A 2014 article in the Globe and Mail found that Canadians spend about eight hours every day staring at a screen.
Two years later (and with addictive additions like Pokémon GO and Tinder) you can only imagine how much that number has inflated.
Though most people are aware of the many health concerns of staring at a screen all day, few consider the fact that being glued to a piece of machinery at all times is a little weird. The advances technology has given us, especially over the last decade, have been groundbreaking and provided so much efficiency and accessibility in our lives. And I’m thankful for that.
But there’s something about walking through a park and being surrounded by a swarm of people mindlessly gazing down at their phones that is disheartening.
And more than that, the idea that our social media lives are some contrived extension of ourselves is even stranger to me. I once had someone who I wasn’t even friends with anymore and hadn’t talked to in years get angry because I had deleted them from social media. So how much do we really need it?
In an attempt to find out, I went cold turkey for five days. Here’s how it went…
The main social media platforms that I use are Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, and I definitely use them for at least eight hours a day. Probably more. At first I decided to turn off push-notifications on all my apps and see if I could refrain from clicking. The morning went well – it was awesome to wake up and not see any notifications on my phone. But by the time 11am hit, I was bored and found myself hovering over my Facebook app, willing myself not to open it. I decided to delete all the apps so I wouldn’t be tempted. After that, the rest of the day was great.
I kind of forgot about social media until lunch time when everyone pulled out their phones while we were eating and started scrolling through Instagram. It was weird how out of the loop I felt not being able to participate – it made me realize how social media-focused our world really is. In fact, most of the conversations around me revolved around social media platforms and who posted what on Facebook and which girl was tagged in a photo with some guy. I decided I didn’t really want to have my life centred around a bunch of apps.
DAYS 3 + 4
These days were easier. I started to notice myself being more present in conversations. Before, my natural inclination would be to check my phone mid-conversation every time I got a notification. Now I was actively listening, and I even started minimizing how much I was texting. When I went out with friends, I started to leave my phone in my purse or backpack for a couple of hours so that I could really be there with the people I had dedicated my time to that day.
Quitting social media the first day was really hard. I felt like I had to check Instagram. But once I passed that first hump, I realized that most of the time I was just checking apps to prevent myself from actually having to interact with people or because I didn’t know what else to do with my time. I also felt a lot less stressed – it’s exhausting having to be virtually accessible at all times, so having some time to myself was really freeing and I got to do a lot more things since I wasn’t just sitting around scrolling through Facebook for no reason.
Social media definitely has value; it can help you promote content online, share things you’re passionate about, and create a collections around interests important to you.
But I don’t think it’s something that needs to be the main focus of my day, and I will make a continued effort to cut back on my time spend glued to a screen. If five days without social media has already made me a happier, calmer person, I can’t wait to see the long-term benefits.