My bedroom is never completely dark. Sure, the black out curtains help, but the gentle glow of street lights still sneaks into the room, the orange glow casting gentle shadows. Once my eyes adjust I can make out the detail of the print hanging opposite my bed, the sleeve of a shirt hanging off the back of a chair.
In a bid to lull my brain into a state of rest – I’m not sure what woke me at 3am but I was most definitely awake – I started pondering what was in store for me tomorrow. Starting with the basics, what’s the date tomorrow?
And then it hit me, it’s March. The third month of the year. Already! Where does the time go? Christmas was only a few minutes ago and yet here we are in the beginnings of Spring. What happened? How did we end up here so soon.
These are the thoughts that flitted through my brain as I lay staring at the ceiling. I finally accepted that I wasn’t going to get back to sleep anytime soon and reached over and pick up my phone to see if anyone had posted any updates on Social Media. Just a few minutes distraction, what’s the harm?
Nothing on Facebook. Nope. Instagram. Nope. Twitter. YES! a few tweets from some Americans I follow. OK, checked those.
Now what? Another quick check of all three again, refresh, refresh, refresh. A link to a video, click that.
An hour later I’m somewhere in the depths of a YouTube shaped hole. I’m not quite sure why I’m watching what I’m watching, but as I glance at the clock I realise I should probably put the phone down and try and get some sleep…
Over the past couple of years I’ve focused a lot on my belongings, slowly shaping my life towards having fewer things. Fewer things to clean and maintain, fewer things to clutter my living space (and so clutter my mind) and throughout that time I’ve always known that, at some point, this focus would shift from physical objects to digital ones. After all, my entire reasoning behind this drive to simplify my life has always been about creating more time and energy to allow me to do more of the things I love; rather than tidying up and cleaning and other chores, I’m reading books and magazines, going for walks, attending more gigs and events.
Top tip: I’ve ended up managing to stop buying things on a whim. If I see something I think I want, I pop it on a list with the promise that if I have money spare at the end of the month then I’ll buy it. If I don’t have money, I don’t buy it but it stays on the list. Knock-on effect of this approach is that I’m spending more on gig/theatre/event tickets which, ultimately, are better for me anyway. Who needs a new lamp when you can go and dance like an idiot for a few hours at a gig, right?
Having tackled some of the physical objects I own(ed) my mind is now turning to the digital ones and where else to start but the most often used device I own, the one I turn to in the wee small hours of the morning when I can’t sleep, my iPhone.
It only takes a quick look to see I have a LOT of apps I don’t use at all, and many that I use occasionally but only when I remember I have them, which begs the question, do I really need them?
But simply removing apps I don’t use is a small step and, let’s be honest, it’s merely glossing over the real issue; the impact social media is having on my life.
This is not a new idea but more and more recently I’m seeing mentions of other people taking their own action to counter the time and energy drain that social media can be, and reading these articles has made me realise just how much time I spend on my phone and, now that I’m aware of it, I’m also becoming aware of how much that it’s annoying me. All too frequently I’ll pick up my phone and when I put it back down an hour has passed. It’s more noticeable of an evening during these darker nights, I get home from work as dusk is descending, pick up my phone and … suddenly it’s dark outside.
All of which annoys me, I could’ve spent that hour reading a book, or cooking a nice dinner, or phoning a friend, or… well, you get the picture.
The triumvirate that take my time the most; Instagram, Facebook and Twitter (in descending order at the moment) are the apps which draw the most ire. Obviously the solution is to cut back, or better still CUT OUT some of these? Perhaps, but which and how? Each app has a distinct use, and a distinct level of energy to which I attribute my usage so it’s not all that straightforward to just dump one, or any of them.
I find myself drawn more and more to Instagram these days, preferring the visual over the textual as a quick way to get an update on the goings on of the people I follow. Equally I enjoy photography for the sake of it and this is as good an outlet as any for my amateur snaps. I can’t remember the last time I took a picture with my camera, and my recent trip to Barcelona was entirely captured by my iPhone and I don’t feel the snapshots suffered because of it. I also, genuinely, enjoy Instagram as I follow not only friends but some photographers and benefit from a few moments of beauty filtered into my feed every day.
But not everyone is on Instagram so it’s not a ‘connection’ place, it’s more just a media channel for me.
Facebook is where most of my local friends/family are and is a good way to keep up to date on what they’ve been up to. My usage has become a bit more focussed on Events recently which means I spend less time idlly scrolling and more time hunting around for specific events and business postings. Equally the addition of the Facebook Local app has moved a lot of my event based interactions to a different app, meaning my use of Facebook is a lot more focused around getting updates from friends and family (judicious use of the ‘Following’ options also helps!).
Then there’s Twitter. I’m using it less and less these days and whilst it has historically been the place where my ‘tribe’ exist it feels more and more like nothing but noise, or at least, the nuggets of delight are harder to find amidst the rest of my timeline. Perhaps it’s time to trim the follower list? Or time to switch it off altogether? Of the three social media behemoths, Twitter has consistently offered me less value outside of itself; Facebook is more about events and people I care about, Instagram is a delight and opens my mind to other places/things to see, but Twitter is a mess of overly long threads (write a blog post already) and inane chit-chat that, it appears, I no longer really have the time to indulge in. That said, Twitter is still where I tend to post things to share more often than Facebook (blog posts, instagram posts, random tracks from Spotify). So I don’t know if I’m ready to give it up completely. Yet.
Am I doomed, forever trapped in a social media whirl of my own making? I don’t think it’s THAT bad.
Am I over stating some of the negatives and ignore many of the positives? I think so. It’s clear I’m not really ready to give up social media, or even one channel in particular as each offers me some level of value. So what to do, what to do?
For sure, there is a middle ground to be found. Recently I’ve spotted a few people saying that they are taking a day away from social media; #SwitchOffSunday. It’s an intriguing idea, an entire day away from social media, away from notifications and distractions, a day to reconnect with yourself or with loved ones, a day to do something just for you with no need or pressure to share it with the world.
Which definitely sounds like something worth trying and if my current train of thought really is about giving myself time to indulge in things that I’m passionate about, then it should make space for that, even if I’m only really achieving that by gaming myself. Perhaps it’s telling that the ‘day away’ is a hashtag?
What I’m realising is that social media isn’t the problem at all. I’m pretty sure I could turn off ALL of my social media and still end up suffering the same root problem. My social media usage is, more and more, a symptom of one undeniable fact.
I get bored and social media is an easy distraction. As soon as I realise I’m in midst of an endless scroll of nothing in particular I get annoyed with myself, after all there are so many more valuable things I could be doing; reading a book, playing the piano, hell I’d even suggest doing the hoovering is in that list too.
For now I think I’ll settle for taking a day away as one step to remove slowly break the habit that social media is ohhhh so good at creating and re-enforcing. One day where my phone will be in a different room, the laptop will remain closed. I might go for a walk, or read a book, or visit some friends, or all of that and more.
Yes. That’s what I’ll do, I thought, and as the clock ticked past 2am I closed my eyes and finally drifted off to sleep.
P.S. I wrote this post a couple of weeks ago. Since then the Cambridge Analytics/Facebook news has broken. This has, naturally, skewed my thinking somewhat and made me realise I missed an entire side to my thinking when I was writing this. Privacy. More on this later.