I shut down my Facebook account about seven years ago, and never looked back.
I have led a globetrotting life, and I know a lot of people. When I moved back to Sweden in 2007 after thirteen years in the New York and New Orleans, it seemed FB would be a good way to keep in touch with my American friends. And when I moved to Berlin from Stockholm in 2009, it seemed that FB would be a lifeline to my friends in Sweden too. But slowly I started to realize that FB was both a time thief and it made me feel bad. And also, maintaining friendships via FB started to feel very artificial. How many friendships can you truly have and maintain? Isn't time quite limited? I value quality over quantity. I've lost touch with many amazing people, but I still carry them with me. They have inspired me, turned me onto different things, comforted me, made me laugh.
Around that time was a low point in my life. I didn't want to be in Sweden, and I was totally lacking direction. On some levels I was, and still am, aware of the discrepancy between what lives look like on social media and IRL. But I still found myself caught up in comparing my own life with these distorted images. And despite (already back then) being old enough that I should have known better, I found that the more time I spent on FB, the worse I felt about myself. I was a failure and on top of that I was envious.
I also find 'surfing the internet' in general to be like a rabbit hole It steals my time. Fragments my mind and shatters my concentration. And all success, whether deep (as in finding inner peace) or shallow (as in succeeding in our chosen field, having a successful career, excelling in our studies) require concentration.
These days, in some contexts, it's almost a bit of a handicap not having a Facebook account, as it is a prerequisite for many other apps, such as Tinder (which I personally believe rots peoples' souls). And many other online ventures like Netflix, certain yoga studio memberships etc, use their customers' Facebook accounts for log-in purposes. And, being a freelance yoga teacher, Facebook probably would be a good forum for me to engage in one of my least favourite activities: Shameless Self-promotion, and reach way more people than I do now, but I really can't make myself go back there. It's not worth it.
I do have an Instagram account though. And only because I am a freelancing yoga teacher, otherwise I would shut that down too. It was already years ago that I removed the app from my smartphone. Now I only have it on my ipad, which I don't carry around with me. But still, when I do start to browse through my feed, I often find that it makes me feel bad. I'll try to sort out why, in this blog post.
But before I do, I want to say that I know I am not alone. Many of my friends feel the same way. Loads of studies show that social media has a negative impact on stress levels, confidence, body image, mood, sleep patterns etc, etc. And last week, many newspapers publicised the findings of a large British study that showed that Instagram was the most toxic app of all the mainstream ones. I am not surprised as it's focused on images. And images, at least in our ADHD age, are more powerful than words.
I have read a few responses to this study, both as comments on a post I made on Instagram, but also by newspaper columnists. The people who aren't bothered by IG either say that they are old enough to not give a shit. They are happy with their messy homes, their flawed bodies, their lives, their friends etc. And/or they enjoy IG as a forum for self-expression, and that it has helped them connect with like-minded people, and to find out about 'cool shit.'
Personally, I often feel dubious about the true motives behind IG self-expression. And I don't know how much more 'cool shit' we really need to find out about. And I think connecting IRL is infinitely more important and crucial than connecting in cyberspace.
Let's start with the selfie culture. I have posted a couple myself, but afterwards I always felt slightly yucky/embarrassed. Why would anyone (other than maybe my mother) want to look at my face? What was my true reason for posting them? It has been proven that narcissism is on the rise. That's hardly surprising. ME ME ME. The line between self-expression and just wanting attention/approval/likes is both fine and blurry. I wonder how many people can just throw a selfie out there without obsessing over the likes and comments afterwards. I don't like to look at a constant flow of selfies, even if they come from my friends. It's like it makes me see things in them that I don't want to see. The only selfies I can tolerate in any larger quantities are those that challenge some mainstream norms, about beauty for example.
I wish that the effort that goes into creating/curating a good-looking/interesting IG feed, would instead be used for something that had a more lasting impact. Something that took more time, more concentration. Like writing a novel, making an album, creating art. Doing interesting research. I don't like our fast paced culture/life-style; I am longing for a slower pace, because creativity requires time and space. But then again, people are naturally free to do whatever they want, and there are some people making important waves on social media. And I definitely partly use this blog, to find joy in writing again, so I can get back to finishing my stalled novel. Tiny steps ...
And in my creative endeavours, whether that is writing, creating a kickass yoga sequence or making music -- social media is a huge distraction and an energy drain. It damages my ability to focus. And I can see both in myself and others how damn addictive it is. On trains, bus stops, in cafés and bars, at lunch restaurants -- you see people more engaged with social media than with their immediate reality, and the real flesh and blood human beings actually present.
I think connecting with people via internet can be useful. I think it has helped a lot of people to know that they are not alone. There exists people with similar interests, issues and problems as them. Maybe they live on another continent, but it can still be of great help. You can give and receive advice, help and assurance.
I, myself, has found a drummer, friends, roommates and a boyfriend via the internet. All of these things transferred from cyber hookups/connections to flesh and blood relationships. And I believe that nothing can ever be a substitute for that. We are not just ten fingers, a set of eyes and a credit card (in the words of Yuval Noah Harari). Out in cyberspace and on social media, our bodies are left behind. And I believe that is detrimental to our well-being. I believe that this is why it seems that the mental health of people, at least in the so-called western world, is on a sharp decline. Not to mention the shape our bodies tend to take when we are on our devices for extended periods of time ...
When I get caught up on Instagram for any longer period than, let's say, three minutes, when I start following whims, hopping from feed to feed, checking out people I don't know, going onto feeds belonging to businesses I quickly start to feel really bad. I start to crave objects I see. I start to think of all the projects I'd like to start. This makes me stressed out. FOMA arises. I start to plan future trips. I realize yet again I am mega-shitty photographer. Etc. Etc. It's like binging on a bag of pick'n'mix candy. First, I get the rush of the sugar, then the queasy feeling in my belly, the headache.
I also know people who have built careers out of IG, and some of them do some really interesting things. I am happy for them.
But for me, all internet browsing/surfing in general, but IG in particular, makes me feel less grounded, less focused and more out of touch. If I want to feel better, I go for a walk, practice yoga, listen to music, meditate, connect with friends in real life.
I know it's not just me. Still, I'd love to hear your thoughts. <3