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Why Social Media is Toxic: How to Detox?

It’s 7.30am on a Monday morning, and your alarm clock is blaring. Your eyes and fingers twitch to this familiar, harsh discordance. Annoyed, you swipe your alarm off on your phone. 10 minutes passes, and your second alarm shrieks, this time with double the vengeance. You press your ears harder onto your pillow to drown out the alarm. You had another late night of scrolling social media yesterday, or rather, just this morning. You kick your feet, and sit up, grudgingly. You glare at your phone, swipe it, and the alarm stops. That is when you catch a glimpse of the new notifications on your home screen. 

With your eyes still sensitive to the light from the screen, you squint and read the notifications. 

          INSTAGRAM: cecepoo, matheuslee and 19 others liked your post.
          INSTAGRAM: dingdongkoh mentioned you in a comment.
          FACEBOOK: It’s Jamie Yang’s birthday today. Let her know you’re thinking about her!

The first one catches your eye. You are eager to see who liked your post taken at Rumours Beach Club. You did not work out and skipped dinners to flaunt yourself in a new Seafolly bikini, just for the friends you were with to see. You knew there were going to be numerous pictures taken, Instagram stories taken. and so you made sure you looked good for the ‘gram.

You clicked expectantly on the notification, and started browsing through those who liked it. Registering each profile name, whether you know who they are or not, gives you dopamine hits. You feel admired and validated. After which, you return to the post and swipe through the photos again, satisfied. 

“We curate our lives around this perceived sense of perfection because we get rewarded in these short-term signals – hearts, likes, thumbs-up – and we conflate that with value, and we conflate it with truth. And instead, what it really is, is fake, brittle popularity that’s short-term and that leaves you even more, and admit it, vacant and empty before you did it.”

— Chamath Palihapitiya, Former Facebook VP of Growth

As you are about to exit Instagram, a post on your feed catches your eye. It is Benny, your ex-colleague, also someone you used to date. Gosh, he is engaged??? You look at his blissful grin and notice his hands wrapped around the waist of a petite lady. Her hand is extended towards the camera, and you can see the glistening rock of a diamond on her fourth finger. You let out a sigh. You zoom in on his fiancée to get a closer look of her face, and start scrutinising. Dang, she is sweet-looking. She definitely did eyelash extensions, you think to yourself.

You tap on the photo and see that she is tagged, and in a heartbeat, you are at her profile page, browsing through her photos, trying to see her in different shots and angles, to imagine how she looks in real life. You gather that she is a primary school teacher, does handicrafts and bakes often. A sneaky thought creeps into your mind: there must be something about her that makes her more attractive and worthy of Benny’s proposal. You continue to crawl through her photos, paying meticulous attention to their couple photos, reliving their memories, and thinking how wonderfully happy they look. That could have been me, you thought. You’re envious. You suddenly feel bad for yourself. Then you noticed the time. Oh crap, you are going to be late for work!

“They [Social media companies] know when people are lonely. They know when people are depressed. They know when people are looking at photos of your ex-romantic partners. They know what you’re doing late at night, They know the entire thing. Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert or what kind of neuroses you have, what your personality type is like.”

— Tristan Harris, Former Google Design Ethicist
(Total time spent on social media: 25 minutes)
          SNAPCHAT: New Chat from Chris Ham.
          INSTAGRAM: erlongpoh9 started following you.

You rush into the peak-hour train and squeeze into a corner. You whip out your phone to check for notifications. You click on Snapchat’s notification to see your message from Chris Ham, a stranger you recently started flirting with. He sent you a short video of him at a house party yesterday night, and asked you to send him a photo of yourself. 

You turn on the selfie camera on Snapchat and immediately notice how puffy and stiff your face looks in the morning, and you could not stand a second look of yourself. Your finger quickly reaches out to some of your favourite filters. After trying out a few, you decide on the ‘Jeweled Eyes and Pink Lipstick’ filter. You look somewhat Eurasian in this photo with luminous grey eyes and glossy pink lips. Your face seems a little slimmer with defined jawline, and your complexion is fairer and flawless. You are pleased with the photo and send it. 

