Have you ever wanted to just escape from the digital era to a place and time where smartphones were not even invented? I sometimes do. With my phone I have this weird relationship in which I find it very useful to have; Google Maps and Wikipedia, for example have rescued me several times in awkward situations. The internet has a fun element as well: connecting to friends from all over the world. On the other hand, I really struggle with the feeling of being dependent on this little pocket machine. With a constant information supply, the internet is the ideal place to get lost and forget what you were aiming to do in the first place. For instance, when I grasp my phone to look up the time and a message pops up, I end up typing a response and completely forget to actually look up the time!
In the morning, in the afternoon and in the evening, I am always available at my phone. Checking my Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and e-mail I could easily fill the whole day, eager to soak up new information and afraid of missing out on something. At some point switching between social media, newsletters, blogs and videos, leaves me drained. Especially when I realize at the end of the day that I have not even started doing what I had planned to do; another day wasted on socializing. When I finally lay down my phone at night in order to go to sleep, I now feel how stressed I am. I say to myself: ‘I should really limit my smartphone use’, falling asleep with the thought: ‘I will start tomorrow’.
Am I so addicted to new information and being in contact all the time? And more importantly: How can I change this cycle?
In the morning, after a terrible night where anxious thoughts kept haunting me, I decide to leave my phone switched off for the whole day. At first I feel relieved and my mind starts to do some creative thinking: ‘Well… what to do now with my spare time? What do I want?’ Yet, being confronted with so much time makes me realize that there is no more distraction from the tasks I have been trying to avoid so desperately during the last weeks or even months. When I put myself to do some studying, writing a blog e.g., I realize how my imagination has been blowing up the task in my mind. What seemed so boring to do is actually quite fun if I just concentrate on the task.
Even though I am so much more productive without being online, I catch myself on desperately looking forward to switching my phone on again and seeing all the new messages. The more time passes, the more nervous I get. At some point my curious mind wins the battle and I give in. Time to switch on my phone. Exciting! I cannot wait to finally receive all the likes and lovely messages. While my phone is starting up, my heart is in my throat. ‘Will I even be missed? Did someone even notice I wasn’t there?’
As if my life is dependent on it, I wait for the first messages to come in. YES, I see a Whatsapp notification! When I click on it: ‘Oh, it is just Whatsapp making a back-up.’ Auch.
Sometimes messages do come in, mostly concerning study or just a brief ‘yes’ as a reply. Nevertheless it all ends up in the same feeling: ‘This is not what I expected.’ ‘Others have way more interesting lives than I do. I am replaceable and unimportant.’ In other words: ‘I am not worthy enough.’
The painful that realization may be, it is something to take account of. Why am I feeling this way when my phone does not show an overload of messages? Am I so addicted to new information and being in contact all the time? And more importantly: How can I change this cycle?
After some introspection, I come to the conclusion that the feeling of not being missed is closely tied to the feeling of social rejection. Not a new feeling for me. Painful memories come to the surface of me at primary school standing alone during breaks after having an argument with my friends. A deep sadness reveals itself. Am I subconsciously using social media for the purpose of seeking social confirmation? To prove that I am no longer that lonely person I once was? Every time I get rejected or ignored, I notice the same feeling again. The invention of social media, therefore is not any different in the sense that the feeling of loneliness online is similar to real life. In fact, social media gives us a solution to stay in contact with people around you and even make new friends. Amazing how it could solve the problem of loneliness!
The virtual space may even more be a place of social interaction than our physical life is. However, making us connect more often with other people has a downside to it. Social media makes it easier for us to experience moments of social gratification (through likes and comments e.g.). On the other side of the coin we may also experience more frequently a feeling social rejection (a lack of likes e.g.). Finding a balance in our life online is just as in real life key to living a fulfilling life.
Perhaps, we’ve been paying so much attention to social connections that we have all massively avoided to ask ourselves one essential question: What is it really that I want to achieve in life?