My Weekend Without Social Media

My Weekend Without Social Media

My name is Luke Hopewell, and I’m an unapologetic social media addict. Twitter, Vine, Instagram, Facebook, Slingshot, Snapchat, Secret, Tinder and Bolt: hook them straight up to my veins. Last weekend my boss challenged me to go a weekend without my favourite apps, and I had a panic attack just thinking about it. This was my slow descent into madness.

I like being alone. It’s peaceful. Being alone can be a challenge for some people, but I relish the control I have over my own life. Whenever I need a dose of human contact in my alone time, I reach out to my friends on Instagram to see what they’re up to; on Twitter to see what they’re thinking and Facebook to see what they’re reading. I always share back the stuff that I’m thinking, seeing and reading, and overall it’s a fantastic little system where my alone time can be supplemented by friends I have online.

Starting at 12midnight tonight, I’ll be off social media until Monday at 7am. No Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. Goodbye you beautiful people.

Last Thursday, we were kicking around an idea in the office about things we could go without. After opining that Twitter was my light in a dark room, Danny Allen, publisher of Gizmodo Australia and my boss, challenged me to stay off social media for the whole weekend. As I shook his hand, betting him that if I won he’d buy me a nice lunch, my anxiety attack began.

Could I do it? Others certainly didn’t think so.

The last time I went an extended period without social media was when I was stranded on a plane for 33 hours. The situation of being stranded was infinitely more stressful to my mental state than being without social media, however. After that flight, I had to hop another one back to Australia for nine hours, the prospect of which really freaked me out. The only thing that got me through was Twitter.

During my time in avionic limbo, Mark Serrels, editor of Kotaku Australia and all-round nice guy, asked people to send me nice messages I could read when I got off the plane. When I connected to Hong Kong’s airport Wi-Fi network, I had around 100 tweets of support to read from friends and strangers. I teared up when I saw it: the internet was giving me a big hug.

When I announced on Twitter and Facebook to friends that I was getting a divorce, people immediately got in touch with direct messages offering support, times to catch up and chat and even just condolences.

I use Twitter endlessly for my job (news leads break first on Twitter, folks), and Facebook coordinates my events with old school mates on the weekends. Social media has made me laugh, cry and everything in between, so the idea of going without it for the weekend sent me into an anxiety attack.

Who would I talk to? Where would I go? What would I see? I’m like Marty McFly, being thrust back in time and forced to adjust to a new social structure.

The night of the blackout, I was out with a few journo friends. Whenever I’m out with friends or on a date, I make a point to not check my phone as much as possible. I try to be present in real-world social moments, leaving social media for after. My opinion is that if you’re checking your phone while talking to someone right in front of you, you’re explicitly telling them with your actions that the here and now is not as important as the elsewhere and later, and that’s frightfully rude. Despite the implication, I sought to check social every few hours to see what was going on: banking time on apps like Instagram and Twitter so the withdrawal wouldn’t be too harsh.

See you on Monday morning, internet. Leave me nice messages to find!

When midnight ticked over, I uninstalled the social apps that wouldn’t shut up and turned off Notifications for others. It was on.

We finished our drinks and went our separate ways early on Saturday morning, and I went home and straight to bed. I plugged my phone in to charge across the room, to save groggy, hungover Luke picking up his phone at 10am the next morning and instinctually opening Instagram and Twitter to see how everyone else’s Friday night had gone. Little did I know that people were already worried about me.

Saturday morning and early afternoon were spent at a cafe with a friend, one that my brain immediately thought could do well on Instagram if I framed the photo correctly. I shook off the thought and moved on to enjoy the here and now of the cafe and the subsequent walk I took to a local produce market I hadn’t seen before.

Saturday wasn’t all that difficult, mostly because I was doing things in the real world. Sunday would be the real test of my fortitude.

Every Sunday afternoon I sit down with a cup of coffee and a few dunking biscuits to get things in order for Monday at work. I might write a review, schedule a few posts or send some emails I didn’t get to on the Friday. Whenever I want to procrastinate, I explore Instagram and Facebook. And so began one of the strangest mental struggles I had ever experienced.

My brain consciously knew that I couldn’t click, open or engage with social media sites, but every time my mind wandered into procrastination mode, I sub-consciously found myself clicking on my Facebook bookmark, or opening Tweetbot from my dock.

Common sense would kick back in before they loaded to reveal their sweet social contents, but this click and close struggle went back and forth all afternoon until I eventually finished my work and closed my laptop.

While all of this was going on, a few weird things happened on social that I missed: firstly, my Dad who hates everything about social joined Facebook (seriously, there should be a goddamn parade for this. My sister called me and everything), and actor Taye Diggs followed me on Twitter.

A very strange confluence of events indeed.

This experiment taught me that social media has changed the way my brain works. I think 140 characters at a time. I see the world in 1:1 filtered images. Everyone I meet has some form of social footprint that tells me about them. And you know what?

I love that.

7am Monday came around, and I plugged back into my digital drug for another hit.