August 2016: I went cold turkey. I anticipated in excitement as I hit the deactivate button from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Linkedin. I finally didn’t have to see the recent vacation pics of people I know or the places I only wish I had the money to go to. Now no one will ask about me and I don’t need to share my life with the strangers worldwide. I don’t have to deal with FOMO(Fear of missing out) or upload new stuff every day just to catch up.
Though none of this idea is new as there are celebrities and people in real life who have done this before. It was great months of being offline and enjoying the scenery and the people around me for once. And yet, I went back on.
Why? There were reasons. At the core, I was still dissatisfied with the way things were in my life and was looking for answers. It turned out my issues were not online but in real life, and I needed guidance wherever I can get, online or offline.
Yet, I learned a lot being both on and off the social media. Let’s start with the benefits of cutting off and taking a break.
Why Digital Detoxing is good
A study on the Journal of Media Education shows that about 70% of the respondents “used their phones for social media while in class”. Yes, I was one of those college students who would check her phone when she got bored in class. Although the demographics of said stat is specific towards the age groups 18-24-year-old people, this still resonates with most people I know (including my current self).
During my months off the social media, I did have a crisis of not knowing how to occupy my time. After all, it’s inevitable to lose focus in hours of class. What could I do instead of worrying about the type of content and posts I should upload on Instagram and Twitter? Well, I got to think for myself, what I want and what I needed to get done. In the end, I managed to spend more time on my study and work.
Another benefit of digital detox is that you don’t have to be emotionally drained from constantly interacting with others. While I was on Twitter personally, I occasionally got into a few squabbles with accounts that I didn’t even know. When I got out of Twitter, not only was it emotionally relieving but I was able to redirect my focus on what was the original purpose of being on Twitter in the first place: being vocal about social issues and raising awareness. Now I run a Twitter account along with my Journey To The West Podcast (“JTTW”) co-hosts J and Sen so that I can focus on professionally promoting our podcast.
It helped me to keep my private life private as well. With globalization and the way technology is rising, more people are getting connected through social media and the privacy can potentially be compromised. Someone may try to find my address or phone number, and I didn’t want to worry about it all the time while talking about political issues.
Why it’s also ok to be online
The detox didn’t last long. I was still curious about what was going on around me. I wanted to keep in touch with my friends I made who moved back to their home countries abroad. I was looking for answers to why I was still discontent with my life.
When I went back online the first time, I remember getting in touch with a friend from Europe who immediately messaged me and asked what happened during election time in 2016. I was able to share my fears and worries as well as my hopes with someone who can empathize across the globe. There was the additional joy of finally talking with someone I haven’t seen in a long time as well.
Going back online also brought awareness to my environment around me. I could see what’s happening in my society in context, in the web of human voices. It felt like things were starting to make more sense. Curious, I searched all over from Twitter to Facebook to news networks and even Reddit to find that now more than ever, the political climate within the US would change and impact career prospects, social aspects, and quality of life for many people.
Lastly, going on social media can be used as one of the many platforms out there to make a difference. Over the years, I have observed that retweeting go-fund me pages or sharing new articles have made a difference, even if it’s subtle. A study published on the Cornell University Library has shown that based on observing the 2015 and 2017 UK elections, political campaigning on Twitter helped to encourage people to vote although of course, there are limits to what social media can do.
To go offline or to go online
There is value in deleting every social media account you have to take a break. There is also value in going back online to bring awareness to the environment you live in.
For now, I do not have any of my personal accounts online. However, I do work with my cohosts on having the JTTW podcast account on social media.
The discussion about social media, let alone policy, is still young. There’s no right answer. Whatever decision someone makes regarding whether to have social media or not should depend on what they think is best for themselves. No one should let the peer pressure of society determine what they want to see on their screens.