No New Notifications

A photo posted by M R B L O U S E (@sandiblouse) on

What if you woke up one day and there was suddenly no social media? No Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram, no Snapchat – none of the things that have come to define a lot of how most of us communicate with the outside world. I woke up to such a scenario last week, having agreed to a challenge to go without social media for a week. Being a full-on digital native, the thought of it all was quite daunting to say the least.

To give you a bit of context on just how much of my time is spent on social media: I probably post up to five Facebook status updates a day; I tweet probably as much as a bird chirps on the daily (not really, but you get the idea); and my followers are well acquainted with my self adoration, mostly demonstrated in random, very frequent selfies, in bed, in cars, at bars – anywhere where the “I’m so pretty though, just love me” bug bites. A lot of the time, an image I post to Instagram is shared across all platforms and, sometimes, my Facebook status updates double as tweets. Basically, I am always saying something, somewhere, or simply being silly on Snapchat.

 

“Suddenly, we are aching for love from strangers, and we feel compelled to make our opinions on any issue of the day known.”

 

As such, the thought of having no access to social media made me feel like my relevance was on the line. Will anyone even make time to invite me out to dinner, or go dancing if they can’t reach me on Facebook? Which friends are having birthdays? Am I going to miss everything? What am I without the constant stream of likes? Are people going to forget I even exist?

But beyond just living for likes, social media is also an important part of my work. As a researcher and writer, I’ve found that virtually anyone is reachable through Facebook, I do a lot of research using the social media platform, and I’m generally able to keep up with what conversations people are having, in turn, informing a lot of what it is I write about. But of all that one can say in favour of social media, stepping back to look at how we use it, I suspect a lot of it is about validation, hence my trepidation about relevance.

A photo posted by M R B L O U S E (@sandiblouse) on

Indeed, a few years ago, the measure of one’s relevance was never about one’s social media following, or one’s activity in real life. Having a career, feeling loved, and achieving the goals we’ve set for ourselves were sufficient enough affirmation.

Suddenly, we are aching for love from strangers, and we feel compelled to make our opinions on any issue of the day known. Where are the winds blowing? Are we talking about privilege? Everyone ought to know that I don’t approve. Like the time Rihanna wore that Swarovski Crystal dress at the MET Gala two years ago, that led many to calling her a “whore”. One very brave Facebook user made such comments on a friend’s wall. I’m pretty sure they wish they hadn’t, because, as they soon discovered, they had not only stepped into Navy territory, they’d also jumped into a big feminist pond where no escape is in sight. Only education! You don’t get to call anyone a “whore”! It’s not your place. Along with my friends and the Navy – as Rihanna’s legion of fans are often referred to – we staged a bigot take down that lasted through the day. Yes, a whole day of checking notifications, responding, etc.

In this way, social media can be a useful tool for public discourse, but what is it, really, to be loud on social media about the issues that concern us if it’s not about getting affirmation from likeminded people?

My concern, a lot of the time, is whether or not people actually mean what they say on social media. It is so easy to put up a front, but are you really the bigot buster you claim to be on social media in real life? Do you speak up about injustices you witness in real life as much as you shout about it on social media, or is that, also, just about likes? They call it “armchair activism”, and trust me, it is a widespread phenomenon.

 

“There will be no likes. What to do now?”

 

In prepping for my week without social media, I deleted all the apps from my phone – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat – the night before my detox was set to begin. This, to limit any chances of being tempted to even look at how many notifications my posts were generating.

As usual, when my alarm rang the next morning, I switched it off and browsed to the notifications on my phone. Zero! Nothing! Nada! I went into a slight panic, before I remembered that, well; there is no social media for me for the week, and so, there will be no likes. What to do now?

The next couple of days were a lesson in just how much time social media eats into my day, as every few minutes I found myself reaching for my phone, only to be reminded by the absence of the social media icons on my home screen that I’m on a detox.

