When was the last time you confronted yourself about your social media addiction? Perhaps your next holiday to a country where there is no access to western social media outlets will put you to the test. Jen Ng explains.
Social media is toxic. So toxic that we may never realise its reality warping control over our lives, or perhaps will never want to admit to it. Social media has helped us connect with the world and adversely conditioned us to feel lost if we are forced to disconnect.
I travelled to China quite recently for a family holiday and I have one regret – I wish I never discovered that hotel in the province which had access to Facebook. You see, China has blocked all Western social media, which can only be accessed through a virtual private network or VPN.
It was an accidental discovery that was to rattle my otherwise freed mental state. I already said my goodbyes to friends and work commitments, accepting my fate of a social media-less trip. Yet here I was anxiously awaiting the next opportunity to check Facebook, because when you know something is not truly gone, how can you ever say goodbye?
Social media is so ingrained in our daily life. Personally, it keeps me company when I’m on my own, it gives me validation when people ‘like’ my status (don’t lie, we all feel something when this happens to us) and it gives me an escape from the mundane moments of life; I’m able to mindlessly attach myself to the lives of others to forget about my ‘problems’.
Sure, the reality is that holidays have their ups and downs, with moments you are bored out of your mind. But there are plenty of ways to satisfy your boredom that doesn’t cause you to detach from the moment and your environment, like you would with social media.
You can talk to people or go for a walk to see the local surroundings – there are so many opportunities to learn, to experience something different and to still relax if you’re not up for something up-tempo. What’s the point of paying hundreds or thousands of dollars to travel, only to end up staring at a screen for most of the trip – you could be doing that for free back home.
Sharing my sentiments is my friend Cynthia Luong, 20. On a recent trip to Thailand with a university group, Cynthia found herself connected to social media but soon realised that there were more important things to do.
“I spent the first two days writing in my blog and then I kind of had a shift in perspective and was like ‘Why am I wasting my time held up in my room typing up all this stuff when I really could be outside exploring Thailand, experiencing the markets, really immersing myself in it and talking to people,’” she says.
It seems that when you’re on holidays, people wait for you to post a photo or amazing story from your travels; to give them an opportunity to escape from their ordinary life into yours. This social pressure means that you can feel like you’ve let yourself and others down when you fail to share something exciting, especially when you made a promise to keep people posted about your experiences.
The need to capture a ‘happy’ moment or at least recreate it for the purpose of sharing it on social media, says a lot about our dependence on this online platform to give us validation – it’s not enough to be happy, we have to justify it to others. As Cynthia explains: “I feel like on social media we project ourselves to be more spontaneous and more active than we actually are. I mean, my trip was amazing in its own right, but I guess I liked projecting that image as well to my social media of having an adventure.”
According to a report by the Department of Behavioural Science at Utah Valley University in the US: “Those who have used Facebook longer agreed more that others were happier, and agreed less that life is fair.” The study also found that those who had added people that they did not personally know on Facebook as “Friends” agreed more that others had better lives – not only do we care about other people’s lives, we care more about those we don’t even know properly because our only understanding of them is based on the careful construction of their life.
With the lives of others to compete with, when we manage to capture a photo that best represents what we experienced, we are left feeling more alone when people don’t reciprocate our efforts – in a way we feel rejected and that our efforts were in vain when people don’t ‘like’ or comment. So have a think, are you posting on social media to seek validation from yourself or from others?
If social media is dictating what you see and do on a holiday then it’s time to confront yourself about your addiction – would you rather embrace the moment for what it is or feel the need to include social media in making it the best experience possible? My advice is to detach from social media or risk detaching from what really matters. It’s not everyday that you get to go on a holiday, so embrace it for what it really is and not what you think others expect it to be.