Quitting an Addiction… one you didn’t know was an Addiction
Before you hastily judge, I’d like to share a quick anecdote:
What was the Worst part of America?
Whenever I tell people that I spent 16 months travelling north and central America on a 250 dirt bike, OR …that in 2010 I rode the entire length of the African continent on a Suzuki. The first question people always ask is: “Where was your favourite place?“. As I stumble to answer that, not to sound like a new-age-hippie and talk about experiences aren’t locations… they will then try to get something out of me, and often the follow-up question would be on the lines of “What was your worst experience?“. Riding accidents, unprovoked violence, bear attacks, dodgy Mexicans etc.
I struggle to say this with a straight face and in some mild-musings I’ve had with friends, I tried to share an honest account of what genuinely was my worst experience. In short: social media. I can tell you in 2010, with limited internet service/availability or maybe lack of somewhat fame, I was far merrier just plodding along in Africa, sharing my accounts to my near and dear. In 2015, with a smartphone, a GPS transponder, wireless internet wherever I was, I’d find whenever I turned my phone out of Airplane mode I’d be bombarded with Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat, %you_name_it% notifications taking over my head-space.. In fairness, most was highly praised comments/private messages/likes/re-tweets, and yet occasionally some deeply hurtful thoughtless messages.
Regardless of what it was, to me it was an unnecessary mental tax. I had not accounted on having to contend with any of this nonsense when I thought to go travelling alone. It got to a point where I actually dreaded it, I would be trying to find somewhere to eat, looking for somewhere to sleep or searching online about something particular of where I was, and suddenly I’d have people messaging me (seeing that I was available/online), It was a hard thing to do in just ignoring people. You feel guilty, rude or just ravaged for your knowledge or experience.
While an obvious solution would be to remove all social media from my life to help with quitting an addiction that I was not fond of. It seems desperately drastic for me to delete my Facebook account and discarding hundreds of friends I’ve made world-wide. Some of these friends which I only have on Facebook. It creates a paradox.
While travelling I genuinely tried to ween off it with removing certain apps from my phone, I didn’t want to be messaged, and I didn’t want to be told how many people had liked my pictures whenever I had turned on my data roaming to check 2 things. This however, only caused returning to social media on my laptop just as crazy if not more intense: unread “urgent” messages, overlooked comments and things shared to me that made me seem like I was ignoring friends.
In all fairness, I enjoy following my friends around the world, I love seeing what they are getting up to, being aware of social, political or cultural concerns I’d not ordinarily find out about. However, when you have +20 unread messages and +80 notifications about who commented on what and how many people liked or reacted to your pictures, it certainly gives you a strange sensation. Your relax time becomes administration time, and after being out in the wilderness alone for days on end, coming back to civility and having to manage a social media identity became an unpleasant chore.
Social Media is a Drug
It has been proven through scientific studies that seeing notifications or that little red icon on Facebook (friend request, private message, notification) , or any social media platform of your choice causes a neurological effect akin to a dopamine hit. And knowing this makes me feel dirty, and if not just a bit mildly anxious. I recently watched this discussion by Simon Sinek which was quite moving and relevant.
Lately, with the political turmoil of Brexit, Trump and the Spanish political non-sense, my daily social digest has been turned into an aggressive platform for everyone to hurl volatile statements at each other. I found it quite ugly. However, I also got wrapped up in some of these aforementioned hysteria. Again, another dirty feeling of emotions that day-to-day I have tried to stay clear of.
So why was I now hammering away at the keyboard passionate about something, I’d ordinarily not wish to show face on? Why was I being provoked? Why did I spend countless hours of my day wasted on feeding my brain bad things to digest? This wasn’t a matter of days or weeks, this was months of accumulating bad feelings, laced between many good feelings, which made it hard to identify.
The other day, I was invited to my friends’ house: pizza and a movie! Sounded great, a real social thing, and we sat down and watched Trainspotting. A film, I’d not watched in over 15 years. A film, that my younger self was impressed with far different things than I am today. I reflected upon my own addictions and how the dirty cycles we go through in trying to quit addictions and habits. I’ve seen so many friends put a self-validating Facebook status declaring they are leaving Facebook only to return days later in full swing. Ashamed to the fact they relapsed.
I left my friends’ house that night cycling home aggressively home filled with fire, wanted to cleanse myself of those things that aren’t improving my lifestyle. I as I pedaled home at 1 am filled with energy I decided to give something a go: I decided to reduce/limit and purge my daily Facebook use, I got home, and logged out, closed the tab and went to bed. Relief! I was finally quitting an addiction I wasn’t happy about. I didn’t want to make a big thing of it, I don’t want it to be final and I don’t want to draw attention to my efforts.
For the past week, I’ve stayed away for Facebook, and frankly, it’s been a blessing! I’ve had a lot of time, not missed it much and I’ve been quite productive and focused on my work. However, much like a dirty drug-dealer: Facebook has pestered me with emails to see what I’m missing out on. Ordinarily I never received these emails, and not only was it irksome but hitting the unsubscribe button takes to you the Facebook page which prompts you to login in a balloon (a pop-up thing) which ironically is hiding the unsubscribe button. I felt a further loathing to it social media just in that act.
However, things aren’t without a bittersweet twist, I was browsing my Instagram the other and to my greatest surprise a long-term friend I’ve known for years happened to be in Barcelona, I commented on a picture and she told me she’d been trying to get hold of me on Facebook. Typical! I bit bullet and checked my Facebook, 7 unread messages, 5 of which were work related (can you believe this?) and +40 notifications (all of which were rubbish). I read, responded to my messages and logged out. It felt great! Last night I met up with my friend Galit who I hadn’t seen in 13 years, we had tapas and it was a nice evening.
I feel the true compromise here has to be somewhere down the middle, I have hundreds of friends I dearly care for, I wish to not lose that. Although, I also do not wish to waste my life away. The addiction is in the mind not the platform; although, studies do show that the platforms intend to be as addictive as possible. I see my goal for the future is to limit my Facebook engagement to be limited at most to 15 minutes a day if not LESS.