A Month without Social Media

4pm 28th April 2022, I decided to do a month without social media. I logged out of all platforms on my phone and laptop, and I wasn’t allowed to log in until the 28th May, one month later. 

A Brief Account History

7 years ago, I began my journey on social media by downloading Instagram on the day I turned 13 years old, which, to this day is the minimum age required to open an account on social media. I was captivated early on, with my dad showing me the wonders and simplicity of the Instagram platform. Since then, however, many things have changed in the world of social media, for good but mostly for bad. Long gone are the days when it was solely a photo-sharing app and has now transitioned into a more video-sharing focus, much like TikTok (very original guys), with a powerful algorithm that completely controls what you – the consumer – sees and how much others see your content if you’re the creator.

Instagram was my sole source of social media for a few years, because it made sense to me. It wasn’t a difficult concept. It was a chronological feed and I could control pretty much who I wanted to see on my feed and when. The explore page wasn’t overly algorithmic and there was none of this shopping nonsense. The way the social media world has transitioned in recent years following the rise of TikTok, and the Metaverse’s control over virtually all major sources of social media: Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat to name but a few; has meant our lives and attention are controlled by these multi-billion-dollar companies. They’ve all wanted to jump on the TikTok hype train and created reels and shorts.

Two years later, as I begun to really pursue cycling in 2016, I opened an account on Facebook just before the Assen Youth Tour of that year. Then came Twitter at the wisdom of my dad pointing out the power the platform has in connecting people and networking in the cycling world. Lastly, due to peer-pressure at school in sixth-form, I brought Snapchat into my life in June of 2019. I never owned a Tik Tok account.

 

Building Up

For as long as I can remember, I have been an incredibly sporty kid playing in the heat of the sun, or in the concrete mud brought about by a morning’s frost. As I transition into the next decade of my life, I’ve been questioning why children nowadays would rather be on their phones or video games than create a makeshift goal post out of cones and kicking a ball at every waking moment. I’ve also questioned on many occasions my allegiance to the social media, and since the start of lockdown in 2020 been pondering what I want to do with my accounts, planting a seed and letting it grow over a few years – also known as the transtheoretical model. I often stated to my friends and family I felt like I had been born in the wrong decade. I felt social media came far too early in my life, and has affected the outcome who I am today against who I want to be. I can’t imagine children nowadays with it in their back pocket from the early stages in junior school.

I am currently at a point on my sporting journey where I’ve been told my social media profile is crucial for making a difference. I’ve come to realise over the years networking, my usage has increased as I have grown my following with each weekend I compete in races. Building the pressure to produce content and provide a message with each post, and this pressure is felt to a greater extent when I must post even when I don’t have any content or a specific message to provide. It has felt very uncomfortable. I’ve felt the negatives of social media in recent months. The comparisons, the endless scrolling and the constant need to gain recognition in the form of views and likes. It was building and building, higher and higher on my conscience.

Since October 2021 I set some aspirations and goals for how I wanted to use my social media streams going forward. I’ve found I have been slowly progressing down a path to where I am today. For me it was a build-up of wanting to become more active and successful at using social media to share my message and journey with the loyal audience I had built up over several years and how I could invariably hope to bring some awareness to matters such as Brexit, safety within racing and much more. It wasn’t until I caught Covid-19 and underwent a self-induced isolation period – until I tested negative – that gave me the mental clarity to pick up on the possible effects social media was having on me, and the guts to actually give it a go and remove myself from social media for a period of time.

The strong seeds of doubt, on how I wanted to use social media going forward, began to break through the surface after completing Tryptique des Monts et Châteaux where I contracted Covid-19. From there I really started to question whether I continue on with using the platforms given its control over me, my life and its effect on my cycling performance in racing and in training. Thanks to my housemate, who recommended an app called “StayFree” – #notsponsored – which allowed me to quantify how much time I was spending on each app and when. I have a Samsung and we as Samsung users do not have a built-in software on how to measure our screen time, so before you go saying “I have an iPhone with that, why don’t you get an iPhone.” Well that’s the reason.

My time with Covid-19 ultimately was a true blessing in disguise for me and came right at the correct moment. It came at a time where I had super high motivation following the preceding events at Tryptique and a time where I was scouring my brain for answers about what I wanted to do going forward and how I could action them. I was able to think, with some clarity during those 2 weeks, so much that the mental benefits I received from my time with Covid-19 strongly outweighed the physical attributes that I had lost to Covid-19 in that short space of time. One of my friends, who had struggled mentally with the trials of isolation with Covid-19, asked me “did you enjoy your time with Covid-19?” and without a moment’s hesitation or doubt I answered a strong and firm “Yes!” I’m aware that I was mild with my symptoms and grateful that I didn’t get terrible after-effects like so many have, but this is the truth of how I was feeling during those two weeks.

