When was the last time you did something for the first time?
The last time you simply went offline and was fully engaged in a face-to-face conversation, instead of being conscious of the notifications that were 'pinging' up on your phone? Or even the last time you had your phone turned off, for that matter? Or web-accessible device?
"Thirty years ago we asked what we would use computers for. Now the question is what don't we use them for."
Such was how Sherry Turkle, Alone Together surmised the development of technology in the twenty-first century.
Sociologist David Riesman remarked on the American turn from an inner to an other-directed sense of self.
"Without a firm inner sense of purpose, people looked to their neighbours for validation. Today, cell phone in hand, other-directedness is raised to a higher power. At the moment of beginning to have a thought or feeling, we can have it validated, almost prevalidated. Exchanges may be brief, but more is not necessarily desired. The necessity is to have someone be there."
So then do we really use social media for the means of putting up a show - a performance, almost? Or are we simply using it as a means to be connected with others?
We all know our reliance on technology is becoming increasingly dangerous these days. I wanted to determine how bad this reliance on social media and connectivity was.
So I did an experiment.
I disconnected myself from all forms of social media for 24 hours. In other words, basically activating airplane mode - when I'm not actually on the airplane. That means no Instagram, no Whatsapp, no Facebook - nothing.
Before you flip out at me and start saying 24 hours is not a long time, trust me when I say 24 hours is painfully long for me - especially for someone whose work is vested in social media marketing and someone who places instantaneous connection high on her priority list.
It's an odd feeling, like some sort of emptiness weighing down on you. I recall staring out at empty spaces at the start of the day, suddenly not struck by the need to aimlessly scroll through my news feed or keep updated on group chats.
I recall wanting to jump onto Messenger to update my best friend on my day, before realising that it was so much simpler that I could pick up the phone to call her.
I recall passing the rest of the day in a blur, as everywhere I went, all I saw were faces buried in the glow of their screens, eagerly sending out texts or snapping photos for their Snapchat or Instagram.
I recall chuckling to myself as I saw the girls on a neighbouring table at a restaurant stand up to get their #foodonthetable photos, and then realising how much nicer it was to be engaged in the conversation with the people I was having dinner with - without the interruptions of technology.
And even though I had to admittedly fight the urge to tap open the blue-coloured icon on my phone, too, I realised how okay it was to be able to disconnect from all of that - even for a brief moment. It gave me an odd sense of calm simply by being present.
This experience made me appreciate traditional forms of texting and calling - ideals that are so much more focused on you and the other person, rather than about impressions or perceived images. Take away the fact that your messages are now no longer instantaneous, do you truly think about what you say to the other person rather than filling the conversation with aimless gaps of "LOL"?
Take away the fact that your conversations were once coloured with colourful imagery, whether through Instagram or through images sent, are you able to express your experiences the same way your pictures would? And if not, were you creating a disillusion of reality this whole time?
It was interesting knowing that I was able to get by without social media, which so crazily populates today's world - to the extent that many call it a necessity. I guess what surprised me the most was how alright I felt about not being constantly connected to everything, and not feeling the need to have instantaneous responses - simply enjoying whatever was in front of me.
If I could do it again...
Perhaps what they say is true, and you can't change some things about being in this generation where we are so entrenched in technology that it's a way for us to get by. And this is why you'll also laugh when I say that my phone crashed when I flicked off the airplane mode and turned it back to life again.
As much as I loved how refreshing this experience was, you can't really live without being connected in an age where everything is digitalised and social media platforms have started becoming a platform for us to do group work... Even get a job. And I get that.
But what I also get is how this experience simply reduces our dependence on technology, and serves as a good reminder that we don't always have to share every aspect of our private lives with social media. There's research that says you'll be significantly happier if you go without Facebook for a week, too.
As Jackie writes,
"Take a break from social media and think about what makes you genuinely happy and go find that. Because I can bet that on your deathbed, it won’t be likes or followers or the amount of time you spent waiting to connect to WiFi so you could upload that pic of you looking #fab with #nofilter."
Go out and explore. Take a walk. Write a book. Laugh. See the world. Most of all, live a life so fulfilled that you don't have to get happiness from the number of likes on your profile. Live a life where you can deem social media as an advancement to your life rather than as something you are dependent on.
If you succeed in not touching any of your socials for 24 hours (go on, try), then write to me about how your experience went. I'd love to hear about it.
At the end of the day, I hope you realise that there's so much more to life when you shift your focus away from your phones onto what you have in physicality. Turn your dependence into an active advantage.