There's been a lot of talk lately about how social media is ruining our lives and making us self-obsessed, insecure. According to trends consultancy, The Next Big Thing, 2016 is set to be the year of a balanced virtual vs. real existence.
Having heard a lot about how escaping the digital world can do wonders for our inner peace, we decided to put it to the test.
Self-confessed social media junkie and Stylist publishing manager, Jamie Klingler, bravely goes where few have ventured before - with two weeks completely tuned out of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Can a fortnight of social detox really be that hard - and what are the unexpected benefits of being switched off?
Here's what happened:
Since 2008, Twitter has been a daily staple in my life. I’ve got about 5,000 followers and post roughly 14 times every day. I’m constantly monitoring the news and when I wake up in the morning, I scroll back through the seven previous hours to see what I have missed.
Facebook is my go-to place for information of my friends and family in America. I was late to the Instagram party, but I now use it often and with IFTTT - that way I’m able to share my pictures across all three platforms easily.
Given how much time I spend on social, my colleagues on Stylist.co.uk asked me to go on a social detox for two weeks. No Facebook, No Insta, No Twitter and No Facebook Messenger.
I understood the hypothesis—that two weeks without the pressure of social media would make me happier, I wouldn’t feel like I was competing and, in being released from the pressure, would have a better ‘REAL’ life.
Maybe I was in denial, but I mostly follow dogs and foodies on Insta. I don’t follow models or celebrities or participate in #fitspo. My feed is my day-to-day life; 80% of it is made up of my dog @mcnultypup sleeping in pubs.
Yes, I frame pictures and use filters, but I don’t take 20 pictures with a pout face to try to get the perfect shot, I don’t waste a lot of time comparing my life to that of friends and family and I don’t follow many strangers. For some reason, I simply don’t feel very competitive with people in my life.
However, I was surprised at how much I missed knowing and sharing the news first. I missed the curation of long reads provided by This.cm (check it out and thank me later). And I found myself on the Guardian and New York Times a lot, but never felt I had a full picture of what was going on in the world.
And what about my emotional needs? Am I constantly reaching for my phone out of need, or am I choosing this as an effective use of my time and energy?
Dr. Barbara Mariposa - who specialises in mindfulness - tells me that many of us are developing a 'digital security blanket' that covers us with notifications of 'likes' or messages or comments, but creates a sense of self dependence on a virtual reality.
Dr Mariposa's comments certainly rang true with my feelings of loneliness at the lack of constant affirmation from my online community. But I took issue with the suggestion this 'blanket' was a negative thing. OK, the virtual 'liking' of a picture of my dog can’t ever replace a real-life hug, but it does let me know that a busy friend is thinking of me.
Dr. Mariposa also talks about younger generations losing the ability to really interact with other people. She says that we need to look at our friends, concentrate on them, read their body language and the tone of their voices, because that’s where genuine empathy and connections are formed.
I fully expect ‘unplugging activist’ Jess Davis from Folk Rebellion, a creative initiative to encourage people to re-connect with a ‘real way of living’, to back the argument of switching it all off forever. However, she was more in favour of a 'digital cleansing' that helps perform an MOT on our brains and behaviour.
Davis does agree that, with a lot of kids currently living their lives through Instagram, they don’t have the experience of a life offline to compare to their current social existence and presence, reminding me of the Jackie Kennedy quote “I would rather live my life, not record it.”
Her colleague, Chelsea Moore, wrote of her own social detox: “No more obsessing over a friend’s thigh being thinner than mine, not having the coolest and most recent vacation photos, and no more feeling guilty about turning down invites to events I don’t want to go to”.
That quote just made me sad for Chelsea.
Luckily, I’m not comparing my life – or my thighs – to anyone else’s, in person or digitally.
I don’t feel guilty about invites, if I can’t be bothered to go to something, I don’t rock up. I love holidays. If a friend is on an amazing one, I add it to the list of places to try to get to rather than stab a voodoo doll that they’re lucky enough to be there right now.
I still think that the social media depression or 'fear of missing out' is coming from an imaginary competition to be winning at life, or winning at the race against everyone else online.
However, my big learning from this experiment is that I need to enjoy the people I am in front of when I am in front of them. Checking to see what others are doing when I am out and having fun with my friends distracts from the people I actually am hanging out with and enjoying. It’s also rude.
My pledge to those of you I know in real life: I will be more present and when I am physically with you, my focus should and will be on you. From now on, I’ll be channelling Jackie Kennedy (hopefully in more ways than one).
Jamie Klingler's social detox diary
A day-by-day account of living without
I just deleted all of the apps from my phone. I want to tweet that I’ve done so… Thank God we just started Game of Thrones from the beginning to distract me for the next two weeks.
