On July 18th, I made a vow.
As the weekend approached, like an oasis of tranquility on the horizon, I vowed I would turn off Facebook and Twitter. Not for an hour or two, not for the day. For the entire weekend. Since it is somewhat my job is to be plugged into social media full time, this is not something that came easily. Beyond that, I don’t think a day has gone by in the last half-decade when I have not checked my accounts at least once.
So the resolution was set and, like David Blaine climbing into his glass box, on Friday evening I logged out of my personal Facebook and Twitter accounts.
(if my bosses at UK2 are reading this, I kept the work accounts logged into my phone on – should probably make that clear).
And so, from Saturday, began the arduous journey towards Monday morning, which would be entirely social media free.
What struck me initially, as I sat huddled and shivering with the neighbour’s cat behind the sofa, desperately deprived of the blue square sweetness of Facebook, was how much it is ingrained into our lives. When I open my Macbook, the first thing I’ll usually do is access Facebook. I’ll trawl through the timelines, click on stories which interest me, chat with friends, stalk “friends” – standard. A shameful amount of time, it’s why I open the Macbook in the first place. There was a direct correlation between ‘consciously uncoupling’ (thanks Gwyneth) from social media and the laptop lying abandoned.
What I wasn’t ready for is just how often we do this – scarily, it is pretty much all the time. You’re probably logged into Facebook right now, even if it’s not open on your computer. My fingers instinctively, and repeatedly, went towards typing the site into the search bar, almost without thinking. Like the social media junkie I evidently am, I had to consciously stop myself.
Perhaps, even more frighteningly, was that my very thoughts were hard-wired towards social media too. My brain would immediately jump to how to express my ideas in under 140 characters.
Which #hashtags would I use?
Would I link to a news article?
How could I improve the tweet and make it cleverer, funnier, more eye catching?
Before my brain reminded itself that, like a Jedi cut off from the Force, I was undergoing a strict diet of abstinence. We can see this mental mutation in the very fabric of culture itself – phrases like “pictures, or it didn’t happen” have given way to “Instagram it, or it didn’t happen”. Magazine columns and pop songs are #hashtagged to ease the way for kids to do the marketing heavy lifting, and send the product viral.
If Candace Bushnell were creating her generation-defining alter ego today, would it be less “Sex and the City” and more #SexandtheCity?
Checking Facebook, or whichever myriad of networks we are on, has become synonymous with looking at a screen. Like background music which has been running for the past 5 years, there seems an oddly eerie radio silence once it had been turned off.
Yet after the initial withdrawal symptoms began to wear away, at around 12:30, the interesting sense of liberation set in. I would still get the urge to check what was going on (my iPhone informed me I had 6 unchecked Facebook notifications), or while standing at the sink I would have a tweet-thought I wanted to immediately articulate.
Lindor dreams in chocolate; I, apparently, think in tweets.
But having broken the initial spell, and with blocks on time unconsumed by playing around on newsfeeds, I was able to simply get things done – or use my weekend to simply relax. How often, I ask you, do we have Facebook open while watching a film at home? How often are we checking our phones while out with friends, on the tube, falling asleep, in the loo? (observe the power of the comma in the last sentence – something else Twitter may be killing off besides imagination: grammar).
But the light at the end of the dark, social media-deprived tunnel is that the experiment did isolate the practical uses for these networks. Most of my social engagements for the week ahead are planned via Facebook, and this was something I was unable to do while in enforced isolation. Twitter is an excellent place to network, particularly when sourcing someone to interview. Group chats and event pages have replaced the now-archaic text and email. And to describe texting and emailing as ‘archaic’ gives you an idea of the cheetah-on-roller-skates speed at which the digital market is moving,
But perhaps most tellingly, as I awoke Monday morning to check my 6 unread notifications, I was thoroughly disappointed. None of them were really very interesting at all. Most were easily dismissible. 1, and 1 only, related to an actual flesh-and-blood friend.
My name is Mark, and I am a social media addict.
Although happily, unlike the majority of addicts, I have managed to find a way of being paid for my addiction.
Does that justify it? Better ask Facebook.