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21 DAYS OFFLINE… AND STILL ALIVE!

Social media has become a part of our lives and daily schedules equally as essential as eating or sleeping. Social media is at the forefront of the ongoing digital revolution and we have come to accept Facebook and other social media platforms as a social standard.

A month ago, I made the decision to give up social media for 21 days. To put things in context, let me tell you about my social media addiction and how bad it had become by the time I made the decision to abstain from it for a period of three weeks. In a 3-day experiment that I carried out on myself previously, I discovered that I check my Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Twitter and Snapchat accounts 62 times per day. I used three different devices to check these social media sites and spent anything between 40 seconds to 15 minutes per log in. On an average night, I would wake up at least three times to check my newsfeed on Facebook and to respond to messages. This is mainly due to the time difference between British Columbia (where I currently live) and Egypt (my home country). It should come as no surprise that my college professors constantly commented on how I was always distracted by social media in class. My friends made fun of how I Snapchat and Instagram everything that happens around me, eventually coming up with the popular statement: “It didn’t happen if it is not on Snapchat” (or on Instagram). I don’t recall giving up social media for more than 48 hours in the past three years and I knew that a 21-day challenge would be incredibly hard.

Well, here I am, reporting that I’m still alive and that the experience I had over the past 21 days has been absolutely eye-opening and life changing.

By giving up social media, I had hoped to create more value in my life, to quit hoarding information that was irrelevant, to appreciate the time that I spent with friends, and to make sure I made the most out of every moment before I even thought  of sharing it with others.

The first couple of days of my challenge were full of withdrawal symptoms – I would open a new tab in my browser and start typing ‘facebook.com’ without even thinking about it. I missed my constant entertainment from Snapchat and Vine. However, things improved dramatically after the first week. I forgot all about Twitter, Vine, Instagram and Snapchat within days. I still missed Facebook, mostly because it came up in conversation all of the time.

“Hey, did you see the picture Kjell tagged you in.. oh, nevermind.”

I felt like I was unable to engage in conversations that I would usually be the one initiating because I had not seen the latest trending video or read the article that everyone was talking about.

It was only towards the second week of my challenge when I started realizing how the great value of connectivity that social media provides is superficial. There is a shift in the dynamics of how information flows through social media platforms. Though invisible, neglecting this shift could prove to be problematic. Facebook tracks our preferences and redefines visible content using invisible algorithms to edit our newsfeed. It creates filter bubbles of our personal unique universe of information purely based on previous cyber interactions. I feel that I am unable to decide what enters this bubble and what my newsfeed abandons. It shows us what it thinks we want to see but not necessarily what we need to see. And that, in my opinion, is not a true representation of connectivity. My time off of social media made me think of the people I had not heard from in a while, making me realize how my newsfeed has been reinforcing my connection with a specific group of people based on something like my geo-location or my history of interaction with them. I currently live in British Columbia, Canada but I lived in Egypt, Johannesburg and San Francisco at different times in my life resulting in the accumulation of 1,863 friends on Facebook, each of whom I know personally. However, my newsfeed has been only showing me a select few of them.  While Facebook has enabled me to build my own social network, navigating this network in a meaningful and fulfilling way is increasingly difficult.

Ok! The 21 days are over.

What’s my plan now? Well, I’m back on social media. It’s nice to finally see “that picture that Kjell tagged me in”. But I don’t want to go back to my old routine. I am now able to enjoy spending time on my own without feeling the urge to run to my security blanket and aimlessly scroll up and down the newsfeed of my various social media accounts. I realized that the constant connection I believed social media provides does not necessarily keep me away from feeling lonely. The opposite is true. Being unable to appreciate being alone has resulted in making me more vulnerable to being lonely once my phone dies or when I am unable to pick up the free Wi-Fi around.

Social media feeds us the same content, over and over again. Rather than suggesting resources that we may not initially come across, we are provided with material that we are already familiar with, and our comfort zones are reinforced. We are unable to meet new people, learn about new trends, and gain access to information we know nothing about. Hence, rather than social media allowing us to connect with the world in its entirety, it works to emphasizing making our own smaller personal worlds.

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