The first 5 days I was sat scrolling and scrolling and scrolling through social media, and watching hours and hours on YouTube and Netflix. It wasn’t until the weekend, when I watched “The Social Dilemma” for a second time on Netflix that I decided I didn’t want to be doing that again, I didn’t want to go back to the summer of 2021. I had gone backwards in those 5 days. I don’t know what caused me to feel like watching that documentary again, but something in my chemistry and crew told me to give it a re-watch. In order to counter the feelings, I was having, I knew it was time to take some action. I set about building a podcast idea I had been sat on for quite some time, and set about those plans to bring the podcast into fruition, this took another 5 days. My action in those 5 days meant I started building up some excitement of escaping the virtual-world of social media.

The final nail in the coffin for me to want to log out of social media on my phone for the month of May during my exam period (because it just made sense) was to finally build my Lego that had been in pieces in my drawers for over 9 years. I built sets that had been in rubble and mixed amongst the vast heaps of Lego and brought them into the light of day once again. I built 4 sets in those 3 days. Roughly 3 hours per set, and not once did I pay attention to my phone’s notifications or even check it. The phone was within a metre of me on my desk for the entire day. I was so invested in the Lego that it didn’t, once, cross my mind to check it. It felt like I went back to the days of my youth, in a pre-mobile phone world. This hit me right in my core of my mind and soul.

The Target

I set my goals for this project incredibly quickly. A single YouTube video later, and in a matter of minutes I had a concrete plan for what I wanted to achieve. Many people call “the social media detox” – also referred to as “the dopamine detox” – a challenge, though, in my mind, it was a galaxy away from being a challenge. In those moments before I logged out of my social media at 4pm on 28th April 2022, I had what felt like an awakening where my subconscious aligned with my conscious mind. I learned all about this with my work with Paul Burden over the last year and a half. He helped me recognise when the two aligned and that’s when you know you’re doing something right. I felt a genuine urge to take this opportunity, and to take the time ­– at a time when my time was precious – to realise how much the phones have altered my brain; your brain; everyone’s brain.

The plan was simple. I took a leaf from the book of Niklas Christl’s YouTube video where he completed a full dopamine detox. I used his rules set out in the video: no social media, video Games, digital entertainment, junk food, alcohol, & music. Evidently there are some in there which were not feasible for me as an athlete who uses music regularly to implement good working environments both at the computer and on the bike. Music helps me concentrate, so there was no way this would work in my plan for the month. It would make it unbearable and certainly be a cause for relapsing. Junk food was the other easy one. I don’t have it anyways and I needed to lose four kilos for the bike performance. The rest all were part of my rules for the month. That’s where the similarities between my goals and Christl’s video ended. He set a 7-day goal for his dopamine detox whereas I set a goal for 30 days completely away from my social media accounts on: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat. Although I was allowed to keep WhatsApp due to it primarily being a messaging service.

Phases Experienced

Phase 1:

I intended to go big. I had a fleeting understanding on how the concept of drugs work on the body to make one addicted to the substance. I also understood the process for what it takes to come off a drug. The clearest interpretation that was presented to me was from one scene in the hit film “Trainspotting.” It had to be a drastic and forced separation from the phone, experiencing the biggest of withdrawals in the first week away from the social media, I cried at least 3 times, in large amounts too. But after one phone call with my parents, I felt more relaxed and readier to kick on.

Phase 2:

I felt the freest I’ve felt for quite a long-time during phase 2. I was utterly determined and driven to keep a sense of direction in what I wanted to do in my time this month in my work on the bike and university off of the bike. It honestly was such an enjoyable couple of weeks with flawless training sessions and plenty of assignment work achieved in that time period. It felt like I never wanted to go back, ever.  I had definitive and clearly set out goals of things I wanted to achieve in that period of time, and achieved the vast majority of them. I was just so fundamentally engaged – something Jonny Wilkinson spoke about on ‘The High-Performance Podcast’ – in everything I was doing, due to that removal of the “in between space” where you’re on your phone between activities. You just can’t settle, let your brain wonder whilst you wait for the shower post ride, or for the toaster to ping.

