Don’t ask me how or when it started.
All I know is, at some point over the past few years, I became a hopeless slave to social media.
I first noticed the symptoms one night last year, when I was curled up on my bed with my phone in hand, aimlessly scrolling through Facebook - out of muscle memory rather than necessity.
Come to think of it, there was really nothing spectacular happening on my newsfeed - just the usual Shanghaiist video about wacky street life in China, another soppy Thai commercial and too many wedding and baby photos to keep track of.
But there I was scrolling, and scrolling, and scrolling - searching for something more to soothe my sleepy soul - that one article or photo or video or gif or meme that could change my life forever.
It’s like digging through that discount bin at an Anglo-Chinese second-hand store - the best stuff is always yet to be.
Yet the only thing I really found was sleep, which I realised the painful way when my phone hit the floor with a thud and jolted me out of slumber. Even though common sense nudged to put my phone down and call it a night, I just couldn’t.
It was almost as if I was possessed and some invisible force was compelling me to
I woke up the next morning feeling like crap.
I’m pretty sure I spend more time on social media every day than I do sleeping.
My record for time taken to craft an Instagram caption is three hours - from 5am to 8am one morning after a night out drinking with friends. And that’s excluding another agonising hour spent picking the perfect filter, ensuring that the geotagging is accurate and the hashtags are not too obscure.
I tell myself it’s okay because it just means I’m a detail-oriented perfectionist who cares about the crucial things in life, like sentence syntax and image saturation.
But I know better. The obsession doesn’t stop after my post goes up.
I gather a toxic level of satisfaction keeping tabs on who has liked or commented on my photos and videos. Nothing gives me more pleasure than soaking in all the hearts, smileys and thumbs-ups while cleansing out my bowels in the morning.
My replies to comments are almost always belated because I can spend up to a few weeks mulling over the most appropriate comeback.
My mental notes are equally incriminating.
“Oh wow, I haven’t seen this person in ages. Why is he viewing my Instagram stories but not following me? Rude.”
“Yi Han just liked all of my posts in the past month. Now that’s what you call a true friend.”
All those new-fangled features are not helping either. They claim to make life more convenient but I’d argue that they are time-consuming services that only keep me coming back for more:
Instagram stories = If your dinner doesn’t pop up here, did you really eat it? Probably not.
Multiple photos per Instagram post = More frames to filter = More sleepless nights.
Saved posts on Facebook = Infinite backlog of content I ought to catch up on when I’m free. But how can I truly be free if there are 98 saved items vying for my attention?
Reaction buttons on Facebook = At least two more seconds hovering over each post because why can’t I Love and Haha something at the same time? Whoever said my emotions are mutually exclusive?
Oh, and let’s not even mention the nostalgic trips through the archives where I re-evaluate everything in my life since joining Facebook in 2007 - from old caption choices to poor personal decisions.
Really though, why didn’t anyone tell me that wearing my dad’s banana-shaped tie to prom night was a questionable idea?
FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY BROKEN HEART
Needless to say, my social media habits have taken a toll on my body.
Aside from self-imposed sleep deprivation, my eyes smart and my head hurts more than usual these days after gazing too long at the screen.
My scrolling thumbs are so nimble and sore they might as well be dislocated.
My heart has also suffered a few bruises - one for each time my stalking expeditions have concluded that certain persons of desire are already taken.
And nothing is more disappointing than pouncing on your phone only to realise that the latest notification is someone putting something up for sale on a Facebook group you should’ve probably left months ago (because who actually needs a DVD player these days, seriously)?
When the next few hours go by without any new alerts, I start wondering if my internet connection is wonky.
As this dependence grows, I fear that I am gradually losing my sense of spontaneity - the ability to simply live and enjoy life without worrying about the next filter or comment, without caring so much about how I appear to others.
For what it’s worth, I have done plenty of soul-searching and psycho-analysing on this matter.
I won’t delve into the devious details, but suffice to say, I’ve decided that my addiction stems from a noxious concoction of three things: narcissism, FOMO (fear of missing out) and a debilitating desire for third party validation.
Hence the immaculate curation of my social media accounts, and the inexplicable urge to keep scrolling and clicking till kingdom come.
I’ll admit - it feeds my ego and gives me something to look forward to when I am all alone with my thoughts and things get a little too quiet for comfort.
Being an extrovert makes things worse - a part of me constantly seeks company and interaction, and if I sense a little drought in that department, I know I can always count on my virtual friends to give me a quick boost.
OOPS!...I DID IT AGAIN
I don’t reckon that this a problem that will go away anytime soon.
For one, deleting my social media accounts is not an option. I have many friends who practise this brand of cyber celibacy, but I lack their strength and/or apathy.
The closest I’ve come to a social media fast was when I spent almost two weeks in China last year behind the Great Firewall.
I was quite proud of myself for not getting a VPN, but looking back I was probably just too busy sightseeing, eating and meeting up with friends to care.
The moment I touched down in Singapore, however, I was back to my recalcitrant ways, indulging in a sinful string of #latergrams.
SOMEDAY (I WILL UNDERSTAND)
Still, my time in China did show me that I could survive without Facebook and Instagram for short periods.
It reminded me that time flies when you’re busy having fun. One doesn’t need to go online to feel like the day is complete or going swell.
In fact, putting your phone down for a while can be such a sweet relief. No more pictures to curate, comments to reply or posts to react to.
Social media obligations, as I call them, are optional.
A while ago, I started putting my phone in airplane mode when I’m at home. That has given me time to dust off books and magazines I’ve been yearning to read, and to tidy up my room like I’ve always wanted to.
I’ll probably try tucking my phone away the next time I’m out with friends and family too.
Yes Sarah, no more agonising over which stickers to use while you’re across the table judging my obsession with Instastories.
I don’t know how far this experiment will take me, but for now it’ll allow me to actually spend quality time with the people who matter in my life.
Don’t get me wrong - social media will still be very much a part of my life, and I want it to.
How else will I chronicle snippets of my life and share them with others at the same time?
And how will I know that old friends have given birth or taken up pole dancing?
The only hope is that someday I will learn to trade some of the scrolling for a little more sleep, and some of the curating for a little more living.
I’ll try not to post anything when that happens.
Editor’s note: One way to stop spending so much time on social media - Work B**ch.