Why don’t we ever want to be completely alone? And I don’t mean alone as in physically on your own, but alone without being constantly connected to other people – without our phones, tablets, Facebook, Soundcloud, WhatsApp or Twitter. We say ‘me time’ but really it’s me and the dozen other people I choose to chat to whilst I’m having a bath or getting an early night.
There even appears to be an air of embarrassment about being completely alone. As you walk past a crowd of people you stare down at you phone and catch up on the messages that were received no more than 20 minutes ago, but you already feel obliged to start with ‘sorry for the slow reply.’ You sit on the train alone and you look up from your screen perhaps only once. You might be scrolling through the same Instagram posts for the fourth time that morning but to look around the carriage and catch someones eyes for few seconds is just too awkward to bare thinking about.
I often eat breakfast on my own and so I always have my phone on the table next to me. I’ll do the usual rounds; Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, reply to messages, read emails, quick glance at the BBC news app, a brief scroll of Twitter and then the kettle has boiled and my porridge is done whirring around in the microwave. And then I eat it whilst finding some rubbish TV series to catch up on so I don’t have to think about anything real.
It’s not just at breakfast where this weird little routine takes place. It’s whenever I spend time alone. Be it eating, waiting for a train, lying in bed at night, on the toilet, in the gym and sometimes even whilst I brush my teeth. Whenever my mind could potentially wonder onto anything real, scary, dark or disturbing – anything which could evoke emotions I’d rather avoid, I grab my little glowing screen, which feels like a third arm, and I consume as much nonsense as possible.
It’s rarely useful or educational stuff that I’m looking at. Yes, I’ll read the occasional article from The Independent, which I’ve stumbled across via Twitter. Yes, I’ll watch the odd BBC news video now that they are posted to Instagram. But most of the time, I’m merely enviously observing other people’s lives. I watch ten second videos of my friends lying on beaches in Australia or skiing down black slopes in France, or perhaps they’re just on a night out and filming themselves pissing around in the takeaway shop.
Once I’m done taking all of this in, I feel annoyed that I’m not doing any of those things. But mostly, I feel annoyed that I have just wasted a good portion of the day – and if you add it all up, a good portion of my life – watching other people do ‘stuff’.
The ‘stuff’ that I have just watched, doesn’t add to my life in any way, shape or form. It doesn’t promote intellectual discussion, it doesn’t inform me of anything, I don’t close Snapchat and think ‘wow, you learn something new everyday.’ Instead of building and bettering my own life, I’m just looking through a little window into other people’s lives and gaining nothing from it.
It was after realising this and stumbling across Louis C.K on Youtube talking about about why he hates smart phones and why being alone is what makes us human, that I decided to spend less time on my phone and more time engaging in real life.
So last week my flatmate Rachel and I, after agreeing we spend too many evenings lying on the sofas showing each other Facebook posts and discussing our friend’s latest upload, we made a list of changes we’re going to make and little adventures we’re going to embark on throughout May and beyond. It was a list of things we could do, be it together or alone, which don’t involve social media.
The list includes bottomless brunch (which we won’t photograph), walks in the Peaks with regular pub stops, evening strolls, reading more books, watching more documentaries, visiting the alpaca farm (don’t ask), a cheese and wine evening, a couple of charity events, attend an art exhibition and enjoy a day out in Leeds. This is by no means exhaustive and the list grows everyday and at this rate, we’re not even going to fit it all in before the summer starts, but it’s worth a shot.
I began to make changes this week. I started to read The Beach yesterday whilst I was on the train from Nottingham to Sheffield, instead of looking at memes and tagging my friends in the ones I found most relatable. This morning, instead of watching Made in Chelsea whilst I got ready, I started to watch Making a Murderer (yes, I realise I’m a little late with that one). Today, I walked to university without listening to music and instead I thought about course deadlines, my Nanny, who has recently been diagnosed with dementia and my past and failed relationships. Yes, some of those thoughts are upsetting but I decided it was healthier to dwell on them rather than push them aside and watch a video of a fat toddler dancing. And lastly, this afternoon I went for a coffee by myself. I took my laptop but knowing I wouldn’t be able to connect to any wifi and get sucked into the realms of social media and I wrote this very blog post. Admittedly, sitting in a cafe on your own can make you feel a little self conscious at first but after the ten minutes or so, that feeling ceased.
And do you know what, it was refreshing. It has given my mind a rest from the constant judging and analysing of my own life in comparison to other people’s lives. It was refreshing to know that I had achieved something, even if it was only reading a few chapters of a book, rather than consuming a load of drivel and consequently feeling as though my life is inadequate. It also meant that when I eventually did sit down to look at my phone, which don’t get me wrong, I am still doing more than once a day, I was viewing content which I hadn’t yet seen.
I’m hoping these changes are going to last, I don’t want it to be a lifestyle ‘diet’ which I keep up for no more than a few weeks. And I’m fully aware that I’m never going to cut out social media completely but I’m hoping this will be a permanent but very slight adjustment which improves my mental wellbeing for the foreseeable future.