The film The Matrix has become a cult favourite. It features the premise that we’re all ‘plugged in’ to a reality where machines rule the world. In the film, to ensure that we’re eternally unaware of the situation, the machines fill our minds with a simulation of ‘real life’.
Whilst The Matrix is complete fiction, there’s no denying that the time we spend on social media today has displaced some of the attention we would have spent on hobbies, reading or interacting with each other, pre-internet.
Looking at my phone’s stats, I spend, on average, 3 to 4 hours a day on screen (I do use a laptop and the internet for work purposes throughout the day; I’m just talking about downtime here).
I spend this 3 to 4 hours primarily scrolling through Facebook.
I don’t think I’m a ‘heavy user’ of social media…I’m more of a nosey bystander peering through the window. On the flipside, I can honestly say that the three hours or so I spend on Mr Zuckerberg’s creation is done mindlessly. I barely absorb or read what I see.
I don’t know how I feel about this. I could argue that these three hours, if they were not spent on social media voyeurism, would only be spent staring at the television instead. I engage my brain all day; when I’m relaxing at home, it’s perhaps natural to mentally zone out.
Could I do without it?
I recently left my phone behind after attending an evening event. Luckily, I knew where it was and I got it back the next day; however, for the rest of that evening and the following morning, I felt as if I was missing a limb. I had to fire up my laptop after all, as I couldn’t bear not being ‘connected’. What if there was a message I needed to answer or someone was trying to get in touch with me?
I can’t count that experience as a detox, not even an enforced one. I think people who choose to step away from social media, or who vow not to use their phones for a short period of time are brave. I don’t think I could do it.
There are health benefits from ‘unplugging’
Whilst I only ever have my phone by my bed if I’m staying away from home (so that I can see what time it is if I wake in the night), I’ve never been one for taking it to bed—the vibrating and notifications would annoy me (yes, I know I can turn them off; I charge my phone downstairs instead overnight—problem solved). Many people do take their phones to bed with them, despite research showing that exposure to our phone’s light near bedtime could prevent us from succumbing to sleep, as it affects our melatonin levels.
Experts claim that digital interaction can never replace actual interaction with our friends, family and the rest of the world. They say it can “negatively impact relationships and wellbeing”. Maybe this was a benefit before Covid-19 came along, but I do get the point.
Numerous studies have linked social media with feelings of low self-esteem, low confidence, a lack of self-worth and anxiety. Some people can’t help but compare themselves to others. Despite it being common knowledge that some users of social media exaggerate aspects of their lives to make others envious of them, this is a fact quickly forgotten when some people are already feeling down about their looks and/or their situation in life.
Unplugging from this Matrix-like, fake reality and appreciating what you have in real life, you may see the show-offs for what they are: human beings, the same as the rest of us, with just as many faults and imperfections.
Maybe it’s my age, but I don’t subscribe to the belief that those with seemingly Insta-perfect lives are having anywhere near the whale of a time they profess to enjoy. When I think of the most enjoyable times of my life…I’ve been there, in the moment. I’ve never once felt like breaking off from having fun to whip out my phone and record it, just to make other people jealous. That’s not the life I aspire to.
That ‘perfect’ photo is unlikely to have been their first shot, either; they’ll have probably spent hours determining the best angle, the perfect lighting, the most flattering pose…hey, whatever turns you on, guys.
Coming away from social media will also help you reconnect with real life. For example, I’m sure there are far better ways to spend the three hours a day of mindlessly scrolling through my social media accounts. The reason I don’t, primarily, is exhaustion—I’m not 20-something, living my best life. I’m knackered, grumpy, and just concentrating on getting through the day.
Last night, I took my daughters out for a carvery, and we enjoyed an actual conversation, as opposed to the three of us being in separate rooms at home staring at a screen. During the entire time I was in the pub, I didn’t miss my Facebook-scrolling whatsoever. I didn’t even think about it.
I’m not sure I’ve come to any conclusion about unplugging and whether it’s for me. To be honest, I thought I would be extremely biased on the subject, given that I’m of a generation that hasn’t been brought up with the internet or smartphones. However, I can still recall the feelings of loss when I was without my phone for a few hours just the other week.
Maybe I’m more plugged in than I originally thought?
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