What I Learned From A Year Off Social Media | sheerluxe.com
They're linked to low self-esteem, insomnia and anxiety, but for most of us our social media accounts are an extension of ourselves – and a way to keep our fingers on the pulse of all things fashion, beauty and travel. So, what happened when SL’s Lifestyle Editor Heather Steele took on the ultimate digital detox and deleted her accounts for a year? Find out…
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In 2017, social media users spent an average of 135 minutes a day endlessly switching between Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter. While no official stats have yet been released, I suspect that number only increased in 2018. When I look back to the period between Christmas and New Year 2017, this was me – scrolling aimlessly through these apps in a bid to combat post-festive ennui. Dismayed by the realisation I was just listlessly scrolling and scrolling – with little to no pleasure from anything I saw – I deactivated my Facebook and Instagram accounts then and there and decided to give up social media until the end of January.
 
For full disclosure, I should reveal that I did keep my Twitter account. As a journalist I see it as a professional tool, rather than one I use for personal interactions. While I’m still graced with cat videos each day, Twitter is the place I go to for breaking news, links to long-form journalism by some of my favourite writers and, as part of The Brief team here at SheerLuxe, essential up-to-date political goings on. In short, for me Twitter is an extension of LinkedIn – a place to find contacts for stories, (attempt to) stay on top of Brexit and read, read, read. I’ve also never had Snapchat, so there was no need to hit delete when it came to that particular app.
 
Perhaps given my long-held issues with elements of social media (more on those later), it shouldn’t have been much of a surprise that once January was up, I found I hadn’t really missed the apps at all. So, I decided to continue my self-imposed digital detox, transforming my one-month challenge into a year-long endeavour to see how my relationship with both my phone and the Internet transformed without the presence of Instagram and Facebook, both mainstays on my three-hour daily commute and in my interactions with friends and acquaintances. Here’s what I learned along the way…

You’ll miss birthdays…

And friends will miss yours, too. The irony wasn’t lost on me that my biggest birthday in nine years – my 30th – was also my least celebrated. At least online, anyway (my IRL reality was, thankfully, very different). In all, I think I received around ten texts, compared to the usual 50-plus “HB!” messages whenever Facebook alerted my long-lost friends online. On the plus side, I didn’t have to endure those birthday collages well-meaning mates often to post on your wall – you know, the ones where they look great, but you look shite. Every cloud…
 

FOMO will become a thing of the past…

When it comes to online-organised birthdays/house parties/random gatherings, chances are you probably won’t receive an invitation. Why? Because organisers tend to select invitees from the list of names in front of them. One of the worst aspects of giving up my Facebook profile was meeting up with people and being asked why I didn’t come to their party or gig – something, it transpired, they’d only shouted about online.
 
But when it comes to FOMO (fear of missing out), or that niggling envy we all occasionally feel when we see our friends posting pictures of events we knew nothing about, consider this: FOMO doesn’t exist if you don’t know what you’re missing.
 
A case in point. My ex and I left things on good terms. Over our four-year relationship, we amassed a huge gang of friends, all of whom I followed on Facebook and Instagram. I was genuinely happy for him when he got a new girlfriend. But what really stung was having to see their relationship unfold over the various timelines of my friends – and at events I hadn’t been invited to. The real kicker was bearing witness to a Timehop photo – from when we’d recently broken up – and seeing them all, new squeeze included, grinning out of my screen. No one wants to see that – but in order to avoid that kind of content, I’d need to mute everyone in that friendship group. Impossible. By taking a step away from all photo-sharing sites, I’ve been spared such shockers (and no doubt dozens of other NFI moments) and can honestly say I feel much happier for being kept in the dark.
 

Your self-esteem will skyrocket…

While I’ve never been one to take selfies (I have nothing against them, they’re just not for me), as I’m not a celeb or influencer, I’ve never experienced online trolls or cyberbullying – social media’s most publicised con. However, one of the biggest benefits I’ve experienced during my time away from social media is what experts call the ‘social comparison cycle’. You know that feeling when you’re having a dull Sunday cleaning your rented flat, but everyone else you know is on holiday, decorating their huge new home or downing mimosas at brunch, surrounded by girlfriends? Now I no longer see this on a daily basis I’ve found I’m not as prone to negatively comparing my normal life with someone else’s ‘perfect’ one. As a result, I’d say I feel much more content with my lot.
 

