‘Digital’ permeates almost everything we do; from paying bills to finding a partner on a dating app. Technology and social media have become so ingrained in our day to day, that it’s virtually impossible to stay away from it. While the digital revolution has improved many aspects of our lives beyond what we ever imagined, social media is guilty of simultaneously bringing us closer together and making us feel more isolated. As social media becomes even more entrenched into our existence, it’s important to acknowledge the potential negative impact it can have.

According to the Stress in America Survey, 18% of U.S. adults cited technology use as a significant source of stress in their life. For many, the ever-present digital connection and the constant need to keep checking emails, texts, and social media accounted for the majority of this tech-stress. Sleeping problems, depression, anxiety and increased general stress levels have also been attributed to heavy tech use. One study showed that 70% of participants checked their social media while in bed, 15% spending more than an hour on their social profiles. Unsurprisingly it was concluded that browsing social media before going to bed increases the likelihood of insomnia and shorter sleep duration.

Economy of Attention

Social media has allowed us to share ideas, information and create friendships beyond geographic limitations and in real-time. While making life so much easier, the downside extends beyond increased stress and insomnia. It has created an “Economy of attention”; we are the product, and the likes, shares and comments are the currency. When we put out content on our social pages we expect a “value exchange” – in effect, a proxy for determining our self-worth.

If you’ve spent a reasonable amount of time on social media, you’ve probably found yourself comparing your life to that of your friends, family, total strangers, and celebrities. Why does it seem that everyone else is leading a fuller, richer, more exciting life (based on the tiny, curated glimpse you see on their Instagram feeds)? We seek validation from our peers. Not getting ‘likes’ can cause us to feel inferior and worthless. Cyberbullying has also become rampant, increasing the risk of young people harming themselves, or worse, committing suicide due to the toxicity some posts generate.

As a result, Instagram has been experimenting with taking away ‘likes’ on pictures to see if this creates a less pressurised environment. Theodore Roosevelt said it best: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Detoxing from your social connections can be a good way to focus on what’s important in your own life without comparing yourself to others.

One of our 2019 students, Thomas Frew, experimented with his own digital detox (now his permanent lifestyle choice) and shared some tips he learnt in his MAC Live talk. He discovered that detaching from social media and other tech devices allowed him to make more time for himself, be more connected with his friends and family, be more constructive with his time and be more present and mindful.

His top tips are:

  • Access social media when you are online at work or school. After work, go offline and spend time with friends and family.
  • Audit the people you follow. Unfollow the pages that cause you unnecessary pressure, that make you want to change yourself or cause dissatisfaction with your life versus the seemingly much-better life of others.
  • Follow pages that give you value. Pages that bring out the best in you and spark your creativity.
    You do not need to follow everyone you know, even your real friends. So before you click “follow” on Kylie Jenner, ask yourself “what am I going to gain from this content?”