Written by Michelle Goodman
I sometimes wonder if I could live an entire month free of a computer or a cell phone. As a college student, I don’t know if it would be a rational idea to go an entire month, but I have always wanted to put myself to the test somehow. As a culture, we rely so much on technology to provide us with the most efficient ways of going about life. Let’s face it: we are utterly plugged in. However, it is not always a bad thing to utilize our technologies. Actually, it’s a great thing! We use it every day for educational, communicational, and other personal purposes, just to name a few. Facebook for instance, is a prime leader in the social media realm, catering to a variety of demographics. According to an internet marketing resource called Zephoria, “864 million people log onto Facebook daily, which represents a 19% increase year over year.” Another one of their statistic says that “every 60 seconds on Facebook: 510 comments are posted, 293,000 statuses are updated, and 136,000 photos are uploaded.” When I upload my own photo, whether it be Facebook or Instagram (which is owned by Facebook), I am constantly on the prowl for likes. Why? For what reason do I wish for these so-called likes? Well, maybe for one thing, it is called a “like.” You liked my photo on Instagram? This must mean you like me! Or does it? If you don’t like my photo, does this mean you don’t like me? It gets confusing. And what is it with the color red? Why is it that when checking my phone, I’m always searching for red symbols? It turns out that that these symbols can have a psychological effect on the brain. It is very similar to the sensations we feel in certain activities such as taking drugs or having sex, but potentially at a milder level.
According to Best Master’s in Psychology, the dopamine (the thing in your brain that makes you happy) is what causes this almost addictive-like effect. Being happy or feeling sensations of happiness is a valuable structure in an individual’s self-worth. And if an individual is an avid user of social media sites and phone apps such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc or even the basic SMS or iMessage, the red symbol is a significant piece to a happy social media experience. Furthermore, without some type of value for an individual (i.e. likes, messages, comments) there is no worth. This leads to my main point: self-worth is ultimately determined by a person’s digital universe and there is no denying that. I have decided that the best way to truly understand how technology benefits and/or hinders our lives is to consider the personal approach. What better way to explain it than with a firsthand experience? As my Sociology professor calls it, I wish to take an “E Fast.” Essentially, it is a fast from technology, specifically being from my primary internet and social media forms. These include, but are not limited to: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. Additionally, I have chosen to shut off my cell phone entirely, restricting my mode of communication with others via SMS text messaging, iMessage, and phone calls. The fast will last for a total of 24 hours. After my iFast (it has a nice ring to it), I will share my conclusions on this ever-so-spiritual experience.
I have returned from the strange universe of “no technology!” I will confess, there were some challenges to my iFast, but I came home safe and sound. First off, I was in a sense forced to cleanse myself from my laptop as it just recently died a tragic death. The timing actually couldn’t have been better. Without a personal computer for the past week, I have resorted to my iPhone not only for comfort, but for my primary mode of keeping in the know. Now without it, I have nothing! All logistics aside, I was able to successfully stray away from all forms of social media that I listed prior to the fast. I think the toughest one for me was Facebook, because I have been conditioned to check for those wicked red notification symbols daily. But this was definitely not limited to Facebook. Those signs are everywhere! Text messages and iMessages have them too! It helped that I completely shut down my phone, so I was not tempted, but it was not the temptation of checking that hindered me. It was really the social anxiety that I struggled with. The best time to check your phone is when you are waiting for something. Well, I happened to be in the hair salon during my fast and I was forced to wait a while…four hours to be exact. With no phone. It didn’t help much that there was nothing to keep me occupied — not even a magazine. I decided to people-watch as a waited for the busy stylist to attend to each of her customers until it was my turn. Others around me were on their phones, which pressured me to pull mine out and mimic their behavior. With all the willpower I had, I ignored the anxiety I experienced in this social situation and powered through. This turned into a meditation of sorts. The hair salon might not have been the most ideal place, but I still managed to self-reflect as I was unable to occupy myself with the internet.
I came to find that we are very dependent on technology in seeking comfort in social situations. I truly have found this to be an issue in my daily life as my valuable interactions with others have been dwindling. This ultimately refers back to my main point on subsciously looking to social media to feel of value to society. I think this explains the logic of people in their lack of real time communication with others in social environments. It seems as if the value that they are searching for is not fulfilled as quickly as it would in the digital universe. It takes a bit more effort to verbally give someone a compliment, especially being someone you do not know. “Likes” can be considered mini compliments in the social media realm and naturally, it feels nice to receive them. The issue that I see with this concept though, is the effortlessness of giving and/or receiving “likes” as it takes away from the feeling of knowing that someone really put thought into giving you that compliment. It acts only as a temporary and short-lived source of fulfillment that has residence in the addictive concept previously discussed. As a Film and Digital Media student, I really wanted to emphasize the Digital Media aspect of the program, as we often tend to disregard it. With new and innovative technologies, our culture is expanding into a digital universe and this universe will continue to exist, but there must be a point where we recognize our limits. Whether it be in a hair salon, with a group of friends, or out in the wilderness, we must limit ourselves in how much we depend on technology to fulfill our desires and measure our self-worth. My next challenge is to one day, actually go through with a month long fast and evaluate my personal well-being after that month. I predict that I’ll be in the best mental state than ever before! With that said, I say go “like” all of your own photos on your social media pages, because without your own “like” all the others are insignificant. After that, maybe consider closing this web browser or app that you are reading this on and put your digital device away for a moment. Then find someone in real time and compliment them on something that you like about them. I’ll guarantee that you’ll feel a different type of self-satisfaction and may even be inspired to seek alternative ways of long-lasting gratification in your own personal life.