Could you benefit from a month away from social media?

2 Sep 2019

Image: © ra2 studio/

The first step in getting to grips with a social media problem is owning up to it. Elaine Burke reckons with her own bad habits and considers making changes for Scroll Free September.

I often write these columns on my phone. Ever the inconvenience, inspiration can’t be summoned on cue when I’m comfortably sat at my desk in the office. It pops up whenever it likes. Out for a walk. At the hairdresser. Watching TV. “Ooh, there’s an idea!” and I instantly reach for the phone.

This so quickly became my habitual process that even in the one serendipitous moment when inspiration struck while at my desk, I still, unthinkingly, reached for the phone. For whatever reason, the stream-of-consciousness writing flows easier when I’m tapping on a phone screen instead of typing on a keyboard, but the repetitive strain in my hands certainly won’t be thanking me for this.

I’m sure many of you feel it, too. The ache from stretching your thumbs across expanding screen sizes. I also rest my screen in place on my little finger, which simply isn’t cut out for that class of weightlifting.

My hands ache. My eyes are dry all the time. I am often disengaged in social situations. I can lose hours at a time faffing about on my apps. And I’m often dissatisfied and irritated by all of it. Yet, still, I continue unchecked.

I’m not alone in this and I’m surely not alone in finding ways not to acknowledge this problem. To see the ugly habits formed around my phone and dismiss them as inconsequent, nothing so serious as to cause concern. And, besides, I can quit whenever I want.

That’s what is happening, in fact. I’ve seen enough people taking a break from social platforms lately – some even severing ties entirely – to see this as a trend, if only anecdotally.

While Scroll Free September (a month-long break from all social media) sounds like a good idea to forcibly break my own bad cycles, I know I simply can’t quit it all cold turkey with no trouble. For starters, social media is a tool I have to use for work and one I choose to use because it’s genuinely useful.

But if my only interactions with social media were fruitful and useful, I wouldn’t see a problem. The real issue is the wasted hours on idle scrolling that often leave me feeling anxious or dejected. The trigger prompting me to open the apps in the quest for a brief moment of joy, but instead I find things that are at best dull, at worst negative, and every post that passes without fulfilling the need for fun only makes me feel more in need of it than when I started. So I just keep scrolling.

‘The restrained drip of dopamine from fleeting ‘likes’ is nothing compared to a conversation sparked up with a friend’

So maybe I’ll take Scroll Free September at its word. I’m going to try to be mindful and purposeful in my social media use this month, and quit the mindless scrolling with no real end goal in sight.

This will be an opportunity, in many ways. The joke is on me that when I’m scrolling away I very frequently bookmark content to revisit later while I keep scrolling for some inexplicable other thing that never comes. This month, I’m going to actually read through my many bookmarks and trust the content that caught my eye for once.

Overall, I’m going to try give my strained hands a break and put the phone down more, especially when socialising. This is practically guaranteed to result in moments where I’m the only one not on my phone, but I commit to resist and stay present. When watching TV, I’m actually going to watch it rather than listen to it over a second screen I’m buried in, looking up details of the very thing that I’m not watching (you know you’ve been there).

And when I come across something remarkable or think of a quip worth making, I’m going to pivot back to sharing those things with friends. The rise of the group chat has formed a new social media that’s more intimate, sometimes just as frustrating, but definitely more rewarding. The restrained drip of dopamine from fleeting ‘likes’ is nothing compared to a conversation sparked up with a friend.

I’m not saying by the end of September I’ll be ready for a conscious uncoupling from social media, but I do hope to have established a healthier relationship for the future.

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Elaine Burke is the editor of Silicon Republic