By Laila Mostafa
Four hours. That’s how much time I used to spend on social media every day. Snapchat. Instagram. Twitter. Posts. Stories. Comments. Hashtags. Social media was a spiral that I fell into every single day, a continuous loop that never seemed to end. At first, this never-ending rabbit hole did not bother me; in fact, it might have even made me happy. To be honest, I liked the feeling of being connected to the world and constantly being on top of what was happening in it. I enjoyed liking my friends’ posts and feeling a rush when I would be the first to comment on them. I used to feel happy when I would act surprised and awestruck by their pictures even though I saw and approved that same picture 10 minutes before that. To put it in simple words, I was happy when I was on social media. Why? Because it made me feel included, and to be honest, I liked feeling that way. I really did.
No one likes to feel like an outsider. No one likes the feeling of not knowing something. How could we? As humans, we are born with a natural tendency to be curious about every single thing around us. Whether it’s related to us or completely irrelevant to our lives, everyone has something that they are interested in and are curious about. For me, I guess that “something” was everything, and social media was the tool through which I satisfied that curiosity. Through Twitter, I could find out what was going on with the world, whether it was political, social, economic, or even media-related. I could follow what the world was talking about through the trends and hashtags; it was all right there, one click away. Through Instagram, I could see everyone’s lifestyles and whereabouts. I could virtually check in on my friends through Direct Messages, and the same can be said about Snapchat, of course.
Back then, I thought that by having a social media account, there was no way I’d ever feel alone or left out of anything. In a way, social media satisfied my FOMO, or fear of missing out on something. I thought that if I ever felt that way, social media would be my escape; I thought it would be my cure.
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Sometime during the last few years, I started to feel alone. I guess I can say that I fell into a slump of low productivity and sadness. You see, with the world the way it is today, the only measure I would ever put myself and my success against is how productive I was during my day, and seeing that I wasn’t productive, I felt useless. As a result, I started to question my purpose and what I was doing in life. In that period, I felt that the reason for my sadness was rooted in my lifestyle and daily routine. So, I decided to look at how I spend my time and what I like to do for fun. To my shock, I realized that the most time-consuming activity of my day was social media.
Knowing this, I started to note how social media makes me feel; I thought that perhaps it was the reason for my lack of productivity and miserable mood. After a few days, I concluded that my suspicions were right. I noticed that every time I opened social media, my mood would go down by a landslide, and so did my productivity. Of course, you may argue that spending so much time on social media is my fault and that I could easily leave the app and be productive instead. But that’s the thing, I couldn’t. I didn’t realize that somehow, throughout the years I was using social media, I became addicted to it; I could not stop. I especially noticed this after deciding to have a practice run and quit social media for a day. I could feel my fingers aching to scroll through Instagram; I could see them unlocking my phone and scrolling towards where the app should have been. I could feel the disappointment in my heart when my fingers realized that the app was not there anymore, that it was deleted for my own good. I could hear my mind telling me to quit quitting social media and to just download the apps again. “What would happen?” my mind would argue, “you’ve already been off social media for a few hours. That’s good enough, isn’t it? Let’s try quitting some other day.”
Naturally, I used to listen to my mind because, well, how could I argue against it? However, after multiple attempts of quitting and failing after a few hours, I decided to stop trying. After that, I believe that I was pretty much back to where I started. I was back to the never-ending loops of spending too many hours on social media, feeling sad and unaccomplished, and going back to social media again for comfort but discovering new levels of sadness instead. Everything was the same, that is, until a month ago.
With the start of 2021, I found myself doing the same thing I do at the beginning of every year: establishing my New Year’s resolutions. It is also important to note that by that time, I was at my absolute lowest, both emotionally and mentally. As a result, I decided to start the year on a new and positive note. I decided to challenge myself, really challenge myself, for it was a year of challenges after all. I decided to quit social media for a week just to see if its absence would positively impact me in any way.
As usual, my first day proved to be horrible. The withdrawal symptoms I had that day were truly shocking. Boredom, long hours, unconscious finger movements towards the deleted apps; it all came screaming back to me. And, of course, let’s not forget about the internal conversations and discouraging temptations; nevertheless, I decided to shut my temptations out and focus on achieving the goal I set: quit social media for at least a week.
The next few days proved slightly easier than the first. In fact, I found myself feeling better as each social media-less day passed by. I also found myself taking more time to practice the things that truly made me happy. What’s more, I was not disconnected from life like I thought I would. In fact, I was somehow more connected to it —instead of watching meaningless stories and posts for people that I don’t even speak to, I started spending more time with the people that actually held a place in my heart and mind. I started reading again —a habit that was previously replaced with social media in the past. In a way, quitting social media helped me feel like my old self again; it made me go back to the person I used to be, the person I was before social media occupied 99 per cent of my life.
Months later, my social media-less week did not stop, nor is it planning to. I am still experiencing the benefits of quitting social media from a mental, physical, and emotional perspective. Looking back at the situation now, I feel that, as a society, we rarely ever take the time to reflect on the way social media impacts our life. Personally, social media has a more negative effect on me, but rather hinders my abilities and slows down my productivity. Of course, the situation differs from one person to another —this was just my personal experience. Although, I must say that there are numerous articles and research studies conducted nowadays that discuss the dangers of social media and the benefits of quitting, even if it were for a small period of time. I am one of the people that now advocate for the latter, having experienced its benefits myself. But, again, this varies from one person to the other; it also varies on their individual social media usage.
At this point, I just want everyone to take a period of reflection. Ask yourself, How is social media really impacting my life? What benefits/dangers do I see it having on my mental health? Do I really see social media as an easily removed addition to my life, or has it become a necessity and addiction that I cannot live without?
Only by answering those questions will you truly understand the vast difference that social media implicates in our society every day. Only then will you understand that social media, with all of its social features and apps, is a tool to alienate individuals and trap them in an endless loop of virtual connections and FOMOs. Only then will we realize the danger that is social media and genuinely understand the limitless benefits and opportunities we could experience by eliminating it from our daily routine.
Laila Mostafa is an Egyptian writer and a literature student at the American University of Sharjah. Her passions include arts and culture, theatre and contemporary literature.
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