Does the thought of not posting a daily insta story give you anxiety? O r do you dread the little red notification every time you log on to Facebook? Shabana Adam digs in to the depths o f social media to find out when an online cleanse is long overdue and why switching o ff is not as easy as it seems.
There comes a point in my daily routine – usually in the late afternoon – when I’ve exhausted all my creative and competent will for the day. I need a time out. My sluggish mind and body, the onset of writer’s block and the half-hour-long meme sprees make this very clear. Not to mention the many cups of tea. So, it got me thinking – what are the signs for when we need a break from the digital world? Whether we like it or not, we are creatures of social media. The Arab Social Media Report 2017 found that 90 per cent of the online population in most Middle East countries use social networking sites, daily.
This might be for personal use to stay in touch with family and friends or for business purposes to build a brand’s following, either way it’s clear that we’ve been well and truly infected with the social media bug. And there’s no rush for a cure anytime soon. But what happens when all the noise gets a bit too much? For me, being in the magazine industry where a huge part of the job responsibility is your brand’s social media, switching off seems almost deviant. Yet, I’m convinced that many of us have had the urge to sign out and forget about hashtags and stories for a little while. I know I have. And though I love letting the rebel in me out to play, switching off is easier said than done.
Dilemma number one: as much as I’ve wanted to take a hiatus every now and again, there’s just something SO addictive about scrolling through your feed and taking in all the new content from your friends and followers. Yes, I want to see who’s had a baby, who’s on holiday in the Maldives, and who’s had a healthier lunch than mine. I probably (definitely) don’t care, but I want to see it nonetheless. So, the question is, what makes it so HARD to step AWAY from our digital platforms? Lena Dobschall, an Abu Dhabi-based Lifestyle Blogger, who goes by the name mondayonfleek, believes that social media can create short elusions from the real world, which users find easier to handle. “You see all these nice pictures of palm trees or videos of baby cats, and everything is always AH-MAZING,” she says.
The Middle East especially, has seen a staggering growth in social media activity. We Are Social’s newest report, Digital in 2017 Global Overview, revealed that social media use overall saw an impressive leap of 47 per cent in the past 12 months, with mobile social media up 44 per cent. To put things into perspective, that’s 93 MILLION active social media users in this region alone. Imagine the amount of new conversation topics, funny memes and viral videos you could be witnessing on the hour? Now, if that doesn’t give you major FOMO (fear of missing out) then I don’t know what will. “People want to be constantly in the know,” says Hassan Saraya, a Gulf-based Public Relations Executive at Four Seasons Hotels. “You want to be part of the “it” conversation and so your real life experiences start to get replaced with virtual ones.” Lena adds: “Our generation is constantly worried about missing out on something, so spending time online seems to be the best way to keep up to date with everything from pop culture to news. “And because things change so fast, you get new updates every time you log on which means you want to basically stay online all the time in order to keep up!” she says. This infinite cycle of wanting to know about everyone and everything the second that it happens, could be the core reason why the majority of social media users find it difficult to disconnect from their online personas.
From behind a screen you can consume all the gossip you want, comment on posts and pictures with opinions you don’t have to justify and, essentially, be whoever you want to be for your followers. The real pros, I’m sure, will have also played detective a fair few times. I mean, if you haven’t casually ‘stalked’ a crush’s feed all the way back to 2010 or gone through your childhood friend’s brother’s wife’s holiday album, or spent an hour saving links to recipes you’ll never make, are you even doing social media right? And so, we come to dilemma number two: as much as I’d love to sign out from my devices for days at a time, browsing the discover page on Instagram or checking out the latest trending topic on Twitter, and even taking a hundred different pictures using new Snapchat filters, is all part of my daily escapism – these are the places where I can choose and control which parts of my life I want people to see. Which leads to the next big question, is your digital IDENTITY the REAL you?
Lena suggests that this aspect of social media, the fluidity of online identity and the attachment of stereotypes, is also one of the negatives of having the status of ‘influencer’. Why? “People cannot really distinguish between your media personality, aka your job, and your real personality,” she explains. “They will judge you only by what you put out there. For example, the role of a make-up blogger may be stereotyped by some as being superficial or unintelligent, but it can be a very lucrative job, where you have to be smart, extremely organised and consistent,” Lena adds. “But on YouTube, all you might see them doing is dabbing their concealer on, which is the only side of them that you’ll know.” For Hassan, much like myself, and any other profession that requires keeping a constant eye on your follower engagement and competitor’s online moves, social media is a whole different arena of endless possibilities.
“It’s crazy, because less than a decade ago, social media was just a trend,” Hassan recalls. “Now it’s a critical component of any business marketing programme as well as for personal connections too. “You create your own persona in a saturated world. Anyone can be anyone on social media, so why would you want to switch off from that?” he says. Here comes dilemma number three: the honest truth is that if I want to excel in my job, social media has t o be my best friend – at all times of the day (and night). Even if for a few hours, detaching from the digital world means that I could miss out on the next big story or insta opp, both personally and professionally. Final question: do we just continue to let the NOISE of social media take over for the sake of workplace COMMITMENTS or is that just an excuse to stay online.?
“The truth is that as the working environment evolves in the GCC, more and more employees are relying on technology and social media in particular to keep connected,” Hassan explains. “As a result, we are in a constant always-on mode. I even see this in my own social media because my posts on both work platforms and my personal accounts have a similar style, albeit within brand guidelines for work.” It’s a blurred line; work life and real life, where the role of social media means that you are the BRAND and the brand is YOU. This might be a positive thing for those who want to stay ahead in their career game and dedicate every waking moment to their followers, but it can also be a negative for those who wish to turn off their notifications and can’t always do so, because they’re either too afraid of missing out on something important or, simply, their digital platforms have become such a sacrilegious part of both work and home life. On the other end of the spectrum, it’s important to recognise that social media can also be a positive and beneficial tool.
It’s an excellent place to voice opinions for causes that need attention and to reach a big audience, fast. It’s also packed full of free skills, advice and information on every topic you could think of – holistic wellbeing, DIY hacks, fashion updates, education empowerment, political movements and so much more – as well as giving you a closer, raw insight into the lives of celebrities, athletes, CEOs and other world movers and shakers for inspiration or for pure pastime. There’s networking sites like LinkedIn which is possibly the greatest tool for making career connections, browsing, applying and in many cases, landing your next job.
The digital world might just be the biggest catch 22 for millions of people, and we haven’t even touched on topics such as profile privacy and how exactly being online affects people’s psychology. For some, social media sells happiness and gives the level of validation they crave. For others who want to avoid faceto- face interaction, social media allows them to express their feelings without dealing with the consequences. My truth is, I can live WITH it more than I can live without it. Ultimately, only YOU will know if and when you need a digital detox. I think my time to press pause is slowly creeping up. But first, let me take a selfie.