In the 21st century, we have become too connected. As summer quickly approaches, we become more attached to social media than ever before. Megan Ravenhall offers a solution: a detox from social media to help us stave off the daily temptation to be glued to our screens and help us be more present in real life.
As the promise of summer becomes tangible and the omnipresence of exams dissolves into the forgotten glare of the library's artificial, unflattering lighting; I have a suggestion for you.
Whether you take it or leave it - is obviously, completely up to your discretion - but as the hyped up workout regimes and constant stream of Boohoo swimwear deliveries for that perfect holiday Insta drown out the focus of your friends, I propose an alternative. What if, instead of sharing your summer you kept it a private and social media-free one?
Am I crazy? Perhaps. Delusional? Oh, most definitely. A romantic idealist? Without a doubt. But, despite that, hear me out and I think you might change your mind.
Originally, as I sat, typing away on my laptop, trying to pull a sensical progression of words out of an extremely jumbled mindset, I was officially social media-free. No Snapchat, no Instagram, no Facebook. I know – how would I communicate with the outside world? What would I do if someone tagged me in a life-changing meme? So many questions and I'd only been “off the grid” for an hour.
The reality though is, I didn’t really care.
These are all questions which aren't life-threatening. Not seeing someone's face once a day for the sake of a small fire emoji is not an essential part of living. I’ll see them on the street or in Pret ... I live in a small town after all.
It’s sad that the insatiable desire to be connected can often take away from the beauty of intimate real-life connections. Human bonds are undoubtedly much better in the flesh. Although it may take a little more effort to meet someone for coffee or go for a wander rather than popping up into their DM’s with merry “chirpsing” abandon; it is worth a damn sight more in the establishment of a friendship or relationship.
This is a dynamic which has significantly changed in recent years due to the development of dating apps. The 21st century has seen a decline in what we may consider to be a more “traditional practice” of instigating relationships, in favour of those that are initially catalysed by aesthetic attraction to an image we project of ourselves on a screen. Gone are the days of “blind dates” or introduction via a mutual friend. Apps like Tinder and Bumble claim to be successful at initiating long-lasting and wholesome relationships. But more often than not, I feel that these social network apps report back tales of woe, misery and disheartenment that people have experienced, rather than the rose-tinted vision of “happily-ever-afters" that ads for dating apps boast. It also seems to be the case that pictures are often not the most reliable projections of an individual. More and more people are resorting to the magic of visual edits rather than the natural spark of personal connection, to bag themselves that first date, hook-up or regular no-strings-attached sexual arrangement.
I guess what I'm trying to say here is that, if you are lucky enough to find the one - that person that you wake up next to every morning – they aren’t always going to be touched-up by the iridescent glow of a Valencia or X-Pro filter. They are going to have some pretty questionable morning breath and ragged sleepiness colouring their face. But they will be someone whom you love for what is beyond their exterior and what lies beneath in the depths of their individual character.
Though my digression into dating apps is one which I think highlights the importance of dropping aforementioned platforms and replacing them with real-life human interaction; my own personal reasons for cutting myself off from the world of virtual reality are not necessarily romance-related.
Now that apps like Snapchat and Facebook have been part of my life for four to five years, I get reminded quite frequently of what I was doing “on this day” or “friendiversaries” I can't actually remember making. For me, the kicker happens to be Snapchat memories or the pictures or posts on Facebook which remind me of a time that a less healthy and happy version of myself occupied the space of social platforms. For someone who has battled with lots of self-doubt/self-deprecation and the physical consequences which come hand in hand with severe anxiety: photos aren't always the most beneficial stepping stones in one's journey to recovery. At the time I was at my worst, I was oblivious to the way I looked and acted but, reflecting on these images two/three maybe even four, years later, I can see that I was clearly struggling with a lot of things I wasn’t aware of at the time.
Though, on reflection, while part of me is able to recognise the issues which were so clearly obvious to my friends and family at the time, the images still possess a negative power over me which is why a social media detox of sorts seemed to be fitting. Despite being in a stronger and more stable mindset and possessing an armament of coping mechanisms to avoid slipping back into negative thought patterns, there are elements of that shadow of myself which the weaker parts of me occasionally aspires to aesthetically resemble. This is not healthy and it is why cutting myself off from any visual reminder of former times is conducive.
Why then, you may ask, don’t I rid myself of these reminders completely and start afresh?
Unfortunately, it is not always that easy.
Photos are memories. This is why I can't bring myself to erase these images completely. Though they document a period that was rough for everyone I know and love, they also mark a distinct progression from the “Then” to the “Now” and when I'm having a positive day, this is the moral of my story which I choose to follow. The fondest family memories are the polaroids I’ll treasure no matter how I looked because their worth is measured beyond physical appearances and in the warmth that comes from complete immersion in the company of people who will not judge you no matter what shape or size you are.
Maybe my lack of permanence in this endeavour makes me a hypocrite, perhaps it makes me open-minded. I’m not sure. The connections and conversations we have may be virtual but sometimes when you’re alone and feeling down or, when you get excited about something and you absolutely have to tell someone - the odd text or snap fits the circumstances of your situation perfectly.
Occasionally, though, turning it all off and restricting yourself to only the most pressing of messages can be healthy. It doesn’t have to be a complete and concise end to all connection with the outside world, but it does enable you to gain a wider sense of perspective. In the short time that I have been social media-free in the past, it has definitely been beneficial for my mental health.
Appreciating that life is full of opportunities and experiences beyond the glare of your phone screen makes the social media detox always, and without a doubt, a resounding success. It’s why I would strongly recommend you give it a go – even if it is temporarily. Despite the opportunity for a sultry, windswept bikini pic to grace all your virtual accounts and profiles with tanned vivacity - Summer is, arguably, the perfect time for this.
Try it. It can’t hurt. You never know, you might find you actually quite enjoy it.