I have been reading a lot of articles lately on how the internet, smart phones and social media are posing a serious threat to their users, sucking us into an "unsatisfying digital facsimile of reality" that makes us lonelier than ever even as it erodes our social skills.
I couldn't imagine how a really useful, seemingly harmless and almost indispensable part of our lives could do so much harm. So I decided to really put it to test. I uninstalled all chatting apps and messengers from my phone, turned the notifications off on Twitter, Facebook, gtalk and Skype. I let a few friends know of this personal experiment in advance lest they feared I was abducted by aliens.
The first day of the experiment, it felt really weird. I was uneasy all the time, I kept fidgeting with my phone, checking it every few seconds but there were no notifications, no WhatsApp smileys, absolutely nothing to check/uncheck.
"Without checking my Facebook news feed and Twitter updates, I hadn't a clue what was going around me."
I didn't know what to do during lunch breaks, while travelling back home in the tube, while waiting for my floor during the long elevator ride. There was suddenly a big void in my hours that seemed hard to fill. By the end of the third day, I was certain it was a stupid experiment, and all those articles were a farce.
I wasn't in touch with anyone, I didn't know what my friends were doing (including what they were having for lunch and dinner and where they were going over their weekend breaks).
I didn't know where the world was going as well!
I realised social networks were also my major source of news and without checking my Facebook news feed and Twitter updates, I hadn't a clue what was going around me. I might as well have been living under a rock I thought to myself.
But at the end of first week, something wonderful happened.
I discovered better ways to stay in touch with my friends
I got a call from a very old friend I had not spoken to in ages. We were WhatsApp friends, which meant we shared forwards, jokes and smileys regularly but never anything beyond that.
Not seeing me online for a week she called up. I asked her how she was and she told me for the first time in years the things that had happened in her life after we finished college. She told me about her marriage to her crush, her hectic travel to work, her painting exhibitions, her travel plans. In turn I shared with her experiences of my MBA days, the struggle to get a good job, my arranged marriage (to which she gasped in horror) and my move to London.
Before we knew it, an hour had gone and there was still so much to talk about. Finally after mutually agreeing to catch up again soon, we kept the phone down. I made a cup of tea, refreshed by our conversation. As I sipped my ginger tea I couldn't remember the last time I had felt that way after chatting with a friend on social media. I rediscovered that day the joy of keeping in touch with friends the old-fashioned way.
Less multitasking made me more productive
Giving up on social media also meant staying away from a constant source of distraction. Suddenly, I wasn't doing everything with the phone in one hand. By the end of two weeks I realised how much more focused and alert I was in my daily life. I stopped forgetting my keys before leaving home, I remembered where I kept my documents, my handbag and the TV remote and reached five minutes early at the station to catch my tube instead of cursing and almost missing it every day.
"I saw myself accomplishing a lot more in both my personal and professional life. I was actually doing double the work that I used to in the same time."
I discovered I was a great cook
Maybe it was all the free time I had, so I decided to try new recipe. Before I knew it, I was making delectable muffins, pancakes, soups and curriesI had only once seen on TV or on the menus of fancy restaurants.
I got back to reading
First it started with reading articles on the internet, but it wasn't enough to satisfy my appetite. I turned to books -- my former best friends before the internet barged into our lives, bedrooms and pockets. And before I knew it, my love of books was back, though I had never before felt the lack (oh that rhymes -- guess I got better at poetry too!).
My social life was still alive
After that call from Sammy, a lot more friends got in touch and I called a lot of them too. Some couldn't recognise my voice, some were surprised, some thought I was in trouble and needed help, but in the end I was in touch with all the people who mattered to me.
Yes I still didn't know about their weekend getaways but I knew the important stuff, the stuff that mattered. And yes, I wasn't in touch with all my friends. I realised the people I wasn't in touch with anymore were actually not my friends. They were acquaintances, ex-colleagues, people I met once on an evening out and exchanged numbers with... but not real friends.
I got better at time management
As the days passed I saw myself accomplishing a lot more in both my personal and professional life. I was actually doing double the work that I used to in the same time. I wasn't apologising for delays in addressing various issues. I was on top of things. My kitchen cabinets stocked with the week's groceries, my fridge with fresh vegetables, milk, cheese and fruits and I wasn't running to the nearest Tesco Express to pick up emergency supplies.
My family was very happy
My parents were happy that I wasn't chatting with two other friends in a side window while talking to them on Skype, my husband commented that for a change I was really listening to him and my daughter was delighted that I wasn't checking my phone while answering her questions absentmindedly. For once, she had all of Mama's undivided attention and nothing could take it away!
A version of this blog first appeared on the blog The Eureka Life.