I was never a very good actor in primary school in my end of year productions. On the surface, it is easy to attribute this to my quiet character and stubborn pride in not looking a fool in front of my peers.
I’m part of a generation born at the cusp of the digital age, who were raised on VHS tapes and box-shaped computers that you couldn’t carry around with you. But by the time I was sentient of the world around me, phones no longer had keypads and weren’t used just to make phone calls or take turns to play ‘Snake’ with your mates.
Phones have become something we depend on to function; they’re like a PA in your pocket. 90% of Generation Y now check their mobile phones before even leaving their beds in the morning. On average, people have 5.54 social media accounts and engage in social media 116 minutes a day.It has increasingly become the sole channel through which we communicate, entertain ourselves and almost advertise ourselves to others.
Today’s hectic technologically-addicted world wasn’t really designed for little girls with stage fright, like me, or the chronically depressed. If you consider it deeper, participation in social media takes a similar format to a school play: you have characters, the right lines to say and the rehearsed actions to take. In effect, we feel afraid to forget our lines, to break the illusion of our online profiles to what our lives and our emotions are really like behind the screens.
This quietness, perhaps unsurprisingly, has carried through to my adult life. Yet it tends to manifest itself in the form of Prozac prescriptions and generalised anxiety, much like up to 1 in 4 UK citizens at any one time who struggle with mental illness.
But it’s not just about me. I have seen many people my age draw this link between wellbeing and social media. In recent times, I’ve noticed a couple of my friends opting to “log off” social media whilst they have been struggling with their mental health.
In another vain, others choose to use social media as a means reach out or express their feelings in a public domain. Some people simply post “Anyone chat?”, it seems to me, to soothe their loneliness and as a cry for help.
Social media has now become my livelihood; I work as a Digital Marketing Apprentice. Hell, I even met my boyfriend on social media! Although I depend on it financially, I am able to see it as purely a channel of promotion. But instead of marketing businesses, we market ourselves to the world.
At almost 21, I am blessed yet burdened to have this hand-held computer in my pocket since it means that we are no longer able to switch off.
This led me to challenge myself, and my dependency on technology and my anxieties around constantly being switched on to the world. I challenged myself to not use social media for 7 days and reflect on how it affected my mental health and wellbeing.
As the week progressed, my initial expectations of a phone-less existence were partially confirmed, but also very much internally disputed. I started out thinking it’d be a breeze to completely withdraw from using my phone at all.
On Monday, I began by allowing myself to use only phone calls when communicating, for emergencies and general day-to-day conversations.This worked for a short while before it became incredibly inconvenient to continue in this way, and I began using WhatsApp again by day 2. By Friday, I had almost given up entirely and changed the rules of the game to suit how my perceptions had changed within the past days.
I was surprised by my revelation that, using your phone, to a certain degree, can support wellbeing. I found not using YouTube to be the most challenging, since I rely on it for entertainment, educational and relaxation purposes such as watching tutorials or listening to ASMR.
Without access to my phone, I found it hard to sleep, get the information I needed or be productive. During this week especially, I was busy but felt I had a lot of free time. I found myself twiddling my thumbs a lot in social situations where everyone else would be looking down their phones instead of engaging with the world around them.
I ended up spending the week learning how to crochet 2 doilies and a blanket, put a deposit down on a flat with my boyfriend, being out in nature and writing poetry. I found that knitting on the tube, news of my new flat and my adventures became the way people would open conversations with me. In that sense, the week emphasised what an issue it is for us as people to not rely on technology for social interaction, or even avoiding it.
For me, these verses from a spoken-word poem called ‘Look Up’ by Gary Turk summarises it perfectly:
By day 7, it was a relief to not have to restrict myself anymore but this didn’t mean I looked forward to logging back on. After satisfying my curiosity and looking through my Facebook notifications, I felt pretty empty. It was mainly ads from companies, and even the posts from my friends that weren’t trying to sell me anything still felt like marketing to me.
My Facebook friends were sharing their 21st birthday snaps and what a great time they were having. But the fact of the matter is, even if these weren’t shared with her 758 friends, the day would have been equally as special. It’d be more special, in fact, because she wouldn’t need other peoples’ likes, jealousy and comments as a seal of recognition to what a great time she had.
I think this is the heart of why we as people need to be aware of how much we involve ourselves in the digital world. If we aren’t careful, I fear that we will never really be able to connect with one another past the actors and roles we are portraying online.
The Internet is a wonderful, revolutionary source of information and a channel of communication. Screens shouldn’t replace eyes, and I feel we would all benefit from looking more at pupils rather than pixels.