not healthy, to put it mildly. Conclusion? To narrow it down the personal reflection to the use of Instagram, then it's a great app. I'm not ashamed to be one of its everyday users. All the glamour. But it's just artificial and not real enough through my personal reflection. It's not all that fun anymore. After all, we live in a world where... realness has become a real rarity. However... 

I have ever since managed to establish and keep up with a healthier relationship with social media. And I'm much happier. I also daydream a lot. Thanks for asking.