So­cial me­dia re­volt: why some of us mil­len­ni­als are hit­ting delete

Grow­ing num­bers of stu­dents are un­happy with the con­stant pres­sure ex­erted by Face­book, Snapchat and In­sta­gram, ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey. Ru­pen G Kalsi, a 21-year-old blog­ger, ex­plains why she de­cided to turn off her phone and join a counter-cul­ture that wan

The Observer - - IN FOCUS -

Check­ing my In­sta­gram feed and Snapchat used to be as vi­tal as my morn­ing cof­fee. A cur­sory In­sta­gram scroll warmed me from within and Snapchat’s 10-sec­ond sound­bites pro­vided a caf­feine shove into re­al­ity.

Not any more. To use an ana­logue turn of phrase, a switch has been flicked in my mind: I no longer want to be so con­nected.

A study of 5,000 stu­dents com­mis­sioned by Dig­i­tal Aware­ness UK and the Head­mas­ters’ and Head­mistresses’ Con­fer­ence found that 63% said they would not care if so­cial me­dia did not ex­ist and a whop­ping 71% had taken a break from so­cial me­dia. They join celebri­ties such as Kanye West, Justin Bieber and Lind­say Lo­han, who have all un­der­gone some form of dig­i­tal detox.

It seems as if we coun­ter­cul­tural mil­len­ni­als may re­ally be on to some­thing. Speak­ing to the Times on Fri­day, the tech en­tre­pre­neur Sean Parker, one of the pi­o­neers of Face­book, ad­mit­ted the site was de­signed to keep peo­ple hooked in a “so­cial val­i­da­tion feed­back loop” that con­sumes “as much of your time and con­scious en­ergy as pos­si­ble”.

This same model, also used by the gam­bling in­dus­try, has been in­cor­po­rated into the struc­ture of so­cial me­dia out­lets such as In­sta­gram and Twit­ter to keep users us­ing. Snapchat has come un­der fire for en­cour­ag­ing ex­ces­sive use with its Snap­streak fea­ture that keeps count of the num­ber of mes­sages sent be­tween friends. In­sid­i­ous stuff.

So I ap­pear to be part of a nascent back­lash. But up un­til Septem­ber, I de­lighted at the sounds of my phone charg­ing, buzzing and bleep­ing by my bed­side table all night ev­ery night. I looked for­ward to burst­ing with a tap of my fin­ger those lit­tle red glob­ules it col­lected while I slept. So what hap­pened?

Mov­ing back home af­ter grad­u­at­ing is a grim re­al­ity, one not re­flected in the triple-fil­tered pho­tos I looked at ev­ery morn­ing, mid-morn­ing, af­ter­noon and evening. In­flu­encers in­flu­enced, va­ca­tion­ers va­ca­tioned and the movers and shak­ers among my friends posted in­spi­ra­tional quotes in curly fonts. But even when life was good, looking at In­sta­gram al­ways made me feel bad about my lot. Like by like and com­ment by com­ment, I re­alised In­sta­gram was the su­per­sized ver­sion of keep­ing up with the Jone­ses, where thou­sands of gar­den fences stretched ready to peer over, re­flect­ing bet­ter and brighter realities than mine.

Those three- to five-sec­ond snaps of peo­ple’s lives be­gan to feel like dis­ap­point­ing fore­play that never ma­te­ri­alised into a phone call or even a text con­ver­sa­tion. The at­trac­tion of the “story” fea­ture, which en­sures that all drunken an­tics are avail­able for your friends to see in the morn­ing, be­gan to fade.

The tip­ping point came in the form of a break-up with my boyfriend. Amid snotty tis­sues and a DVD of Love

Ac­tu­ally, I took the ad­vice of a friend

and de­cided I didn’t want to scour my ex’s In­sta­gram or Snapchat. I deleted both the apps. I didn’t want to watch his life un­fold with­out me and I re­ally didn’t want peo­ple to watch mine ei­ther. If all life’s a stage, I’m a drama school dropout knock­ing the Baf­tas off the shelves on the way out.

So it was good­bye, Snapchat and In­sta­gram, and hello to the sound of my own thoughts in the morn­ing. Ini­tially, my with­drawal symp­toms hit hard. My thumb trem­bled above the void where my apps used to be and I put my phone down only to pick it up and stare at the gap once again. The next week I went on hol­i­day and grieved at the ab­sence of those In­sta-wor­thy pho­tos that would re­main im­per­fect, un­fil­tered and un­liked by my fol­low­ers. The drinks at the bar were un-Snapchat­ted, the funny sound­bites un­recorded and I felt a strange re­lief ac­cept­ing the tran­sience of life’s mo­ments.

I missed the out­fits of my favourite in­flu­encers and the ugly chin self­ies sent to and re­ceived from my friends daily. But I didn’t miss the pres­sure to re­act to ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing, be it with likes or emo­jis. The ra­dio si­lence on my phone forced me to do other things, like read more and meet peo­ple to find out what they were up to.

Though I did not de­ac­ti­vate my Face­book ac­count, I deleted the app and cleansed my friends’ list of peo­ple with whom I had quite ten­u­ous con­nec­tions. When delet­ing I asked my­self: “Would I go to their fu­neral if they died?” If the an­swer was yes, they stayed.

I kept Twit­ter, partly be­cause I re­ally bloody love can­did pic­tures of Jeff Gold­blum. This mil­len­nial couldn’t af­ford a to­tal with­drawal from so­cial me­dia. Be­sides, how would I re­mem­ber my friends’ birth­days if not through my Face­book cal­en­dar?

Any­way, it ap­pears I’m keep­ing dis­tin­guished com­pany in my new-found so­cial-me­dia-scep­tic phase. Speak­ing to the mag­a­zine

Al­ter­na­tive Press last week, Rob Dami­ani, front­man of the band Don Broco, said his back­log of so­cial me­dia cor­re­spon­dence stopped him get­ting out of bed be­cause “so much is ex­pected of you”. Don Broco are so pas­sion­ate about the all-con­sum­ing maw of smart­phone ad­dic­tion that the video of their lat­est sin­gle, Stay Ig­no­rant, shows a pre­oc­cu­pied smart­phone user fail­ing to no­tice the alien in­va­sion hap­pen­ing around them.

My so­cial me­dia was a quiet revo­lu­tion, done be­cause I didn’t want to feel the con­stant weight of com­par­i­son on my shoul­ders, or feel com­pelled to check how many friends had watched what I did af­ter four glasses of wine.

I died a so­cial me­dia death on a brisk Septem­ber day. But through that with­drawal I feel as if I’ve got my­self back.

Pho­to­graph by David Levene for the Ob­server

Ru­pen Kalsi, left, and Camilla Ack­ley make their liv­ing from so­cial me­dia but have cut back on time spent on­line.

Art of con­trol: Face­book pi­o­neer Sean Parker, below

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