Just over a month ago, I finished my last class of the day, walked across the road, and caught the bus.
Habit kicked in straight away – I grabbed an apple from my bag, put my headphones in and caught up on everything that had happened in the two hours I was in class. And by ‘caught up’, I mean scroll through social media to pass the time…
Something happened, like a car honking, or maybe someone sneezed (maybe it was fate), but I momentarily looked up. It was in this time that I thought, ‘Wow, we’re already almost at my next stop’ after thirty minutes travel, along with, ‘Every single person on this bus is looking at a screen.’
The little old lady sitting at the front of the bus, the boy next to me, the man in a suit standing up, and the girl in her school uniform who would’ve been no older than eight.
If I hadn’t looked up at that exact moment, I probably wouldn’t be here writing this. I would be scrolling through one of the many platforms that are under the bracket of social media.
I was twelve when I caught my first glimpse of Facebook. I was sleeping at my sister’s house, and she was showing me photos of our cousins in America. I hadn’t seen photos of them in months, let alone ones that were taken just a few hours ago. It was exciting to have this burst of intimacy and suddenness! It was all happening right away. I couldn’t wait to turn thirteen to sign up and to see all my family every day, even if it was through a screen.
Eight years later, and I have accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Tumblr, as well as YouTube and music sites.
Every now and then over the past year, I would log off and make a vow to spend more time offline. More often than not, I’d get a message from someone saying, ‘omg checkout Sam’s new photo, I can’t believe it’, or, ‘Sam’s snapchat story is so funny’. So I would quickly download the app again, sign in, and look at it. I would be back on. Until I had my next daylong moment of inspiration, that is.
But this time was different. I logged off of everything and deleted all the apps. I deleted everything, but when it got to Messenger, the Facebook chat, I hesitated. I had to keep it. I had group assignments and that was how we communicated. There were friends overseas that I wouldn’t have any point of communication with if it weren’t for Facebook. I forgave myself in advance, and let myself have this. It wasn’t as if I could scroll through it. It was almost a necessity. I cringed thinking that. I’m still cringing at how true it is.
However, life went on. Friends would still send me messages to check something on one of the many platforms of social media, and I would say, ‘Sorry, I don’t have it anymore. Screenshot it for me!’ A couple of people would question why I’d deleted them. A couple congratulated me and said that they needed to have a detox, too. It was all pretty tame, until someone was borderline aggressive with it.
‘Why? How are you going to keep up to date?! I’m not going to be the communicator. Ha! No social media. You’ll be back on in a couple of days.’ This wasn’t a direct quote, but it’s the basic outline of what was said.
I realised that it was ‘cool’ if George Ezra or Harry Styles had offline time, but if it was just me – regular Caitlin – taking time offline suddenly wasn’t so cool.
This brings me to my other point – face-to-face time.
This is a hard one. Like I said before, if it wasn’t for Facebook, I wouldn’t be in contact with friends or family interstate or overseas. I would lose contact with a lot of my nearest and dearest, and unless I was going to give them a call on their home phone each night (or maybe twice a day), they wouldn’t know half of the things I do.
It brings intimacy. It brings suddenness. I stand by it, and I’m so happy that I get to see how my cousin in Victoria is going, what my friend in England has done on the weekend, and see my favourite artist’s new piece.
It’s a two-way street though. If a friend and I spend three hours texting, we could’ve gone out for coffee and gotten through a lot more topics. I could’ve looked at their face and appreciated their beauty, and the way they move when they become passionate about the latest talking point.
Yes, the world has changed, and that is a fantastic thing. It ought to be celebrated. But it’s important to simplify. Put the phone down and step away. So often the case of spending hours scrolling mindlessly is due to boredom.
After three weeks off social media, I’ve re-downloaded Instagram. I occasionally check Facebook and I haven’t looked at anything else. I’ve realised their use and I’m more aware of my online time.
If I’m bored and reach for my phone now, I’ll think about my seven-year-old self.
There wasn’t enough time in each day for the things I wanted to see and do. I would watch TV for an hour or two at night and might’ve played a game of snake on dad’s phone. The rest of my time was spent making noise, writing, reading, drawing, running, climbing, and dreaming of big mountains and even bigger ocean waves. Now, at twenty, I can make noise on a few instruments, write more, have a huge stack of books to read and a library card, have a cupboard dedicated to my drawing and painting tools, can still run, can still climb, and can delve into the mountains or waves at any time I choose.
But chances are, I’ll want to take a snap of the view and share it on Instagram.
I don’t have a solution, and it’s tricky no matter what stance you take on it. There are pros and cons – but everything has those.
Maybe all I can do for now is log out more. Look up more. Realise that there are bigger things than what’s happening on your phone. Make plans to see people’s faces. Hike a mountain or swim in the sea more.
Words by Caitlin Tait