Generation Z is heavily associated with social media, often leading the latest trends on TikTok or spamming their socials with endless posts. This comes as no surprise given we’re the generation that grew up with smartphones, ditching toys for tech. A generational change that has prompted many millennials to lament about the ‘good old days’ and crack jokes about how wi-fi is the new oxygen for us. In line with this thinking, stereotypes of a typical teen have also been adjusted in TV and film culture to portray us all as grunting, anti-social and sulky adolescents who can’t be parted from screens.
But is there any truth to this? Social media, tech, and smartphones have all been an intrinsic part of growing up for my generation. So have our childhoods been less fulfilling because of this? Have we missed out? Or is the past just being romanticized through rose-tinted glasses?
Although I have never considered my parents to be unreasonable or overbearing, when it came to social media and smartphones they took a less than relaxed approach. My parents, particularly my mum, were much more firm about smartphones and social media compared to the parents of my peers. No matter how much I dug my heels in, they were adamant I wouldn’t get a phone until it was ‘the right time.’ I resented this decision of theirs at the time and felt increasingly pressured to be like everyone else and fit in. Cliche but true. This ache persisted in me until I finally got a phone at around the age of 14-15. It didn’t take me long to realize why my mum had been so hesitant in giving me a phone of my own and I soon began to regret it just as much as I had wanted it. When I opened apps like TikTok for example, it felt like a whirlpool sucking me in. I genuinely struggled to put the phone down and the minutes flew by. My attention span also suffered which only dawned on me whilst I was revising for my GCSEs.
Social Media: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly
But I would be lying if I said I thought there are no positives, the most obvious being that social media allows us to keep in touch with family and friends. Importantly, it also allows for anyone in the world to share their story, something which is vital in many places where news may be censored and people silenced.
But despite the advantages, it’s hard to use it in moderation. We have become so accustomed to filling all the gaps and interludes in life by picking up our phones. You would rarely see a train carriage, queue, or lift full of people just reflecting on their day, living in the moment, or reading. What’s most likely is that everybody is checking their phones. And whilst social media can occasionally provide excitement, it’s just as draining.
My Social Media Detox Experience
So I decided it was high time to have a social media detox for a week. Currently, I use Instagram, Twitter, and Youtube. For a period of time, I did have TikTok but soon deleted the app after I found it was too addictive.
After deleting the three apps from my phone, the biggest and most noticeable change was that my screen time dropped very quickly by 31%. My longest-used app also changed from being social media related to Apple news which I subscribed to (admittedly on a boredom-induced whim) during my detox week. I have always enjoyed reading but most of the time I abandon a long read or feature halfway through in favor of jumping between social media apps. But with no other apps to distract me, I was able to satisfyingly finish quite a few articles ranging from topics like teen mental health to the effect of war on women.
The rest of the changes weren’t as apparent to me until I re-downloaded social media post-detox. The bitter feeling of regret after you spend too much time looking through your phone first thing in the morning or when you really want to put it down but you just can’t bring yourself to do it, all came rushing back.
Detoxing really helped me to begin to understand the impacts social media has on my mental health, attention span, and mood. But at the same time, I felt it was too short a time frame to be able to make meaningful changes and habits. The digital apps we use have become so intrinsic to our lives that leaving them seems like an impossible feat so we have to learn to live with them, in moderation and with self-discipline.
Spoiler alert: it’s easier said than done.
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