Words by Hrishika Maniar
If you’ve spent lockdown with your phone glued to your hands or your eyes stuck to your laptop screen, join the club.
Social media sites have seen a rise of 36% in the amount of time users are spending on them during lockdown. Streaming services also saw a jump in the number of new subscriptions. Working from home meant we were staring at screens longer. With nothing else to do, we weren’t having much fun. We replaced real-life ‘experiences’ with digital ones, living our lives vicariously through Tiger King, #quarantinechic, and countless pictures of freshly-baked banana bread. Our dopamine dose became digital.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter; produced by the brain when we do something that feels rewarding. Its release signals that whatever we are experiencing, is worth doing more of, because it feels very good.
Research has found that social media notifications – even just pop-ups on your screen – lead to the brain producing dopamine. Your just-one-more-episode binge-watch on Netflix is also triggering a dopamine response. And because checking social media notifications or sitting by while the next episode loads is so easy, getting that rush becomes a habit. It sets the foundation for an addiction, and that’s why we all need a digital detox.
Social media is built on the basis of this instant gratification. The infinite scroll, pingy ‘like’ sound, and looping algorithms are all about keeping users interested for as long as possible. The more engagement that social media sites can get, the more profit they can make.
And whilst using social media for short amounts of time does no harm, prolonged usage is exacerbating mental health and body image issues, increasing social anxiety and feelings of loneliness, and prompting FOMO. The use of screens also messes with our body’s production of melatonin, reducing the quality of our sleep in turn.
Screens are also affecting the way we interact with each other. Couples are complaining of relationship issues due to the use of phones, and ‘phubbing’ is now the equivalent of covering your ears when someone is speaking to you. It’s reducing the quality of conversation and human interaction, and use of social media is leading to performative relationships and even performative activism.
In a middle of a pandemic, whilst technology has helped us work our jobs, stay entertained, and keep in touch with loved ones, we’ve also been reminded of what is actually important. Organic connections, meaningful conversations, and the rediscovery of hobbies can do us all some good. Whilst some are detoxing by ditching their smartphones for brick phones and tablets for books, others are taking small steps to reduce their screen time, such as keeping timers, purging unnecessary follows and apps, and turning off notifications. Digital detoxes can help to cut the noise and give us a reminder that ultimately, we are more than our online presence and use. Deactivate your Facebook, turn off Emily in Paris, and stop boomeranging everything for your Insta story, even if it’s just for a short while.