When does a distraction become an obsession?
I’ve been grappling with this concept recently. I had a moment of clarity after Eid, late one night scrolling through Twitter before bed. And then it kinda hit me – I don’t have to do this. I don’t need to be exhausted the next day. I can turn off the Instagram stories and Twitter memes and go to sleep – and sleep with more time to spare.
Actually get eight hours of sleep.
And of course, then I was like, yep no, that’s crazy. But in that moment, a seed was planted. As the quote goes; “An idea is like a virus. Resilient. Highly contagious. And even the smallest seed of an idea can grow. It can grow to define or destroy you.” Bit dramatic, I know, but it’s from a DiCaprio movie, what can you expect – but you get the idea. I was hooked.
Right on the cusp of Millennial and Generation Z, throwing my phone away sounded terrifying. Instead, I downloaded an app called “Block” and fasted from social media for a month. Instagram, Twitter and Facebook were under arrest.
The first few days were so disorientating. I’d be waiting for my last patient at work, sitting down at home, at lunch – with nothing to do. Cause what do you usually do? Take out your phone. Start clicking through people’s stories like the tabloid, examining your scrolling feed like the evening standard. Even if you aren’t absorbing anything.
When that’s not an option, I was talking out my phone, unlocking it, and realising I had nothing to do – like going to an arcade but all the machines are gone. It was no fun. So I’d lock it again and put it away.
I’d describe the experience like finishing exams. You’re ecstatic and amazed but you are suddenly left with a void of time and with no idea of how to fill it. And I’ll be honest, there was this weird Stockholm Syndrome type reflex left behind. I would try and open the apps mindlessly so many times. Or when you’ve a hilarious meme or a recipe bookmarked on a app and you’re blocked. That was frustrating. Other times, it was a social reflex, like in the queue at the shops or waiting for an appointment. I had to find alternatives – like cleaning my email inbox (jokes, ain’t no one gonna ever do that) or simply flicking through my gallery.
Did I get all the reading and writing done? No.
Actually, I started to see more. It’s almost like I wasn’t paying attention to life and all it’s quirks before. It was honing my skills of observation which was feeding back into a creativity muscle I didn’t use as much as I wanted to. I started to see more good and positivity again. I almost feel we are fed a narrative online as to why the world has done us, a minority, wrong – you almost forget about the 50 or so people you see daily who don’t treat you like a disrespected minority.
My Keep notes are littered with tweets I wanted to tweet, but they’re also littered with my words because I could actually remember anything original I was thinking or coming up with. I started to be more annoyed at people giving me 50 percent of their attention span. Glancing at your phone while we’re chatting – would you do that while driving? The answer is probably still yes – but that ain’t right either.
I’m not even mad at people, I’m mad we’ve normalised it as a community. If there’s no phones in a TV show or a movie, you know it’s old as hell. How is that right? We’re used to craning our necks down 30 degrees to look at another world of all of your friends and strangers 24/7, free of charge.
Once you remove yourself from the whirlwind, and place yourself back at the epicentre, you realise how bizzare of a whirlwind it is. I almost forgot to go back online. When I finally got the blocks off, I rejoined a weird and wonderful rat race – the memes were definitely missed, the misplaced righteousness was not. The first tweet I remember reading was someone lamenting about how X is done wrong and how it’s shameful to our ancestors because of X and how we can change it to X but we won’t because of z and we’re being held back by q and so on.
And it just hit me. It’s absolutely pointless. You’ve just wasted a well worded critical thought on me, someone who agrees with you, when there’s thousands out there who do not and who would be open to dialogue with you – but they are not on your friend list. There’s different profile picture colours in support of causes no one has any idea of, and it is not helping the soldiers on the battlefield. It’s not money or shelter, you know, concrete things that save lives on the ground…
In short, what did I miss? People preaching to the choir and the odd cheesecake picture. Your amazing beach holiday I did not experience with you and your wonderful view from your workplace that I do not work at. I missed all of your experiences with the world that you have repacked for my eyes – experiences I should instead hear from your mouths.
This is not communication, in fact, this is right back to the hieroglyphics type of comms they operated back in the day.
This life is way too short to waste it creating a beautiful Instagram feed. Just do it. But don’t take my word. Try it out. Some tips:
- Do not deactivate or delete accounts. Passwords are complicated. Just download an app that blocks certain app usage. Here’s the one I used.
- Carefully plan it so you don’t need to log back in. If you use social media for school/work, do times you’re off from school/work.
- Let your followers know. Some people will want alternate ways to contact you. Others will think you’ve been avoiding liking their pictures for a month and take it to heart… It’s 2019, people are sensitive, what you gonna do.