Is It Time To Call It Quits On Social Media? Here’s Why Irish Women Are Saying No To A Life Online

Facebook fecking you off? Feel like you could do with a break before you decide if it's really over or not? Then 99 Days of Freedom might just be for you.

Girl Using An iPhone

Oh, you know how it is. It’s not them, it’s you (okay, it’s them). You just don’t connect any more, not really. You’re outgrowing the relationship and you need some space. You’re not alone: an increasing number of people – 46,945 at last count – are doing a Ross ‘n’ Rachel, and going on a break… from Facebook.

It turns out lots of us want to break up with our newsfeed, and following Facebook’s controversial tweaking with its feed, involving around 700,000 users in 2012, where it sought to influence their mood positively or negatively, Dutch advertising agency Just came up with the idea of 99 Days of Freedom. It asked the central question, “millions of people stop smoking or join a gym. A growing group of people is also looking at their excessive use of Facebook. Is it really benefiting their sense of well-being or is it actually detrimental?”

Facebook says the average person spends 17 minutes each day on the site. In Ireland we’re even more dependent: a recent survey by digital agency Connector found that the average dwell time of Facebook’s 2.6m Irish user-base is five hours and 40 minutes a week, or 49 minutes per day. Yikes.

Picture credit: lamodellamafia.com

Picture credit: lamodellamafia.com

That, argues Just, is time that could be better spent doing stuff like volunteering or learning new skills. But 99 days is a long time, especially as other research indicates that 22 days is all it takes to break a habit, so why do you need to commit for three months-plus?

“We’d a lot of arguments about the experiment’s duration,” Just’s Art Director, Merijn Straathof, admits. “If it’s too extended, participants will lose interest. If it’s too short, there’s no meaningful behavioral change to assess,” he says.

Creative control

For Dubliner Zita Spring, who’s 33, it was the sheer volume of ‘stuff’ that made her take up the 99 Days challenge. “I heard about it on a podcast called An Uncluttered Life,” she says. “I began to find the endless bombardment of invites, notifications, superficial content and other people’s personal lives a bit overwhelming. I was getting really sucked in too, trying for some reason to keep up with it all,” she recalls.

“Superficially keeping up with people on Facebook through likes and comments isn’t the same as actually staying in touch in a meaningful way. People don’t post about the bad stuff on Facebook, so it’s easy to assume your friends are doing grand, and ‘liking’ a status will do until you run into them next,” she points out.

Authenticity in their daily lives is a big part of what a lot of 99 Days’ users are seeking. Zita’s now several weeks in: “I’m already feeling more present and ‘in the moment’ without the distraction of Facebook. And I’m encountering 70 percent less news stories about what a revolting creep Donald Trump is, which has got to be good for my mental health,” she says wryly.

The big fear, is, of course, that you’ll miss out. “I previously used Facebook to follow a few websites relevant to my personal and professional interests, and I was surprised how many of them have daily newsletters. I signed up to their email lists so I don’t miss out on content from websites I like,” Zita reveals, of one challenge she’s overcome.

Social Media

Another big stumbling block is how many of us now use our feeds to organise our IRL social lives. How has that part of the puzzle worked out? “I think I’m actually missing out less in my social life,” she muses. “Because I don’t have Facebook to fill the gap of real social contact, I’m more inclined to make plans and spend time with my friends and family.”

The biggest issue for Zita, though, was the fact she runs an online shop, Seasonal Beast, a design-led, science-inspired gift shop. So how did she balance needing to use Facebook professionally, and ditch it personally? “You can only run a Facebook business page through a personal account, so I created a new blank, friendless Facebook personal account for managing Seasonal Beast’s Facebook business page. Since I’ve quit using Facebook personally, I’ve more time to work smarter and distraction-free on social media for Seasonal Beast, and its social follow and sales have increased in the period since I quit using Facebook personally,” she reveals. Winner.

When it’s time for the experiment to end, will she go back to the ‘book? “I’ll continue to stay off Facebook. I don’t miss unproductively scrolling though my newsfeed throughout the day,” she says, adding, “I’ve learned that having a Facebook account means people assume you’re active on Facebook, and keeping up with everything posted on it. And as long as you have a Facebook account, a lot of people will use it as the only means to contact you or invite you to things.”

And as for Just, it’s had a bit of time to assess the positive affects of its challenge. “Quitting Facebook leaves you with more time to do fun things,” the agency says. “Make that portrait, go on that hike, talk to your friends directly. For many users, quitting Facebook is just a simple first step to make their lives more meaningful.”

This article first appeared in STELLAR’s December issue. Our January/February issue is on shelves now! 

STELLAR Jan Feb 2017

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