I used to joke with a friend: if you want to feel time slow down, either be on a treadmill or lose your phone for a day. This is more true than ever in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic. From weddings, birthday parties and even funerals shifting online, there aren’t several options but to make peace with being relegated to a small square on Zoom. However, it’s not just Zoom that’s the culprit but also our escalating usage of social media that has increased our screen time. A study of 4500 individuals showed that the majority of respondents acknowledged that their social media consumption (72%) and posting (43%) has peaked during the pandemic.
In the process of reflecting more critically on my relationship with technology, I started researching more about how social media affects us. A few hours later, I come across a purportedly ‘random’ advertisement asking me, no, almost accusing me of being a ‘social media addict’, “Are you a social media addict? Take this quiz to find out!” As much as I felt called-out by the advertisement, it was hard to avoid. The next thing I knew, I took the quiz. A few hours later, I was watching a rabbit video and had already stalked a friend’s boyfriend’s mother’s sister. How I landed there, I wasn’t sure of that myself either. However, by the end of the day, I knew I was a social media addict!
Social media addiction, according to Addiction Centre is defined as, “a behavioral addiction that is characterized as being overly concerned about social media, driven by an uncontrollable urge to log on to or use social media, and devoting so much time and effort to it such that it impairs other important life areas.” In the previous issue for OpenAxis, Rujuta Singh argued that “in many ways, the addictive nature of social media is a feature, not a design flaw.” Studies indicate that notifications from retweets, likes and shares trigger the release of dopamine within the brain — producing effects similar to that of consuming cocaine.
A lot of people are increasingly becoming aware of how social media rewires the brain and affects our interaction, yet a few are willing to make a change. I would confess I am one of those who haven’t been willing to make a lasting change for long. Every now and then, I would delete Instagram after either getting bored, disgusted or both, however, my Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) would compel me to be back before the end of the day. This time though, I decided to try something new and radical — a digital detox in complete isolation.
Digital Detox in Isolation
In 1654, the philosopher and mathematician, Blaise Pascal wrote, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” I didn’t quite imagine how tough it is to sit still when I made the decision to quit social media for a week in complete isolation.
Usually, I would wake up to be reminded of my FOMO through Instagram stories of my friends being out. However, the decision of giving up my social media gave me another kind of depressing FOMO. Will I be okay with missing out on posting a cute #couplegoal picture on Valentine’s Day? Are my friends sending me memes that I am not able to see? I didn’t just intensely desire those mundane interactions but craved them. I found myself thinking about whether my friends and family might just forget my presence.
This wasn’t what I imagined when I decided on a “digital detox.” I imagined a calmer, more composed and mindful person. I expected myself to be someone who would want to exercise, be more productive and spend time reading books and doing yoga. Isn’t this how they usually portray people who do a digital detox? Instead, I found myself getting agitated, bored and just re-reading the same emails — basically utterly unproductive.
I didn’t have the urge to pick up a novel when I knew I couldn’t post a picture or I didn’t quite enjoy my isolation meals as much as I would have. Neither did it lead to a decluttering of my mind, the way I anticipated it would. In fact, being away from social media during complete isolation made me feel bored at best, and lonely and depressed at worst. Why was I experiencing what I was experiencing, and is digital detox even possible and a worthwhile endeavour to undertake in today’s age?
Impossibility of a Digital Detox
“I don’t think digital detoxes are realistic anymore” writes Dr. Doreen Dodgen-Magee, author of Deviced!: Balancing Life and Technology in a Digital World. She further writes “We can’t live a connected and informed life that we really need to now, without some form of tech.” At a time especially when one is isolating, alone or quarantined, is it really a wise decision to do a digital detox then? While some wellness experts and articles strongly suggest that digital detox is good for your wellbeing, I personally found that in my experience, it made me more agitated.
A study by Lancaster University found that as previously postulated, there is no direct ‘proven’ correlation between poor mental health and social media. Even in studies that claim a connection between the two, fail to answer whether poor mental health leads to more social media usage or vice versa. In fact, the same study by Lancaster University posits that worrying about our smartphone use is likelier to cause more depression and anxiety than using the tech.
It raises the question of whether our brains have adopted technology to the extent that social media has become indispensable and unavoidable? If so, will just accepting that lead to more mental peace? Dr Doreen certainly believes so. She compares our relationship with technology to that of an essential item like food, and in that light, a digital detox is an equivalent of extreme diet. What we could and should strive for then is a mindful, purposeful use of social media instead of a drastic step like a digital detox. This would not just help cultivate a more meaningful relationship with technology but also renegotiate the terms of technology to our terms.
Oh wait, brb, let me quickly share this idea on Facebook! See ya!
Ridhima Manocha is a final year English and Media Studies student at Ashoka University and has authored the book, The Sun and Shadow.
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