Phase 3:

One of the hardest phases was phase 3. I was pondering the return. It was tough to stomach, as you remember the days before and understand the consequences of bringing the app back into your life, but you just want to see your direct messages and capitalise on the positives of the social media effect. My friend described it as checking emails which is entirely true, and I think a way I’m going to think of it going forward. The first week was certainly hard, but I think It’ll be even harder now. Even writing this now, I’m struggling to concentrate given I’m thinking about going back on to post this very document. How f’*&ed is that. I ended the month, and put the apps back on my phone but have struggles since with the balance. It came back with a force, and knocked me for 6. I believe one of the reasons I’m feeling how I am. I also feel like such a hypocrite, as I’ll explain later.

Positives of Social Media

There are an abundant number of positives to why social media platforms are so incredibly useful to athletes, artists, politicians and society as a whole. The primary reason why social media is such a phenomenon is that you can be in touch with anyone, anywhere in the world within a matter of seconds at no extra cost. It’s bloody remarkable. As a result of this, you can put your name in front of thousands of people in a specific circle online, say the cycling media, and with the right performance and charisma that’s a sure-fire way to creating a strong and loyal network. A network, in my opinion is one of the most powerful things a young person can have in any walk of life.  

You’ll have heard this before, but as humans we have biologically evolved our brains to be brilliant at communicating with a tribe of 10-30 people. We’ve established ways that we can cope with the judgement of a minority number of people within our own circle, and develop and grow ourselves from constructive criticism as your tribe are typically looking out for one another in the search for survival. It’s astonishing that we’ve gone from this form of social interaction to putting yourself in the judgement window of many thousands of people, who we actively seek – if you’re aiming to build up your profile – to comment on and give their opinions about us and if they like what they see about us. I’m no psychologist, or neuro-scientist and I’m regurgitating information I’ve heard from various videos, podcasts and news reports about this subject matter.

The benefits are so incredible it can be hard to separate yourself from the social media platforms. However, isn’t that just the problem? I don’t believe the positives outweigh the negatives presented to us from the platforms, but the positives sit so high in front of the brain that it’s hard to not detach from this train of thought.

Combatting the Negatives of Social Media

I discovered I was regularly spending more than 4 hours a day just on my phone, and that’s before I factor TV and Computer time in there. How utterly ridiculous is that. 4 hours is a phenomenal amount of time to waste in the day. No wonder we get to the end of the day and tell ourselves I have no time anymore to do the things I want to do. The biggest negative I felt the month away from social media had alleviated was the days where you felt like you didn’t want to do anything. You know those days of bad weather, or days you wake up a bit more tired than the other days. This for me is when the phone is so powerful as you crave that dopamine hit without having to do anything because you feel lazy. Once this has started it’s hard to break for that day. During the month, these were the mornings I felt the most powerful and actually turned into some of the most spectacular, and successful of days.

Back when I has media on my phone, I could feel every moment I was spending on it and not getting on with the things I knew I should be getting on with to improve my performance or happiness. It meant I felt rubbish and guilty every minute I wasn’t getting on with riding and improving myself on the bike, or getting on with university work building up into an intense exam and assignment period. There are an abundance of other negatives, like the companies poaching your data, and attention for their own profit. The endless number of comparisons with people your age, or unattainable people you idolise and wish to become.

Going Forward?

I’m struggling with how I want approach this ‘need’ to be on social media in the future. I’m hoping for some clarity the deeper I get into the process of removing myself from the strong addiction I’ve built up over a 7-year period. I don’t believe anyone who has done a “social media detox” properly would choose to return to the platform in the same way, simply because it’s been 6 days and I’m feeling so much clearer and motivated and determined than when I began. Imagine would could happen over 6 months. Why would you want to go back to the crippling addiction when you’ve worked so hard to remove it from the body’s system and your brain’s functioning. Niklas Christl did two videos on Dopamine Detox, which inspired me at the opportune moment, minutes before I decided to set boundaries on my phone. It was the catalyst I required to begin. in the last 7 years and genuinely try to come off the drug that is social media as we know it. It is a drug because I’ve experienced the typical signs of withdrawal, quite simply.

Previously, I said I was a hypocrite before. I’ve come back to the phone in the most toxic of ways, being on it for many hours in the day because it was super hard to control myself when I didn’t have much else to do in the day whilst in Belgium. The positive… I haven’t stopped thinking about how I can improve and fix this going forward, which may be a negative and the reason I’m feeling fatigued. I believe, however, I’m getting somewhere.

I know I’ll be in a good place, if I ask myself, what a wise friends once said:

Do I need to share the moment with more people than those I experienced it with?

Ciao

The Chopper House Podcast

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Jean Luc Devos; Martine Verfaillie; 

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