Everybody is on his or her cell phone. People are clutching their phone in their hands, texting on their phone, completely ignoring the person with whom they seem to be. I didn’t know what time it was but I wasn’t about to ask anybody, they looked too absorbed in what they were doing. Instead, I walked faster. You’re probably wondering why I didn’t just check my own cell phone. Well, my phone is currently sitting in my drawer, in my room, tucked at the very back, wrapped in socks, and hidden from immediate access. This week I am offline, and this is my story.
Before I get into the weeklong process, I will give you a feel of my social media addiction. First I check social media before I go to bed, and its the first thing I do before getting out of bed. Throughout the day I check it, on average, between twenty and forty times. The ground rules for this experience was no Facebook, no Twitter, and most importantly, no phone. However, there is a clause, I allowed myself to check my e-mail for academic purposes, and if someone emailed me for a reason unrelated to academia I wouldn’t ignore them, that’s rude.
The day before I planed to go offline I tried frantically to find an alarm clock, which I swore I still had somewhere. I could almost remember throwing it in the depths of my closet.
When I finally found the twin bell alarm clock, I had to read the instructions in order to set it up. I failed. I spent about an hour setting the alarm clock five minutes from the given time. It never went off. It was just an alarm clock, and the instructions were clearly labeled with easy-to-follow steps, but for some reason these steps weren’t working.
My mom, sensing my desperation, lent me her alarm clock, a red LED bedside alarm, which I set for 8am.
I woke up at 5. The alarm clock resounded from downstairs. I woke up to my mother throwing the alarm at me. “Here, it worked.” Her voice was hoarse and scratchy. “I don’t know how to shut it off.” She slammed my door and left that damn blue bell alarm clock behind. The ringing pierced my still sleeping ears.
I took the alarm clock and switched it off. It didn’t go off. I switched it from on to off again. I did this ten times before I threw the alarm clock across the room. Finally it stopped ringing.
A headache quickly ensued. This is how my week began.
It didn’t really improve from there. By the middle of the week, Wednesday evening, I was feeling really down. I had given close friends my home phone number, yet nobody had bothered to call. Except my boyfriend who said, “Oh no I was just entering your number in my phone, I didn’t mean to call you.”
I wanted a cigarette.
I haven’t craved a cigarette since I quit smoking. I went for a walk instead. If it weren’t for my half-shepherd, half-husky dog, I wouldn’t be walking at night alone without my phone.
When I returned home two hours later there was a voicemail from my boyfriend asking me to call him back, when I did, I complained and complained and complained about how much this completely sucked.
My eye twitched when I saw others online. It annoyed me when people were texting on their phones, mindlessly ignoring everything I was saying. It was frustrating to wake up to the fuzz of the radio when I normally would have woken up to the gentle buzz of my IPhone, and to top it off, nobody called me, it felt like nobody cared. I hated traffic even more than usual. Normally I would text my friends while I was in traffic, or update my status, or look at my news feed. Nothing. Instead all I had to look at were the drivers in front of me.
E-mail replaced Facebook, and I checked it about twenty times a day to see if someone e-mailed me.
“It’s addictive because it makes us feel good. Why do we check our e-mail five times a day? Because we expect people to send us e-mails.” Manu Sharma, a founder-managing partner of Oak Media - a company that helps people develop their online presence, the main office is situated right in the heart of downtown Ottawa - says, “I would rather have crap email and have the joy of deleting them, than no e-mail.”
During my week offline I found myself face-to-face with a Facebook page twice, and almost typed in my login information, but didn’t. I was craving my news feed. Essentially, I wanted to know everything about people I didn’t care about. So when the clock ticked 11:59 on Sunday night, I typed Facebook into the navigation bar at the top of my screen and pressed enter, I typed in my username and password, and I did a countdown.
No really, I did a countdown.
My heart started racing and I swear I felt a dose of adrenaline. It’s midnight. I smiled. I had 81 missed notifications and one message.