Seeing your friends will be even better…

It sounds obvious but allowing yourself to take a break from every detail of your friends’ lives makes face-to-face meetings so much more interesting. For a start, you actually have new things to catch up on. I’ve also noticed people are much more likely to open up and go into detail about what’s going on in their lives if you ask: “How are you? What have you been up to?” rather than exclaiming “I saw you went to Ibiza – it looked incredible!" On the flipside, you won’t have a clue what random former colleagues or school friends – and their associated ever-photographed broods – are up to, but to be honest, if you never see them in real life, who cares?
 

You’ll save money…

Now that I’m not being bombarded with images of covetable clothing, beauty bargains and snaps of must-visit attractions, I’ve found that my online shopping habit has gathered dust. Now, I’ll only look at websites if I’m in need of something (or I’ve spotted something on SheerLuxe), rather than because I’ve seen the ultimate T-shirt on Instagram. The same can also be said for tattoos. Now I’m not following a (rather substantial) collection of tattoo artists, I’ve found my inspiration – and therefore bookings – has been curbed. Excellent news for my bank balance – and my mother.
 

You’ll find new ways to document your life…

I reckon one reason I found my 12 months in the digital wilderness rather easy was because I started writing a daily diary on 1st January 2018. While these two resolutions were in no way connected to begin with, they soon combined as I used my diary to record exactly what I’d been up to, instead of relying on my Instagram feed and Timehop notifications.
 
The true test of my willpower came in July, when me and my five closest friends went on a two-week road trip of California to celebrate turning 30. From snap-worthy dishes through to girls’ night-out shots, I’d previously have spent much of my time away roaming for the perfect online memento. Without a digital following to entertain, I found I felt less compelled to take photos on the trip, save for the occasional silly group shot or spontaneous moment. If I’d been on my own, perhaps it would have been different, however – with five friends all armed with smartphones – my contributions felt superfluous.
 
Soon, we had a ritual of sharing the day’s images via WhatsApp each night: I quickly realised we didn’t need six photos of the same tourist hotspots, and instead focused on putting my memories on paper. Instagram might be a hotbed of travel inspiration, but there’s something to be said for wandering unknown streets in search of the best under-the-radar tacos in San Francisco that you’ve only heard about because a local let you in on a secret. I’m hoping that years down the line, my written account will prove a more thoughtful way of remembering what happened on the trip than poring over staged photos.
 

You’ll find other things to do…

In the week, I commute for over three hours a day – that’s a lot of time to keep hitting refresh. So, what do you do when you suddenly find yourself with 15 hours of free time? For some it might be podcasts or crosswords, but for me it was books. I read so much more fiction in 2018 than I have over the last few years (highlights include Sally Rooney’s Normal People and Holly Bourne’s How Do You Like Me Now?). I also found myself signing up for more online newsletters and reading more magazines.
 
In fact, I found that my phone usage in general decreased enormously, especially at home where its sole purpose became a glorified alarm clock. I started going to bed earlier, read in bed on weekend mornings and started listening to music more on the train. Rather than turning up at work for nine-hours of screen time, feeling drained from scrolling images, I found I hit my desk feeling inspired by what I’d read and heard.
 

It doesn’t have to be forever…

When I originally began my digital break, it was meant to be for a year. I always intended to rejoin on January 1st 2019… but somehow haven’t. Having had a whole year off – and counting – I’ve found that I don’t miss Facebook in the slightest, and once I’ve grabbed all my hideous yet hilarious uni photos off my profile, I’ll be deleting it for good. When it comes to real life, I see, text and call the people I really care about, so I’m no longer worried about being out of the loop. Apart from forgetting the odd birthday here and there, I suspect I won’t regret it at all.
 
Then there’s Instagram. While I’m not ruling out, if I do return, I’ll definitely be implementing some barriers (there are mute and unfollow buttons for a reason) and a daily time limit. There’s a wealth of inspiration to be found on Instagram, and as a writer, I feel I need to immerse myself once more. Even so, the idea of putting myself out there – posting my first photo in over a year, complete with a considered caption – feels overwhelming and slightly performative. Watch this space.

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