By Paul John Caña
It could have been fatigue. Or exasperation. Maybe it was just plain boredom. But I woke up one day deciding to resist the urge to tap on the little blue icon with the “F” on my phone. And the one with the retro camera. And the white bird on the light blue background. And even the violet square with the ringing telephone.
One day, I said. I wonder if I could stand not checking my social media accounts for one day.
Before I knew it, one day turned into one week, and as most anyone with a smartphone and a (somewhat) stable data connection would tell you, that’s no mean feat.
So what did I learn from this experiment? A few things.
You know that feeling when you’re at a party and everyone’s having fun and you think to yourself, “will anyone ever really miss me when I’m gone?” I’ll admit I had that thought when I went on my social media fast (yeah I’ll go with fast. “Diet” makes it sound so casual and meaningless), but then I looked in the mirror and realized I wasn’t Justin Bieber or Ramon Bautista. I don’t have a million Facebook friends or seventeen billion Instagram followers. In short, I’m no celebrity, just like 99% of the population.
I don’t even post that regularly; maybe one or two FB posts a week, one or two tweets every couple of days, and IG only on special occasions (like when I travel or watch a concert). Still, I wondered if people would notice. As it turned out, they didn’t. Except for a couple of close friends, nobody asked if something was wrong. I could’ve been dead and the people in my network would still go on their passive-aggressive rants and reposting cat memes.
I’d have taken it as a blow to my ego (if I had one big enough), but then I considered this: when was the last time I thought about people who weren’t close friends that didn’t pop up on my newsfeed or whose posts don’t appear on my timeline?
And that’s when I realized: People who truly miss your company (or your posts) will find a way to contact you, outside of Facebook.
Social media feeds paranoia.
Many social media platforms must have looked up to Ptolemy, because they were designed to put us in the center of our own universe. We may think of the people in our network as “friends” and “followers,” but, in reality, they’re more like a captive audience, orbiting around us and ready to cheer us up when we post a status about a dead pet, or congratulate us when we tweet about losing 5 pounds. We expect at least eleven “likes” (that magic number when individual likes turn into an actual, more satisfying numeric symbol) when we IG that delicate pastry we had for dessert; double that or more when it’s a selfie with the superstar athlete or the newest teleserye heartthrob (hashtag their names, of course).
It’s a bit jarring then, when a post is ignored or an IG pic doesn’t get so much as a single “heart.” It’s like shouting from a stage to a crowd and hearing dead silence. Maybe this was another reason I laid off social media; real-life stress is hard enough without having to keep refreshing the page, worrying why nobody liked your Boracay sunset photo or your oh-so-witty post about the Binays.
It’s kind of a relief.
After years of mindlessly tapping the blue F icon on my mobile when bored, the struggle to not do that was real. “But, PJ,” you might ask, “wouldn’t it have been easier if you had just deleted the app?” Yes it would, but that would have also defeated the purpose of the experiment. The idea was self-control; to stay away from all of these social media platforms when they were looking up at me from my phone, so readily available.
Apparently, I won the staring contest. (Or this round, at least). Past the initial, nail-biting anxiety, the social media holiday was actually cathartic. The constant buzz has always been there that you forget what it’s like when it’s, well, not. It’s not unlike that welcome silence after the neighbors finally, mercifully stop their all-day videoke session. You stop fake-liking your “friend’s” latest duck-faced selfie and getting annoyed at the inanity of gaming requests. There is a reprieve from lifestyle envy after seeing your jetsetting friend’s latest vacation series on IG, or your other friend’s perfect life with her husband and two adorable kids.
Pretty soon, you lose interest at what your “friends” have been up to. But if you really wanted to, you reach out to them IRL.
You get other things done.
How do you fill the time you don’t spend glued to your phone or laptop checking social media updates? Because when you add them up, you’re probably looking at hours, even days. You skim a few minutes here and there and suddenly, you have enough time to do more.
In my case, there were other corners of the web I started visiting. Educational videos on YouTube, for one. I watched the entire catalogue of Paul Barbato’s Geography Now videos, as well as re-watched those of CGP Grey’s (if you don’t know who he is, do yourself a favor and check out his channel).
I also started reading more, finishing Jennifer Egan’s “A Visit From The Goon Squad” and starting on Brad Meltzer’s “The Book Of Lies.” David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas” is up next. And hey, I even found time to write this entry. Now that’s something, isn’t it?
Obviously, I’ve broken my fast, but I’ve still limited my time on social media to a few minutes before bedtime (usually just Twitter), and responding to urgent messages on Messenger. The social media guys want us to spend more time using their nifty inventions in order to “connect” more with people. I say, spend less time with your network online and see how you can make more meaningful interactions with the people that are important to you in the flesh. Then observe how much more productive and alive you feel. It’s not for everyone, I know; some people have to have Facebook like their lives depended on it, but maybe just try it. What have you got to lose?