Why pulling away from social media matters


Ten years on from the rise of social media, we are still in uncharted waters over its use. Can religion and faith be a guide on how to use social media?…

Why does a twenty-something, with a brand new job at one of the world’s most prestigious publications, break down when he gets home? In fits of tears, jittery at best, angry at worst. This was what I was feeling in the autumn of 2015 – too tired to enjoy my weekends yet wishing I could escape the drudgery. The reason was simple: from 10am to 6pm everyday, Monday to Friday, I was juggling Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and LINE. Pumping out tweets and posts. Once work has ceased for the day, I’d jump on social media to again scroll for anything and everything, filling silence. I was reacting. Reactive by day, reacting by night. Even when I had not needed to be, reacting became solidified in what was supposed to be time to wind down.

It was precisely this scenario that led me to what may seem an unreasonable spring time 2016 (nothing ever works in the new year) resolution: limit Facebook posts to a maximum of 12 for the year, averaging one a month. How could I do that when I’d been posting everything about my life every couple of hours since Zuckerberg gave birth to his tech-baby? Facebook can be seen through two groups; those that post every day (or indeed multiple times a day), and the silence ones – you know they’re there but no semblance of activity whatsoever. And never the twain shall they meet in the middle. Or so I thought.

Come December 2016, mission accomplished. Between March and January 2016, exactly twelve posts – the same total as three months previous. So, why does this matter? Social media is ephemeral and we should treat it as such, right?

Let me be clear, pulling away from Facebook, or any other platform, is not the same as abstaining. Pulling away ensures that when you do return to the fold, writing becomes crisper enriching thoughtful posts. Giving voice to our inner thoughts requires clarity. The need to step away is not only urgent, it is a basic human need. In a world valuing the reactive, stepping away is best practice. Opportunism turns to addiction. Celebrity trolls are at the most extreme end of a culture that rewards addiction. Whilst many of us won’t go as far, it’s the little things that add up.

Social media can be a powerful tool not just for societal change. It can also be a chance of giving your own personal thoughts an inner monologue shape and frame. Indeed, the two are not in opposition. Daily chatter may seem like your needs are being fulfilled. By stepping away and posting only the important things that matter, I only give way to an unrushed, deeper approach to a transient medium. It’s not a holy-than-thou sermon. It’s just a way of enriching every single second I have on this planet.

My faith, consciously or unconsciously, plays a role in stepping back on social. It may even inform your actions. If Islam has a synonym, it would be moderation. Finding harmony in the everyday – enjoying life, it’s pleasures, taking part in a myriad of discourse, all without excess. A hadith (prophetic saying) goes by the words “speak a good word or remain silent”. The Qu’ran equally informs us of the importance of moderation:

“No good is there in much of their private conversation, except for those who enjoin charity or that which is right, or bring reconciliation between people. And whoever does that seeking Allah’s pleasure, then we shall grant him a great reward.” [ Sûrah al-Nisâ’ : 114]

As a hyper-sensitive person – not of words, but in the physical, insomnia wracked sense, the change in light or loud music making me anxious type – the reward is calm serenity, in the here and now. Reducing the heart pumps, the clenched fist, the edginess. An intake of breath. Right now, I feel free without the feeling of scratching social media itch. Harmony is control.

Life is made up of small gestures. Call it a ripple effect if you will. A coin may be tiny, but it’s drop will be felt in the ocean long after it was thrown. The same metaphor should be for the tiniest of our actions. A 2015 study by Deloitte claimed the average person checks their phone 46 times per day. Some 23 days of the year are lost simply to the mere act of checking. I’m sure its more – I know I am prone to checking my phone every 2-5 minutes at worst. Most of the time, we are checking on nothing, but waiting for a notification. It may seem innocuous, but it all adds up in the shape of reliance, and as a consequence, our mental health. That, surely, is more important than anything.

As Elvis once said, a little less conversation, a little more action. So, today, give your hands and mind more rest than you do. And tomorrow. And the day after. Yes, keep in tune to the news, dip into conversations – but don’t ignore your environment and most of all, yourself. Less clenching your hands and more looking within. Limits are a measure of proactivity rather than reactive. Harmonious thoughts will flow, clarity comes. With it, you may just find ideas for a book, a project, or feel at one with yourself. That feeling is truth; truth is beauty, and beauty is truth, as Keats said. This little blog post only came about thanks to cutting back on the digital and realigning with my environment. I feel the tingles in my palms, my fingers, and now I’m floating, as I take in London sunshine. Heck, this calls for a Facebook post…