My first full day off of social! Not using Twitter makes the morning much faster, I didn’t spend 45 minutes in bed scrolling through the news and I had additional time to play with McNults (who was ignoring me and trying to get back under the covers).
I'm missing all of the people complaining about the first day back to work from the holidays.
God, I’m dependent on Facebook, I can’t remember the names of someone’s kids. Need to email and ask how their Christmas was.
Went to my first film of the detox-- it is the one place I would never, ever pull out my phone, so it is a tension-free zone for me.
Watching Making a Murderer and not being able to tweet or share views is difficult.
Basically I just feel a bit lonely - I miss the chatter of it and don’t tend to text/talk to friends that much during the week if I'm not seeing them socially. As January is quiet socially, being in the house and not on social is dull.
The only thing that is weird is that I am used to constant interaction. Normally, every time I look at my phone, someone has tweeted me or liked a pic of McNulty or written something on my wall, and now there is none of that. I’ve got a few texts this week, but it’s almost like I’ve left my phone at home. There isn’t the constant blanket of people checking in or joking with me which I am finding a bit lonely. I miss the distraction of it.
A good friend had a baby today - luckily a mutual friend let me know, or I would have missed the news completely.
I went to another film. It was brilliant, but I couldn’t talk about it.
It helps that I am now 300 pages in to The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch. In most of the book, the main character is in a house by the sea with no telephone, let alone our day and age of social. People have to write to him or physically show up at his house. Generally, when I am really involved in a book, I use every available minute to read rather than to play on my phone - so I stop missing Twitter/Facebook and just get through another couple hundred pages of the book.
Being out without being able to tweet or Facebook is funny. I took a few pictures but couldn’t put any up--- which actually meant I spent a lot less time on my phone and more time with the people in front of me.
Wondering how many messages/notifications will be awaiting me on my return. Or will I just be forgotten in my absence?
Also I'm starting to realise how much of a hold Facebook has on all parts of my life. We had a Bookings Editor vacancy at Stylist that I would have shared with fellow photo editors on Facebook but I don’t have their contact details in any other form.
I don't want my Iris Murdoch book to end…
Difficult weekend, as I was in the suburbs at my in-laws - my boyfriend was working for much of the weekend. I downloaded some games to occupy myself once my book was finished. Game of Thrones marathon.
Had a ridiculously ‘Instagrammable’ day. My boyfriend’s student has his maths GCSE test this week, so I took the exam to see how I would do 20+ years after my last maths lesson.
And then I spent an amazing day in the pub with friends playing triple scrabble (all three of us playing two games simultaneously). Took a couple of pictures, but my phone was in my bag all day.
I wasn’t checking what other people were doing, I was concentrating on the people I was with, and fully enjoying their company.
Habits are seemingly broken quite easily. I’ve gotten used to the lack of social. I miss Twitter and being one of the first to know the news, but it isn’t saving any lives.
David Bowie has died, the 2016 Golden Globes have happened, Alan Rickman has died, I haven’t been on Buzzfeed once - although before this experiment, I regularly visited the site via Twitter. I miss being able to track reader interest and reactions to Stylist’s 300th issue, out this week.
Spent the night with my best friend discussing all of the reactions to my detox and my relationship to social. We talked about how she uses it to check-in on me and how I use it as a public diary/record of my year - which she thinks is different to how most people are using it.
A tonne of ambulances and police cars went down Kingsland Road in Hackney and I couldn’t just look at Twitter to see what the reason was, or to make sure that there wasn’t an attack. Caused quite a bit of anxiety.
I’m no longer looking at my phone so much or trying to locate it, or taking as many pictures. Or writing as many of these entries...
Went to see Creed - my fifth and final film of the two week social media detox. Loved it and everything they showed of my hometown Philly, but I can’t post about it. Also, I finally made it to Pidgin and to Ruby’s Bar & Lounge and I can’t share.
I found myself fully engaged in a pretty wonderful night with my boyfriend debating the nuances of Making a Murderer, dancing and generally just hanging out alone as if phones don’t exist.
Baffled that this is odd - given the amount of time we spend together - but it is quite lovely.
Went home to watch some Game of Thrones and didn’t even plug my phone in to recharge.
Starting to see the benefits of this social detox - just as it ends.
Final day. I've been with friends in the pub all day and I am feeling smug that I’m not whipping out my phone to check what other people are doing. Had a lovely afternoon without having my phone interfere with any parts of it.
Friend posts a picture of me kissing my dog - without me even realising it
That being said - I did my ‘I’m back post’ as soon as I had completed the two weeks detox.