Social media use has climbed exponentially and is everywhere in our lives. Facebook now has over 1.7 billion users, Instagram has 500 million filter-loving users and Twitter's 313 million users tweet 500 million tweets over the course of a year. That's a lot of cat memes being shared every day around the world.
Now, I like social media. I like the fact that I can keep in contact with friends around the world. In fact, social media has so many roles to play that can be incredibly positive. Social media can be used for social causes, spreading information, connecting people all over the world.
My own social media use has introduced me to colleagues around the world, some of whom I have met and even become friends with. As part of #ILookLikeASurgeon I have met more female surgeons from all over the world, many more than I have met in my whole career. Connections I've made there have provided me with so many opportunities that otherwise wouldn't have come up.
Social media has some very important downsides, though. Social media can be used for nefarious purposes including bullying, trolling and to commit crimes, including horrific things such as assaults. Aside from these more serious problems, social media can worsen anxiety in susceptible people, can worsen our ability to have face-to-face social interactions and can expose us to unrealistic expectations from picture-perfect feeds. It can also have a negative impact on our relationships and is an incredible time sink.
Anyway, this weekend I decided to have some time away from Facebook specifically. I just had this sudden urge to disconnect for a while.
You see, 2016 has been what you might call a pretty turbulent year. Or I could be actually honest and say that it has been absolutely bloody awful. Now, this is not the fault of social media, nor of the people who use it. But I was beginning to notice a few things that made me think a break just might be in order.
The major thing for me was that every single time I logged on to Facebook, I was confronted with the cultivated life moments that we all share. The family photos, the weddings, the graduations and the holidays. All pictures of shiny, happy people living life to the fullest. My world at the moment is filled with upheaval, so seeing other people living a life that seems to be what I currently cannot achieve is painful.
Recently there was one of these Facebook challenges -- the '7 Day Love Your Spouse Challenge' --where you post pictures for the week of you and your spouse. Like most things, the internet was divided, but one thing was for sure: not everyone thought this was a good idea. In fact, a number of people pointed out how damaging that might be for, say, someone who is going through relationship troubles. The glamorous, loved-up view might actually make those of us who aren't living a fairytale feel pretty awful and reluctant to reach out. Not to mention, everyone knows that relationships are hard work and consist not just of happy snaps but boring, old, buying-toilet-paper life.
The other reason is that I was beginning to notice how much manufacturing goes on for social media. I mean we've all done it to some degree, added a filter, shared only the good points, hidden the bad stuff. But I was beginning to realise how damaging this is.
We're all trying to make it look like we have this adult thing down pat and we're beautiful and successful with no visible pores. It's not real. And it's exhausting to keep up with.
So I logged off. My public, work purposed account still runs but all my personal stuff is temporarily off.
What's been interesting is the number of people who have said to me that they've done it before and it was awesome or that they want to.
It seems like we've all got some social media fatigue. So far, I'm kind of enjoying the freedom it gives me, which sounds incredibly odd but that's how this feels. Freeing. Taking back some of the inauthentic life I have online and turning it into authentic life in the real world.
I am so looking forward to my holiday. I'm looking forward to some time of mindfulness about what I really do with my day, not just mindlessly scrolling through Facebook when I'm waiting in line. I'm looking forward to doing things for enjoyment, not just to share them with everyone for the accolades.
In this hyper-connected, always-on world we now live in, it's great to step back and just be you and not the shiny, filtered you or the keeping-up-with-everyone-else's-life you. Put aside your fear of missing out and see what happens when you look up from your phone. I bet it's actually pretty good and I can't wait to see more.