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Ben Peck

What happened when I went a week without social media

Could you go five days without social media? If you did, would you experience serene bliss or develop a stress ulcer? The average Australian spends the equivalent of one day a week online and uses social media more than any other nationality. Heavy social media use can have physical affects like strained vision or neck pain, but it also means we are retreating from the real world, which can have a psychological impact. Some experts argue there’s a real need to detox digitally, and others say there’s no serious reason for concern.

Since the jury is out, we decided to investigate matters ourselves. Ben Peck, 23, accepted the challenge to go a working week without social media and see what the affects would be, checking his dependence and whether he could even survive it. Peck, who is studying a Master of Commerce, with a major in eBusiness and social media strategies at Deakin University, shared his trials and revelations with us throughout the week.

Day one: Flipping the switch

Normally I check my phone each time I get a notification, and outside of that I check Facebook every 30 minutes, Snapchat every hour, Instagram every two hours and Twitter every four hours, so I feel anxious at the idea of taking five days off. I use social to contact people and stay up-to-date with my friends and the world, so I think I will feel a bit lost. I tell my close friends that I won’t be contactable on social media – they’ll have to text or email.

Right after deleting the apps, I feel liberated – as if I will immediately become more productive. But 30 minutes later I start to kick myself. I will miss Facebook the most because my friends organise social events and I won’t know what’s going on. After a few hours I imagine there is something that I’m missing out on already and I feel stressed about it. I try to distract myself by shopping online. I know that I’m probably not missing anything important, but I still feel the need to get back on and see what I’ve missed. When I go to bed I have an unsettling feeling because I always look at my accounts before going to sleep.

Day two: Reality hits

I use my phone as an alarm, so as soon as I turn that off I instinctively go to have a look on social media and check what has happened overnight before I remember the challenge. I replace looking at social media with reading my emails and checking the news. On the upside, I get out of bed much faster to start my day.

I’ve become more aware of how often people feel the need to check their phone. I catch up with some friends who are talking about a recent NBA video on Facebook and they ask if I’ve seen it – I haven’t, which is a strange feeling. Part of me is frustrated about having missed it, but I also realise that being unaware has no negative affect on my life.

In the evening I play basketball. My team has a private Facebook group where we discuss who will be available to play. When I turned up, a player says he wasn’t sure whether or not I was going to play because I had not responded to a post. Also, my girlfriend forgot that I was off social media and sent me a Snapchat asking me what I was doing that night. I never responded, so a couple of hours later she sent a text asking where I was.

Day three: Serious withdrawals  

I’m having both serious withdrawals and feelings of liberation. I catch public transport and then walk for about 10 minutes to get to my job in the city. I’m learning that it is unnecessary and sometimes dangerous to walk around city streets staring at (mostly useless) information on my phone.

I keep feeling tempted to log back in. When that happens I try to distract myself with a general internet fix. I’m also doing more exercise so I can’t use my phone.

Each day it becomes more obvious that I am too dependent on social media. Pulling myself out of that world makes me feel less like a drone, more creative and focused. However, at the same time my social life is completely dependent on social media for events, so I could never quit for good, but I could use it less frequently.

Day four: The home stretch

Today I’m feeling more at ease, which is probably a combination of getting used to being off social media and knowing I’ll be able to catch up on what I’ve missed after tomorrow.

A friend and I were planning to do something tonight, but it didn’t happen. He lost his phone last weekend and has been relying on Facebook to communicate with friends. Because he couldn’t reach me, we didn’t catch up.

There are advantages to taking some time out, though. I’ve noticed my attention span is slightly better, but I’m pretty good at procrastinating, so I’ve found other ways to waste my time. I’m also more relaxed than I was in the first few days.

I’m tempted to stay off social, but I don’t think I’ll have the strength to, and I don’t think that it’s a very wise decision, because it seems I’d be left out of the loop from time to time.

Day five: I’m back!

I’m pretty excited to log in at the end of the day and see what I missed. I feel like it will be a weight lifted off my shoulders, but I’m also vowing to use social less from now on.

I reinstall the apps and have 21 Facebook notifications and 16 Snapchats. My friends are organising to hang out tonight, so if I hadn’t returned I wouldn’t have known. I feel less anxious as soon as I’m up-to-date, but after seeing that I haven’t missed anything important, I’m again thinking about the amount of time I would have spent looking at my pages this week for a pretty small return.

I would like to think that I’ll be able to control myself a bit more, but if I’m being realistic, within a couple of weeks I’m likely to be back to using social media as much as I was previously. I’m going to set a reminder in my phone every few days telling me to use social less, so will see if that helps.

Tell us what you think

You can learn how to enact other meaningful changes one community at a time. Or gain insight into the ethics of death in the social media age via this great audio lecture. 

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