It all started when I got pregnant. As one of the blessed 15 per cent of pregnant women who are not affected by morning sickness, my biggest challenge was trying not to fall asleep halfway through the degustation menu at Les Amis. By the end of my first trimester I had happily embraced falling asleep on my husband’s lap while watching Netflix. Until the next morning, that is. That was when I would be reminded by Instagram on just how much I had missed out on what happened the night before.
To put matters in perspective, I’m proud to say that I am not afraid of FOMO (fear of missing out). But nine months before my baby arrives is a long time, and as my days and nights blurred into the same old routine of eating, sleeping and repeating the process, it was Instagram that kept me updated on exactly what so and so wore to attend a birthday party and people who were there. Like a drug, Instagram had me craving the next post or IG story but they always left me deeply unsatisfied. I chalked it up to pregnancy hormones playing mind tricks on my otherwise sanguine psyche.
Earlier this year during Lent (from Ash Wednesday in March leading up to Easter Sunday in April), the thought of giving up social media struck me. To the uninitiated, Lent is the period of time (40 days) when Christians all over the world reflect on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and how he was tempted for 40 days in the desert by Satan. Some people fast during Lent while others give up something meaningful. Some people make a promise to stop smoking, drinking alcohol, wearing or even eating chocolates. Given that I was already with child, giving up both alcohol and chocolate were a given. It then dawned on me that if I could give up social media and avoid the temptation of solicited voyeurism for 40 days and nights, I just might reach a peaceful state of mind or maybe even become one step closer to Nirvana. My sentiment was green-lit by my husband when I broached the subject over dinner a few days before Lent (on his part I demanded he give up his cigars). He thought it would be a great experiment, if only to see whether I was capable of keeping my hands out of the cyber cookie jar, so to speak.
In this digital age where our worlds are ruled by mobile phones and the variety of apps available, building a relationship is expedited rapidly. We are quick to profess our love for someone on the world wide web, whether through abbreviations (Luv U) or an emoji, but how much of our online alter egos equate to who we are in real life? There is an average of 95 million posts on Instagram with users engaging with 4.2 billion posts every day. Users spend an average of 53 minutes per day on Instagram and 20 minutes on Facebook. Multiply that by 365 and that’s 18-and-a-half days spent entirely on two social media platforms. Studies have shown that the chemical dopamine, which creates the feelings of pleasure, is released when we are on social media because platforms like Facebook and Instagram, activate the rewarding centres in our brains. The high from dopamine is the reason why we cannot ignore a social media alert and why our fingers itch to keep scrolling. Studies have also shown that 50 per cent of Facebook and Twitter users confess that social media is affecting their self esteem when they compare their lives and achievement to that of their online friends. Like any addiction, our love of social media is not without side effects. But unlike other addictions, social media does not come with any warning labels.
Without endless hours of scrolling through feeds and liking many obligatory posts, I was now free to work on my Young Adult novel, read books (100 years of Solitude) and keep up with current affairs. I also spent more time preparing meals for my husband and kids as well as being more present with them. I was feeling so very positive about all the upsides that I almost didn’t realise the radio silence from my “gals”. Has my disappearing act from cyberspace rendered me forgotten? What began as a bit of a funny challenge was turning out to be a far more important wake up call. I was determined to wait out 40 days of incognito and then shame all these fair-weathered friends. As they say, hell hath no fury like a (pregnant) woman scorned!
By the end of 40 days, I was over the initial rage, residual hurt and eventual letdown. I no longer felt the need to keep up with what my so-called friends were up to, and the urge to go on Instagram waned too. Maybe I was missing out but why should I be so bothered by it? Surely some things are worth missing out on where they’re not documented on social media. Some of my best moments happened when I was at my most un-photogenic; snuggling with my kids in my threadbare pyjamas, debating the latest Trump fiasco with my husband or simply enjoying the moment, completely forgetting where I had left my phone. Those moments might not make the cut for social media but they are the ones that will stay with me. Would I trade those precious moments of love and laughter for a glamorous envy-inducing photo on IG? Life is not always picture perfect and we used to be okay with that. But are we still okay with it now? If chasing perfection is like quicksand and we are all old enough and wise enough to know that, why then do we willingly continue down the rabbit hole?
The reality is we do not need the approval of near strangers to preserve our sense of self worth. Life is not a popularity contest and if it was, winning certainly does not guarantee you a happy ending. Being at the top of your game on social media only means you cannot step away — not even for a short 40 days — because if you do, you will be, heaven forbid, forgotten. And what about all those Insta-friends? The mercurial nature of their “friendship” finally made me realise that it’s the quality, not the quantity, which matters in the end.
At the end of my mini digital detox, I can now count on two hands who my real friends are, and I am okay with that. In fact, I’ve decided to extend my sabbatical on social media. Call me old fashion but I find my life in real time that much more exciting than the glitzy one I lead online.