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Oon Yeoh

SOCIAL media is part of our lives. Most of us check our social media accounts constantly throughout the day. That’s the reality of modern life. Like everything else in life, there are pros and cons to social media. It’s a great tool for connecting people, and for brands to do promotion and marketing. But with the good comes the bad and there are several cons to social media too.

The top three downsides commonly cited about social media are that it (i) promotes a false reality because people post only the best pictures that present them in the most positive light; (ii) promotes echo chambers because people only follow like-minded people and organisations; (iii) it affects your ability to focus and thus lowers your productivity.

Of these three items, only the third one resonates with me. The first two are not really a problem because I use social media mainly as a marketing and branding tool for my judo club and not really for “social” purposes.

It’s more of a promotional tool for me than anything else. But it does eat up a lot of my time as I have to constantly make new content for it and I do find myself constantly checking to see which postings are successful and which aren’t.

However, most people do use social media for social reasons and I can see how the first two points could be a problem. The false reality issue is a big one because it can affect people’s sense of self-esteem and confidence. If they constantly measure themselves and their lives to others (who seem to have it all) on social media, it could lead to depression.

FORCED DETOX

The echo chamber problem is also another serious one as technology has allowed people to filter out news and views that are antithetical to theirs. If all you get is a constant stream of like-minded opinions, your vision of the world will be very narrow-minded and biased. As such, it might be a good idea to stay away from social media for a period of time, even if it’s just as a social experiment to see how well you can cope without it.

I’ve not really gone on a social media detox situation where I’d purposely stay away from social media for something like 30 days. Instead, what has happened is there have been times when I was abroad and didn’t have easy access to the Internet.

That was in a way a forced detox but it lasted only a few days or a week, at most. So, I did a bit of research on what others have experienced when they went on a detox that lasted much longer.

Akshata Shanbhag, a tech writer, said of her experience: “Every time you open your browser, you might be at a loss to decide what to do. You won’t know where to go next because your go-to web hangouts — Facebook and Twitter — are gone. But don’t worry. This won’t last long. You’ll soon discover distractions of a different kind. You might even find more time to learn a new hobby. I latched on to interesting newsletters and feeds as a replacement for social media.”

The main plus point of social media detoxing? Akshata believes the biggest gain is the automatic shift in focus from what everyone else is doing to what you’re doing. “You score the mental bandwidth you need to do deep work,” she added.

Jason Zook, an advertising entrepreneur, took time off social media for a month because he was fed up with losing control of his feeds. He elaborated: “I was upset with my diminishing social reach due to networks bursting at the seams with users. I also started to become cynical and jealous of people.”

The main plus point for him too was productivity. He continued: “My productivity, attention span and clarity of thought all increased greatly with living without social media for a month. I felt like I broke bad habits (refreshing feeds and checking notifications) in a very short period of time. If all of that can be done in just 30 days, it’s definitely worth trying.”

Emma Fierberg, a video producer, also did a social media detox and she realised just how addicted she was to social media once she forced herself off it. “I stopped using social media this morning, and my brain is going crazy. I just realised how often I glance down just to see if I have a notification,” she shared, adding: “When I wake up in the morning, on the way to work, on the train, walking from the train to work, sometimes at work — sorry — when I get home from work. It's constant.”

And what’s the main advantage of avoiding social media? Productivity, she believes. “This experiment has revolutionised my productivity at work. If you had checked in with me before this experiment, I’d have 30 tabs open doing random research and tweeting and checking Slack,” she confessed, adding: “I was a productivity nightmare. My well-being has improved tenfold. My mind has never been so clear. I feel like I'm learning how to properly communicate in a world without social media. I’ve been given more time with my thoughts.”

CURED OF THE HABIT

The natural question we’d all have when reading accounts like this is whether these people would naturally return to their old habits once their detox period is over. The experience of freelance writer, Jillian Knox Finley, gives us some hope.

Like many people, she’d become addicted to social media. Finley shared: “Day one, I discovered my hand had a muscle memory. Every time I picked up my phone, my thumb instinctively flicked over to where the Instagram icon used to rest — now a lonesome little void.”

Yet, after her detox period, she seemed to be somewhat cured of the habit. “My final night off, I set an alarm at midnight to check Instagram. I was with a couple of friends when my iPhone buzzed. I quietly logged into my accounts. I’m not sure how much time passed before my friend interrupted with a “Hey, where’d you go?” “Sorry, I’m online for the first time in over a month.” “Yeah, what do you need your phone for?” I didn’t even react. I just turned it off. Then I sat around a table with two friends talking about life and love and things we’d done.”

Oon Yeoh is a consultant with experiences in print, online and mobile media. Reach him at [email protected].

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