A small break taken from all social media platforms during examinations taught me a valuable lesson- that social media platforms are branding and marketing tools that are addictive, make us materialistic, and negatively affect our self-esteem. After all, it has been rightly said that if it is free, and you are the product.
After I had wasted three days out of the nine-day gap I had before my English examination, a sense of guilt and shame crept on me. Not only had I not studied the whole semester, I had the audacity to not study during the exams as well! I had to seize control in order to score reasonably well in my examinations. To say that uninstalling Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat was an act of courage may sound like an exaggeration but for someone who spent their days glued on their phone, this is how it felt. What happened next made me feel like I was part of an elaborate social experiment. After the initial itch where I craved the distractions that my phone provided, I settled into a more peaceful and productive routine. My days seemed longer, I had more time in my hands, and my time on the internet was spent on watching Al Pacino recite the iconic “Hath not a Jew eyes” monologue from Merchant of Venice instead of watching stories of my friends dancing in some shady club. But this was exactly the purpose of my break and therefore I wasn’t completely surprised. I did expect to have more time in my hands because of my break. What I did not expect were the additional benefits/effects that my sabbatical had on my behavior.
I experienced the oddest sense of relief from this short break that I took. The desire to have a fabulous life, the feeling that I was wasting my golden years away cooped up in a hostel room suddenly went away. Social media gave me a sense of inadequacy in all spheres of my life- that I am not fit enough, fun enough, spontaneous enough, don’t party enough, don’t vacation enough, don’t shop enough, and much more. The desire to keep up appearance, to make my life look better, suddenly went away. I didn’t see other people stage their lives in order to look better and therefore did not feel the need to do the same as well. As shallow as it may sound, most of us curate various aspects of our lives in order to look better on a screen and the pressure and inadequacy that comes with it can be draining. Social media is a great way to document our lives but a terrible barometer to evaluate our self-worth.
Another aspect of my life that changed drastically was my consumption and purchase pattern. A large number of advertisements made me buy things I did not necessarily need or at times, even want. A 50% off banner on a red dress or the image of scrumptious chocolatey dessert from a food delivery app tempted me to buy things I did not want. But of course, I could not buy everything I liked and things I could not buy I ended up coveting, thus spending my energy on coveting, buying, regretting and so on. It was a vicious cycle that made me feel trapped; I didn’t want to miss out on the good deals and therefore not buying things made me feel anxious as well. A lack of control over my finances was the consequence of this capitalistic system that controlled me and made me feel careless and irresponsible. But it was when I took a break from social media that I experienced a sense of profound relief. Nothing could tempt me— no sale, no dessert, no magical blackhead clearing scrub, I was above petty materialism. Out of sight, out of mind was an adage that became true for me. Not constantly being bombarded with advertisements gives us considerable satisfaction, and I speak from experience. Social media constantly reminds us of what we don’t have and a break from that is always a pleasure.
Not being controlled by my phone had so many other positive effects- I went to bed on time, managed to keep my surroundings cleaner, talked to my roommates and the people around me more, and took more walks outdoors than before, and all this during exam time! Taking a break from a study session did not mean a ten-minute scroll though my Instagram feed anymore, it meant calling up my best friend or making a cup of tea. I felt relaxed, more in control of my life, and happier in general. My exam preparation went considerably better than I expected and all in all, I felt like my life was more sorted.
It has been rightly said that if something is free, you are the product. I fully understood the gravity of this statement in the context of social media when I took a break from it. Social media is a genie which will enslave you if you do not control it. Stepping back from social media is a healthy practise but its greatest benefit is that it teaches us that the world does not revolve around us, something that all of us should be reminded of from time to time.