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  • Annie Zhao

Searching for Congruence: My Digital Detox Journey

Let’s face it, in today’s day and age leaving the house without our phones, well, just doesn’t happen. Our entire lives are on our phones and they’ve become an integral part of our identity, one we would never leave behind. We all depend on our wireless, connected devices for many reasons—whether it's to call or text our friends, listen to music on the 9AM commute, stream the playoffs to watch our favorite team, or check likes to our latest Instagram post. We constantly seek information, often crave it and the attention it provides us, that our true lives may get lost in the endless noise of Twitter chatter and Facebook memes. We’re all guilty of going straight to applications like these as a response to an addictive desire to socialize and stay connected.

For millennials like myself, it’s not surprising to thus conclude that our time spent on social media and our smartphones has dramatically increased in recent years. Studies show that the average time spent on mobile phones for millennial internet users worldwide has grown from about 1.8 hours per day in 2012, to 3.7 hours per day in 2017— about double of what it was five years ago.

And why is this concerning? A growing amount of us are worried about social media’s negative effects. A 2016 study claims that 48% of millennials are concerned about how social media affects their physical and mental health. Generation X, Boomers, and Mature age groups follow close behind at lower percentages. This statistic can be compared to the share of millennials that found social media to have positively impacted their self-identity, which only averages to 36%.

Although I do believe there are definitely benefits to social media use, we as individuals must keep ourselves in check of its consumption. As a Marketing and a Psychology major, it is particularly interesting for me to understand the impact social media has on our behavior, thoughts, and emotions, as well as the marketer’s role in the user’s process.

Thus, what started as a personal journey and ended as a class assignment, I (as well as 50 of my classmates) tried to test the waters in detoxing from the overload of social media content. I began this experience on my own this past summer, and recently continued this for 48 consecutive hours as part of my Social Media Mobile Marketing course.

And it was refreshing. Here are three major realizations I’ve taken from my digital detox journey:

1. I compare myself less to others and their accomplishments.

It’s sometimes inevitable to feel inadequate or less “successful” than others when your digital life is up for comparison amongst peers, celebrities, and personal role models. I typically am able to draw inspiration and motivation from the accomplishments of others, but I find that it’s optimal to have a pre-existing positive state of mind when viewing content. During my digital detox I was able to take a break from the overload of posts and notifications. After 48 hours of not opening Instagram, Facebook, or Snapchat, I was better able to focus on my own journey of self growth and the goals I want to achieve, as well as better appreciate and celebrate the accomplishments and events of those I’m connected with.

2. I increased productivity and engagement on my actual goals.

The most difficult aspect of the digital detox was to refrain from listening to Spotify while on the train to work, pass time waiting in checkout lines, or check notifications before sleeping. The only instances I allowed myself to stay connected to social media was through work communications on Slack. In order to pass the time I would put greater effort into engaging conversations, make mental to-do lists in my head, and complete small tasks like cleaning my desk. As a result, replacing the time spent on social media would add up, and I allotted myself more time to complete homework assignments. I also felt more fully engaged with class lectures and discussions, as my smartphone and laptop notifications were no longer sources of distraction.

3. I’m learning to live— congruently.

We’ve heard before how social media tends to mislead us into thinking every person’s life is as glamorous as their profile appears to be—when in reality, it’s simply a collection of what one chooses to highlight for others to see. We tend to only see results, but not the milestones it took to get there. I’m guilty of this too, but even with the awareness, it’s still difficult to see past the colorful filters and witty captions, as well as stray from posting this type of content myself. Jordan Dansky, co-founder of Quarter for Your Crisis, explores these thoughts in her article “The Struggle to Stay Authentic on Social Media”. Through these insights I started asking, how do I express myself truthfully and authentically on social media? And how do users steer away from these half-truths?

48 hours provided some time to think about this. What I’ve learned is that it’s okay to risk opening up about our struggles and challenges, and sharing the story behind our life moments, both the good and bad. And it’s also okay to take a break from what we see online, and keep some of our setbacks and accomplishments to ourselves. To live authentic lives, we are in control of how we let social media impact our thoughts, feelings, and decisions. We are responsible for understanding that there is depth and complexity to each person’s life moments, even if it’s cropped, filtered, and framed perfectly for others to see. I found congruence between my real and digital life by accepting these notions and by allowing myself the time to recharge, helping me instill a deeper sense of self as well as re-discover the motivation to reach my goals.

In summary, I'm not saying we should end our use of social media— but I think it’s important to unplug once in a while. As consumers of content we all must remind ourselves of its benefits and its drawbacks. As human beings, I hope we are more mindfully aware of our use (or overuse) of social media. As I re-downloaded mobile apps and turned on my notifications again, I felt relieved to be back online, but grateful to have stepped back. Through sharing these reflections, I hope we all can take the small but necessary steps to living a healthier, digital lifestyle.

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