As you contemplate this Eurasian version of yourself, you start to wonder how you might achieve this look. You begin to google for coloured contact lenses and cosmetics. You scroll through pages and pages on the internet, reading reviews, comparing prices, scanning through influencers’ Instagram and facebook accounts for recommendations to find that perfect cosmetic solution. 

“Every single action you take is carefully monitored and recorded. Exactly what image you stop and look at, for how long you look at it.”

— Jeff Seibert, Former Twitter Executive
(Total time spent on social media: 1 hour 10 minutes)

You arrive at the office and sit through two meetings. The whole time you are gulping down your black coffee as you struggle to focus your attention on the speaker. You feel bored and restless and often glance over to your phone, checking for any new notifications. 

“We’re training and conditioning a whole new generation of people… that when we are uncomfortable or lonely or uncertain or afraid, we have a digital pacifier for ourselves that is kind of atrophying our own ability to deal with that.”

— Tristan Harris, Former Google Design Ethicist

Finally, the meetings are over, you head straight to the restroom. Of course, you bring your phone along. What else is going to keep you entertained? As you sit in the toilet cubicle, you reply to some messages before instinctively start scrolling on Instagram. After a couple of cat videos on your feed, sponsored advertisements start to pop up. 

“Why do advertisers pay those [social media] companies? They pay in exchange for showing their ads to us. We’re the product. Our attention is the product being sold to advertisers.”

— Justin Rosenstein, Former Facebook Engineer

Advertisements on makeup products, aesthetic treatments or cosmetic surgery clinics are becoming increasingly frequent on your feed. The cosmetic procedures advertised seem to be promising, and the results are unbelievable! You click on to find out more and find yourself reading through rave reviews of customers who injected fillers, did liposuction, breast augmentation and double eyelid surgeries. They all boast of excellent results. You can’t help but feel tempted. 

“Plastic surgeons have noticed a rise in patients wanting to look like their edited selfies. The phenomenon is known as “Snapchat dysmorphia.”

— The Washington Post
(Total time spent on social media: 1 hour 40 minutes)

You go out with your colleagues for lunch and you check your Instagram post for any new likes or comments. You refresh the post whenever you have a short break at work. On your train journey back home, your eyes are glued to the screen, as your fingers idle on social media platforms.

“You pull down and you refresh, it’s gonna be a new thing at the top. Pull down and refresh again, it’s new. Every single time. Which, in psychology, we call a positive intermittent reinforcement.”

— Joe Toscano, Former Google Experience Design Consultant
(Total time spent on social media: 2 hour 55 minutes)
          TIKTOK: Lucasbee just posted a new video.

It is bedtime. You lie on your bed. You usually watch some videos before you sleep. You open Youtube and the first video seems interesting, you tap on it, only to be greeted by not one but two advertisements that you cannot skip. You get irritated and switch to TikTok. The first video is already an advertisement, but at least you can swipe this one away. You swipe till you find something interesting and from there, it is like going down a rabbit hole. Subsequent videos are somewhat similar and you enjoy them all. You just can’t stop watching. 

Oh crap, it’s 2.55am. You click exit, and the TikTok page refreshes with a new video. You watch it anyway since it’s already auto-played. You watch videos for another 15 minutes before having to double click just to exit TikTok. 

“We want to psychologically figure out how to manipulate you as fast as possible and then give you back that dopamine hit.”

— Chamath Palihapitiya, Former Facebook VP of Growth
(Total time spent on social media: 4 hour 15 minutes)

Research shows that using social media for more than 3 hours has adverse effects on mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression. Still, you repeat the same social media routine the next day. And the next. And the next.

How to Detox from Social Media?

Join A Kind Place and eGe on a Wellness Retreat to detoxify your mind, heart and body from all the social media noise. More details below. Limited slots available, sign up and secure your spot today! Click here to register.

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