I have distinct memories of the days Facebook, and then later, Twitter, ‘arrived’ in South Africa. I’ve always been quite proud of my online presence, and remained committed to being online… but something had to give.
The day Facebook landed in South Africa, I was a regular poster to a popular online forum in Durban. As people started to sign up to Facebook, we noticed the forum becoming quieter and quieter, which was strange for a forum that attracted constant attention during working hours.
When Twitter first landed, in South Africa, it was a small community, made up primarily of tech-heads and some journalists. We were still figuring out a hashtag back then. I sound old in saying all of this, but I’d like you to understand my context.
I can blame-thank Twitter and Facebook for everything in my career, and a major portion of my life. Out of it, sprung my entire career and some of the most important relationships in my life. My online life cannot, and will never, be separated from me.
Something happened, however, that made me take stock of my online life: it was the re-emergence of my panic attacks. I’d not experienced them at my 2008 levels (read: at least once a day) for a long time. But, earlier this year, they came back in a bad way, and I found myself in a precarious situation.
A few weeks later, I decided to uninstall every single social media application on my phone, barring Instagram, as an experiment. A very wise friend texted me at that same instant, and said “Log off. You are making yourself miserable.”
When your friends notice your dwindling spirit, it’s time to listen. Uninstalling those applications felt like I was cutting my best friend out of my life, but I did it anyway.
Here’s what I learnt:
I instantly started sleeping better: I know you’ll tell me all about how you shouldn’t scroll your phone at night, but I know you do it anyway. For me, it’s not the act of having my phone next to me, it was the consistent scrolling at night.
Twitter was the worst, because I’d be knee-deep in tweets from 47 hours ago, and it was suddenly 3am. I started reading other things (Like books! And BuzzFeed - oh, you do it too!) and suddenly, I was sleeping better.
I started thinking more clearly: Being constantly online meant that I was constantly processing information. I felt like I hadn’t rested my brain for a decade.
I started getting more done: I didn’t just uninstall the applications. I went full cold turkey for nearly two weeks. It felt very strange to not be checking notifications.
To combat FOMO, I asked a good friend to alert me if anything big happened…it hasn’t yet. That was my point of pride in life: I always knew the second something huge went down.
What you put in to yourself, is what you get out: I’m picky about who I follow online, so I assumed that what I read and interact with every day, would be well-suited to me. I logged back on for a few hours this week and did another little experiment.
Drawing 3 columns on a page, and labelling them: Positive, Negative & Advertising, I scrolled 100 tweets in my feed, and marked them accordingly. The results showed me that 60% of everything I was reading on a normal day had a negative slant to it and I was also sharing far more negative things than I realised.
Realising that, during my normal life, I was constantly consuming mostly negative things, made me realise that I was setting myself up for those panic attacks. Granted, the world we live in right now is a kak place to be, but I’d lost focus on my own life.
I’m not swearing off social media, nor demonising it – it’s one of the most empowering and wonderful connectors in our world - I just need to relearn how to live on it, without living it entirely.
I’m now back online, but instead of flicking over to Facebook from the moment I wake up, I log on to my computer, check my work accounts first, and then set specific times in my day’s diary to hop online.
I’m not asking anyone to play nicely, or decrying the world of online life, but heck, we do need some perspective. Log off for a bit and go find some.