Monday, 24 April 2017

When the world gets too loud

When I'm in the middle of uni assignments and other pressing matters, I find myself turning off the WIFI on my phone more and more consistently. Otherwise, when a Facebook notification comes through while I'm trying to concentrate on an essay, I'm likely to let it distract me. But I'm starting to think that it's not only when I have an essay that I should be turning off the Internet. You see, my phone is almost constantly in my hand, and I switch from app to social media site to app, wasting time and brain space on things that don't really interest me.

Don't get me wrong, social media has its virtues. As someone who has travelled a lot and spent time studying abroad, Facebook keeps me in touch with people I can only see once in a blue moon, Twitter tends to be a place where I can keep up to date with more specific topics, while Instagram, Tumblr and the like serve to feed my creativity. But when these sites and apps are constantly clamouring to be heard, and habit leads me to give them my attention despite other more pressing needs and desires, it becomes a problem.

Our phones and technology are so insistent that we remain up to date and in the know that, without turning off our phones or spending time changing our settings, we can't escape notifications. I've wasted many an hour or two when a five minute social media check turned into a discussion or a conversation about something inane. When those discussions are more heated, I waste a lot of energy thinking about them even after I've left my phone alone. Yes, it's important to be up to date with the news and the goings on in the world around us and to take part in that, but it should be on our own terms and at times when we feel ready to listen. The likes of Facebook in particular are the biggest killers of my productivity, creativity, even my desire to relax or spend time with loved ones, and this has to change.

It's not just the fact that it's a distraction. I think these habits can also be partially to blame for many of the mental health issues that sneak up in us nowadays. The thing with the Internet, and with social media especially, is that we suddenly have all this information and all these connections at the tips of our fingers, and if you think about it, we are the first generation to have that. Because of this, there is a lot of noise entering our minds that humans never had to deal with in the past, and unless we refrain from using the Internet as often as we do, it's impossible to shut it out. To give an example, let's talk about news pieces like Brexit and the election of the latest US president (to avoid mentioning his name). During those times, I was almost constantly emotionally exhausted, stressed and bordering on depressed. Yes, I was unhappy about the news. But if something upsets us, normally we shut it out if we can, except that without isolating myself from all media and news outlets, I couldn't shut it out. Even when I tried, it would come up in conversation, and then I felt like I needed to get "up to date". Many, many times in the past year I have felt like becoming a hermit. Back in the day, it was easy to switch the TV channel or close the newspaper. But now, when our lives are so intricately intertwined with the Internet and, by extension, the world around us, it's difficult to close ourselves off. Even while watching a TV programme, the channel encourages us to engage in social media while we watch, urging us to use and search for certain hashtags.

So if you feel like social media is taking over your life, don't be afraid to withdraw. At first I feel isolated, or anxious that I might have missed something important. But eventually I realise that I appreciate the quiet time, with my own mind and my tangible life.