The message was from my grandma, “What’s happening? You used to have three or four messages on Facebook every day and I haven’t seen anything for the last four or five days. Hope everything is okay. Granny McC. Xxoo”
I don’t know what I was expecting exactly, maybe that the world would stop? But it didn’t. Laura Wellman, a social media coordinator for Laura Wellman consulting, says that people will not stay connected with others unless they have a social media account. We met at a Starbucks on Ogilvie Road, and sat in the typical wooden chairs around a small round table in a warm coffee-aroma filled room.
"There are people in, like, high school that I, like, have zero interest in having a one-on-one conversation with ever again, but I’m still, like, oh my god they had a baby!”
According to Joe Banks, the head of the journalism department at Algonquin College, “Eighty-five percent of the populations use the Internet, and out of those users forty percent have a Facebook account, and fifteen percent of those people have a Twitter account.” Never before has the world been so connected; yet so unbelievably disconnected.
I heard that youth are going on “online dates”. Which means they play a game online, or message each other instead of meeting in person. We have webcam, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, and sure those things are great, but nothing will replace human touch. Has it gotten so bad that we have created a generation full of social media addicts who prefer to stay inside rather than meet people in person?
Nicole Lewis is a drug counselor for Muskoka roots wellness, a small self-contained office located in the west end of Ottawa, and she thinks it has. Though programs don’t exist specifically for social media addiction, she says they are most likely on the horizon.
Her office is located in the basement of a red brick home, which is surrounded by a white picket fence. It resembled an apartment, the living room area was the waiting room, the bedroom was her office area, and after asking if I wanted a beverage from her fully functional kitchen, she guided me into what would’ve been the bedroom. She smiled at me and shared her enthusiasm over her passion for helping youth. She had blond hair that was pulled back in a ponytail, and a smile from ear to ear. She focuses on rehabilitations through animal interaction, which is probably why Simba, her half Lab, half Shar Pei dog, is sitting on the left of us and playing with his squeaky toy.
Squeak Squeak Squeak. “Don’t worry, he’ll stop,” she reassured me. “He always does that when people first come in.” He was well trained, and demanded little attention throughout the interview.
Nicole Lewis says social media can be addictive. “An addiction happens when it starts to affect someone’s life, and they are not able to stop themselves from doing it. So for example, someone who is unable to complete his or her daily activities without it.”
She goes on to tell me a story about teenagers who have quit their job because they were not allowed to bring their cell phone to work with them. “Some employers like McDonald’s, or Wendy’s ask that the youth do not have their cell phones on the floor, and they absolutely cannot do it. Some have actually quit their job because they weren’t allowed to have their phone with them.” That definitely surprised me. She goes on to say,
“That’s a sign they are becoming addicted because they’re not able to complete those daily activities, or what is expected of them anymore.”
While I was trying to desperately figure out whether or not I had an addiction, I went over a couple things with Nicole, such as my sudden craving for nicotine, she said “That is very very common, often someone will substitute one addiction with another.”
I told her it was easy. Once I dug out my phone from the back of my drawer, took it out of it’s sock, held the power button at the top right and saw the little apple icon, I said it was easy. I convinced myself, and others, that the whole experience was easy, and that I could do it again if I wanted to.
Nicole Lewis countered my statement with “even heroin addicts can go seven days without the drug, knowing that on the eighth day they will be allowed to use it.” She explains that addicts can achieve this seven-day-free week easily because they know the deprivation will only be for a limited amount of time, and that sooner rather than later, the fix will be satisfied. She implied that maybe that was the case with my social media addiction. “The problem with addiction are the rewards that come along with it, whether it be being liked or having more friends, any of those sort of things could bring someone to have that need. When the benefit becomes greater and greater that’s when it turns into addiction.”
The experience was mindboggling. It felt like I was giving up smoking again. After leaving her office I grabbed my phone, looked at my news feed, and thought, I am connected just like everyone else. Or am I? I find that the world we live in is completely flabbergasting, amazing, insightful, and above all just downright astonishing. But are we loosing the basic fundamentals of what it means to be truly alive? Will generations after us live their entire lives in front of a computer, and experience everything virtually vs. hands on? I fear a world where computer become more important than company, and fear that this world is already here.