A ‘Back to the 90s’ event challenged students to live without social media for a week. Our Associate Editor, Polly Hatcher, took on the challenge and wrote about it.
Towards the end of last semester, India McGlinchey from the Department of Arts and Humanities ran a ‘Back to the 90s’ experiment, challenging students to log out of all their social media accounts for a week.
Over the past few years, the media has been full of reports that link heavy social media use to poor mental health. The Happiness Research Institute in Denmark conducted a study that found people who quit Facebook for a week felt 55 per cent less stressed than those who continued to use it, so the experiment was striving to see if just one week offline could have any impact on the signed-up students’ wellbeing.
Young people are the heaviest users of social media and according to Ofcom, 95 per cent of 16 to 24-year olds have an account on at least one platform. In 2017, a survey by the Royal Society for Public Health showed Britons between the ages of 14 and 24 believed that while on the one hand, social media outlets provided an opportunity for self-expression, on the other, using these platforms elevated feelings of anxiety and depression, heightened worries over body image, and provoked the ever-haunting FOMO (fear of missing out).
In a world that is ever-increasingly online, social media has a dominant effect in our day-to-day lives, yet rarely gives an accurate representation of what is actually going on. People are able to pick and choose what they post and deceive their followers into believing a (sometimes heavily) filtered version of their life. On top of this, our online presence now extends past just the realms of social life and into the world of work. Sadly, I have got to the stage where I seem to have more adds on LinkedIn than I do on Facebook. CVs are cringeworthy enough when they are directed at people that you want to give you a job, but when I received a notification that my ex-boyfriend from nearly eight years ago had looked at my profile, I felt quite exposed to say the least.
With all that in mind, when I received the email about the experiment, I was intrigued to try it out. My decision was partly based on the fact that I spend far too much time scrolling when instead I should be working.
On top of the hope to improve my productivity levels, I was also interested to see how no social media would impact my mobile phone usage. Ofcom found that almost two thirds of under 35-year-old adults are so attached to their phones, they look at it within five minutes of waking up. Excessive phone usage has been a hot topic of conversation as of late, as for many iPhone users, the recent iOS update has shocked them by showing how many hours per day they spend looking at their phone. Some people that I spoke to spend upwards of four hours per day on their mobiles, with the majority of that time spent on social networking.
The night before the experiment started, I was all tucked up in bed and started to flick through Instagram, only to realise it was after midnight and just twenty minutes into the challenge, I had already failed.
The first few days were surprisingly tricky – while in the library I repeatedly absent-mindedly googled Facebook, only to be met with the login page and reminded of my blunder. In a similar vein, again and again I unlocked my phone and tried to click where the Instagram app previously sat. This made me realise that social media had become something that I almost instantaneously resorted to as soon as boredom began to creep in.
Even with social media off-limits, the impulsion to scroll remained, and to remedy this I paid far more attention to my bank account app than usual. While this probably was more productive than looking at copious amounts of brunch photos, it wasn’t quite the light-hearted library entertainment I was looking for. Unwillingly clicking onto social media seemed to be a recurrent theme amongst other participants too, with one person stating it had become “involuntary muscle memory”.
The overall results of the experiment were very revealing and showed that abstaining from social media, even for just one week, can make a noticeable difference. Out of 101 people who took the initial survey, 76 completed the week. Out of the latter group, 73.7 per cent were able to completely stay off social media for the whole week, and half said they struggled with this. The main worries of participants at the start of the week seemed to be linked to FOMO, but when asked at the end of the week if they had actually missed out on anything important, over two thirds said they had not.
61.8 per cent said they felt noticeably better after a full week away from social media, while 71.1 per cent of participants said they felt more present in the moment, half said their concentration levels had improved, and nearly a third were sleeping better.
With the vast majority of youths using social media, it has become an extremely useful platform on which groups and events are organised. However, the darker side can leave people feeling depressed, with a constant need for gratification in the form of likes. We really need to assess how we use these platforms, identify their negative implications, and look to see if we can do something to change this.
Newspaper Associate Editor