This month is the inaugural Scroll-Free September, a campaign launched by the Royal Society of Public Health to encourage the public to give up social media for 30 days.
According to a recent study, four in 10 people aged 15-24 feel they can’t live without social media.
Further recent research found that a quarter of women in their 30s check their phones over 200 times a day.
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I am about to turn 26 and relate to both findings in a big way. With this in mind, I am exactly the kind of person the team behind Scroll-Free September are trying to reach.
The trouble is, I have absolutely no desire to give up social media or my phone. Some people talk about how they long to go on a digital detox or to unplug for a weekend, but not me. The very prospect fills me with anxiousness, despite the fact that social media usage has been linked to a rise in self-esteem issues and mental health problems.
This, I realised, meant I probably should try to quit social media, so I reluctantly agreed to do so for a week.
Before I embarked on my social media-free mission, I spoke to digital detox expert and author of Stop Staring at Screens Tanya Goodin for her advice.
Goodin recommended I “impose friction” between myself and the social media apps “to make it hard when your resolve wanes to log back in.”
“Delete the apps but first logout and change the passwords (to something tricky you have to write down to remember) to make it a bit of a faff to get them up and running again,” she advises.
So on a Sunday evening, I reluctantly find myself bidding farewell to Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and a handful of dating apps too for good measure. It’s decided that I’m allowed to keep using Whatsapp as it’s not exactly a social network and is essentially just texting.
Here’s how I got on:
My alarm goes off and I reach for my phone as always only to find – no notifications. Usually I spend the first few minutes of the day replying to messages, checking alerts and catching up on what’s happened in the world while I’ve been asleep, but there’s none of that. I put the radio on and feel weird not knowing what’s happening on my social feeds.
I unintentionally leave for work early, having got ready quicker without social media to distract me.
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Usually I have things to do on my phone while walking to tube, but not today. I resort to actually looking at the world around me. It’s rather refreshing.
Upon exiting the tube after being underground for half an hour, I reach for my phone as always (surprisingly I’ve never connected to tube station Wi-Fi), but, yet again, there’s nothing to see. How disappointing.
As a journalist, using social media is a big part of the job, and it only takes five minutes in the office for me to realise how difficult work is going to be – I click a link on an article which, unbeknownst to me, takes me to Instagram. Argh! I panic and immediately shut everything down – not before I catch a glimpse of the little red love hearts telling me I have notifications though.
Despite having deleted all my apps, I realise I’m still automatically logged into all my social networks on my desktop computer. I swiftly log out of everything.
On a normal day, I’d have a quick scroll through Twitter and Instagram a few times a day to look for story inspiration and see what everyone’s talking about online. I dislike not being able to.
However I appear to be extra productive, writing more quickly than usual. This is despite the fact that I find myself reaching for my phone to check social media worryingly often.
By the evening, I’ve developed a bad headache. I never get headaches. It reminds me of when I briefly quit caffeine. Am I experiencing social media withdrawal symptoms?
I realise I can set my alarm a bit later thanks to not having social media, and I miss it a little bit less already. I do, however, keep thinking of things I want to tweet, and I am annoyed by not being able to.
In fact, one of my colleagues sends me a screengrab of a tweet she knew I’d appreciate. All I want to do is retweet it. But alas.
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In a similar vein, a friend sends me a screengrab of a vague school peer announcing her engagement on Facebook. To be honest, this is all I ever see on Facebook these days – engagements, weddings and babies – and one of the reasons I rarely use it any more.
Like many people, my default reaction when waiting to meet someone, for a bus to arrive or for the phone to ring is to scroll through social media. I genuinely have no idea what to do with myself now.
As I settle in to watch The Great British Bake Off that evening, I miss Twitter even more – one of the best parts of watching the show is following along on Twitter. It isn’t as fun.
Today I wear what I consider to be a particularly cute outfit. Narcissistic millennial that I am, I would normally post a snap or Boomerang on my Instagram story so all my followers can see how adorable my personal style is. Alas, I realise the #fans will just have to survive not knowing what I’m wearing.
I walk past what looks like a stylish soon-to-open cafe imploring people to follow them on Instagram. I can’t! To be honest I’m not sure I would even if I could, but the fact that I don’t have the option frustrates me.
I spend a couple of hours doing radio interviews with a few minutes to kill in between each one. It’s during these pockets of time that I think social media is particularly great usually – you don’t have long enough to do anything productive, but still have something to do. I resort to going through unread emails and deleting old pictures, which is actually more useful.
Despite still being on my phone, I find that I’m reaching for it less. The instinct is still there though, and I dislike feeling somewhat out of the loop and disconnected.
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Walking through the park, I realise I don’t bother taking pictures if I can’t post them on Instagram. What’s the point otherwise?
Out for dinner with a friend, my phone stays firmly in my bag (until dessert) and I don’t even think about it. Having not posted anything, my mind is free from obsessively wondering whether my latest post or tweet has reached 100 likes.
Things changed when my pudding arrived though – a banoffee sundae topped with a chocolate dome which would melt away when the hot salted caramel sauce was poured over it. Any keen Instagrammer would be able to see that it was calling out for a Boomerang, but after I take it, it just sits in the camera reel on my phone. I’ll never watch it again, and if I can’t post it, what was the point?
I’ve reached a point where it’s kind of nice being free from the constant notifications, but at the same time I miss it.
I get an automated email informing me of an important Twitter direct message I’ve received, but of course I can’t reply. I end up asking a colleague to tweet the person in question asking them to email me. It seems ridiculous and unnecessary, but we do it.
That evening, I sit down to enjoy a film, and actually manage to watch it properly without the usual impulse to pick up my phone every few minutes.
Every Friday morning, a new episode of our dating podcast, Millennial Love, comes out, which usually means I start the day promoting it on all the social networks. I feel bad that I can’t, but simultaneously enjoy not having to do it.
I had thought that by this point in the week I’d no longer find myself craving scrolling through social media when waiting for the kettle to boil or the microwave to ping, but this doesn’t seem to be the case.
I’m disgruntled not to be able to Instagram stalk the restaurant I’ll be visiting for brunch on Saturday and I find I still miss my pre-bed social media wind-down.
I’m going to a party this evening and soon realise all the information is on Facebook. Oh dear. I am forced to message my friend asking for her address and the timing. How terribly archaic and a mild inconvenience.
On the upside, I am saved from the usual perilous temptation of drunkenly posting on my Instagram story.
I am almost ashamed of how excited I am to redownload the apps – Sunday night can’t come round soon enough.
The first app I redownload is Instagram. The icon looks different, or is that just me? I’ve missed it. Annoyingly, the app doesn’t even show me all of my notifications, only the latest ones. I’ll never know what happened before then.
Incredibly, I’d actually gained followers. I had a bunch of messages too, and notifications telling me someone had mentioned me in their story, only for it to have disappeared before I got a chance to view it. The pain is real.
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Everything else, however, is the same. It’s comforting.
Back on Facebook I find a girl I don’t know any more has changed her name and got married, and now I genuinely can’t work out who she is. Good.
I have a load of notifications, a few friend requests and a handful of messages, but none of them is particularly interesting.
Logging back into Twitter is mildly more exciting, even though I realise there’s no point chiming in to conversations I’d been tagged in from days earlier because things move on so quickly.
But do I feel any different?
Not really. My overarching takeaway is that not being on social media is just annoying. Did I get more done without it? Possibly. But if my productivity was boosted it wasn’t by a huge amount.
I’d love to say I’m a changed woman and have changed my habits, but I haven’t. I still live for the ‘gram – and I probably always will.