There were times I wanted to update about that hottie I saw as I walked into the coffee shop I work from every day, for example – unnecessary information, and another few seemingly harmless seconds that end up eating into your day because of the likes and comments that one must respond to.

There were moments I unlocked my phone, ready to Snap me and my friends’ pretty faces, and many others where I wanted to Twitter-vent about fast food joint service like the spoilt City Bowl brat that I am. What I learned is that a lot of my social media activity is more about habit than it is about necessity. I’m just so used to sharing, that it’s become somewhat of a reflex snapping and uploading images, and even my personal thoughts.

I would soon learn that my anxiety about social media was just FOMO talking, and more often than not, FOMO is a fuss about nothing. As such, my FOMO was reduced to such levels that I rediscovered reading. As in, actual reading, not Facebook status or Twitter timeline browsing. For the first time since about 2009, which I estimate is when social media got its chokehold on me, I managed to finish a book within the space of a single week.

Sure. When you follow links from your Facebook friends you are doing some reading, but what I realised sans the posts from everyone is that I was, for a change, reading stuff that actually interests me, rather than what the conversation on social media is about. Being the loudmouth that I am, I now realise that most of what I read online is about understanding what everyone is talking about, and then forming an opinion in order to be part of the discussion.

I have very smart people for friends and, yes, a lot of the discussions they tend to participate in I also find interesting – equality, human rights, the occasional Kanye West rant. Be that as it may, I’ve realised I spend far more time worrying about being up-to-date with what’s going on in those discussions, that my other interests have sort of taken a back seat.

For example, had I been on social media I doubt I would have learnt about research into the ‘The Future of Getting High’, as one headline of an article in The Atlantic read. According to the piece, scientists are working on non-addictive opiates, pills that will apparently sober you up, and pot designed to produce moods. That, for me, is far more interesting than reading about another bigot and their disrespect or disdain for women and sexual minorities.

I also returned to an old habit of reading all the news sites in the morning in order to stay abreast of what‚Äôs going on in the world. Did you know parliament is looking for a replacement for Thuli Madonsela, South Africa’s Public Protector, and we, civilians, can be part of the process of appointing a new Public Protector?

Basically, the World Wide Web is an information super highway with so much traffic that it’s incredibly easy to get stuck in a single lane. Social media plays a big role in keeping one on said lane.

A photo posted by M R B L O U S E (@sandiblouse) on

Not being on social media also forced me to rediscover the joys of being alone with my own thoughts. It sort of felt like my iPhone was a Nokia 3310, only useful for phone calls and text messages, rather than seeking validation for my own thoughts, for a change.

 

“I‚Äôm more prone to engaging with people around me on a personal level, rather than being half-plugged into cyberspace the whole time.”

 

I’m back on social media now, and while it’s fun seeing what everyone is doing, thinking and all that, it feels good to not feel compelled to opine about Harambe, the gorilla, for example. It was so much better, I thought, having those conversations at a dinner table for a change.

Cheesy as this may sound, I feel far more connected with my own thoughts, I think things through more thoroughly, and I’m more prone to engaging with people around me on a personal level, rather than being half-plugged into cyberspace the whole time. I must also note that I now know how annoying my habit of being on my phone at the dinner table is, because I had to experience this with friends looking at their phone while I was trying to have conversations with them.

With all that said, you can rest assured that there are many more selfies, and many more random rants coming from me on social media. Social media is fun and often useful. My break only served to remind me of this fact, and that it really just doesn’t have to take over my life in the way I’ve allowed it to for a long time now.

I had a very welcome, and very pleasant break, and would most certainly encourage everyone to take it every once in a while, if only for a bit of perspective and clarity of thought. My plan is to unplug for at least one day every week, because as a friend of mine so eloquently put it: “It feels like a holiday”. One that costs absolutely nothing, except perhaps a few likes.

 

Sandiso Ngubane is a writer, trends analyst and the co-editor of Skattie. You’re likely to find him on Instagram (@sandiblouse), Twitter (@Sandiso_N) or Snapchat (san_deedlez).

 

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