Last week I did two things, which I did not predict would happen:
- I deleted the Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat apps from my phone
- I turned my iPhone home screen settings to Grayscale.
It all started last Monday with a very interesting lunchtime debate with my colleagues about the responsibilities that Facebook now faces as a result of the scale of its community, and whether or not that could have been foreseen at the time of inception.
The next day I read this article on The Verge, drawing my attention to Tristan Harris’ Time Well Spent non-Profit. Time Well Spent is led by former tech insiders and CEOs, and as much as it acknowledges the achievements of what tech giants such as Facebook and Google have given us, its also warning that we as consumers are being gamed. They’re competing to get our attention for their survival. The game is rigged.
That same evening I watched this fabulous TEDTalk by Manoush Zomorodi in which she demonstrates exactly how we’ve started losing hours and hours to mindlessly checking our phone to see if some kind of notification or alert has come through. We don’t need to do it, yet we do it anyway.
I read Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows some years ago, in which he argues that the internet is one giant distraction machine and that we have lost the ability to focus deeply on something in the way we used to be able to do. It has changed our brains. Carr wrote that book in 2010, which was the year Instagram was founded, and a year before Snapchat came on the scene.
I’ve been cognisant of the potential negative effect my participation in online activities has has upon me since I read Carr’s book. But it wasn’t until last Tuesday, when I read Time Well Spent’s proposition, had I felt it so clearly and well-defined in such practical terms.
It resonated to such a degree that I acted on it immediately with the two listed actions above.
Increasingly over the last 6 months I’ve noticed a significant change in my emotions towards these social networks. With Facebook, I withdrew from actively posting or engaging with the feed around 3 years ago, but in compensation I threw myself into the world of Instagram with quite some vigour. I used to love it so, but in the last few months I have found my excitement for it wane.
The constant expectation of what reaction each post drives within my community has a negative effect. I find myself checking the feed more than I need, or even want to, and I get very little feeling of accomplishment or achievement back.
Within this once inspirational, fun and aesthetically pleasing online playground, we’re now feeding one another’s obsessive behaviours and posting sometimes even the most banal of things because we think this is what makes us look good, to show we’re exercising more that everyone else, or have achieved something, or to simply show we must be having fun.
The little purply pink camera-inspired icon is so tempting that I tap on it dozens of times daily, looking for excitement, inspiration or interaction. I know for sure its not time well spent, but yet I’m still doing it. I have to try to manage this kind of behaviour because its sapping precious energy from other pursuits that could be much better for me. Also, despite its labelling as “social” media, I’m not entirely sure its adding any value to my social life.
Community and friendships need a dialogue
Pondering my obsessive usage and checking of these apps, I’ve been wondering lately how much they actually add to my social life.
The test of a real friendship comes when you move. The friends you have a real connection with will stay in contact. Whatsapp has been an absolute Godsend for that, and I have a handful of close friends with whom I have a fantastic relationship because of the ease and ability to check-in fast with one another and in a fun way. Voice messages, pictures, videos have also added character to this. Same with family – we live in 3 countries and Whatsapp, along with Facebook messenger has made dealing with what has sometimes felt like impossible family situations, actually possible to deal with across 3 timezones.
I don’t know if likes or the views of something have added anything in particular to any of my relationships. They just let me know who is watching what I am up to, which I suppose provides a certain value. However my friends would be my friends and family with or without Instagram.
The value is in sustained, real, true relationships which are built over time, and from spending real time interacting with one another, understanding really how that person feels and what they actually like, want or need. For that you don’t have to always be in the same room, but you do need a dialogue.
Which is why I am certainly not deleting my messaging apps. These can stay.
So what impact do I hope this will have?
Like all of us, there are things I would like to achieve (as per my previous post on goal setting) and I’m aware that I need to look up and beyond my phone in order to get some energy and time back, which could be invested in hitting these goals and making things better for myself and others around me.
Deleting some apps, and removing the colour from our phone home screens seems actually like such simple advice but the effects are dramatic.
My phone looks like an entirely different place now…
Perhaps I won’t become a Krav Maga master overnight or spend all my newly freed up time practicing my German verb conjugations immediately. However, if it has even a small impact on my general mood, energy or sense of being more connected to a real community that’s a win.
But where it should have the biggest impact is setting the tone for the generations to come. In Manoush Zomoridi’s TEDTalk She concludes by petitioning for better facilitation of digital literacy and teaching our kids how to use technology for the better. This is where I think all of this should have the biggest impact. Yes technology gives us access to information and education, which propels us forward for the better. However, when it comes to forming and maintaining relationships, we need to make sure we continue to keep it real.
With this experience, the only thing that I worry about losing is the connection communities I’ve built in cities overseas. Its nice to have a window into another world sometimes. However, that’s what my messenger apps are still here for, but on a more conversational and personal basis.
I’m already much further towards my book-per-month reading goal.
Who knows, maybe it will have zero to little impact on my life, but you don’t don’t know until you try, eh?