CAN you imagine a world without Instagram or Facebook? Around 3.48billion of us use social media, and 90 per cent of the UK spends up to three hours a day on mobile phones.
With so much pressure to see and be seen online, it is hard to believe anyone born into the era of social media can avoid it.
But one marketing firm found that, of those people it spoke to born after 1995, half had quit or were considering leaving at least one social media platform – and there are a small minority who have dodged it all altogether. Here, Jenny Francis speaks to two social media virgins, and a woman on a sabbatical, to find out how they resist the urge to check their profile.
‘It’s weird that I’m telling my parents to put their phones down, not vice versa’
Lizzy Lillee, 23, admits that some people think she is odd because she has never used social media.
But the building site manager from Stratford, East London, has no regrets and does not plan on joining the online crowd any time soon.
Lizzy, who is single, says: “It used to be that admitting you’d never had sex was taboo. I get more judgement when I tell people I’ve never had social media. I’ve had people unable to speak because they are so shocked, and some ask me if I’ve been living on a desert island.
“They feel like they don’t know how to communicate with me if I don’t have social media, which is the exact reason I avoid it. When I was at Loughborough University and needed to make friends, social media seemed the way everyone was doing it.
“I was tempted, especially in my first year when someone I’d meet on a night out said, “I’ll add you on Facebook and we can chat”. But I’d just give my number instead and it worked out the same. I remember drunk nights out and pictures being taken.
“My housemates would wake up in the morning and immediately check their Facebook to see if they had been tagged in any embarrassing pictures. I’m so glad I don’t have to worry about that. As uni life went on I had a lot of coursework and exams.
“Friends had to resort to turning off the wifi in their flats to stop them scrolling through social media when they should be working, but I was much more focused. I’ve seen social media – my friends have shown me pictures on it, or comments – and while sometimes it’s interesting, I always feel relief that I’m not part of it.
“When I left university I stayed in touch with friends via WhatsApp and surprised friends with a knock on their door – something that seems surreal in today’s world. It’s weird that I’m constantly telling my parents and family to put their phones down at the dinner table – not the other way round.
“My mum has even said she wishes I was on Facebook so she could see what I’m up to. Also, I feel like my opinions are not being altered as much.
“So many of my friends talk about political opinions they’ve seen on Facebook or adverts and I think they are massively influenced by this. Almost everyone tells me I am missing out by not being on social media – I’m not.”
‘After giving up, I felt less anxious and was more focused on my daughter’
After years of obsessing over her social media, bartender Sarah Pilling, 28, is taking a break.
Sarah lives with husband Daryl Pilling, 31, a financial researcher, and daughter Violet, two, in Reddish, Gtr Manchester.
She says: “I started using social media in 2007 when I was 16 and loved it immediately. Initially, I used it to speak to friends and share pictures, but it kept evolving and, by the time I was 21, I was spending hours a day online. I was obsessed with scrolling through each form of social media and keeping up with what was going on.
“I’d always be thinking about what I could upload and obsessively looked at everyone else’s profiles. I started suffering with anxiety, partly because I was always looking at all the amazing times everyone else was having. In February this year my husband told me it was making me really moody and that I was spending up to seven hours a day using it. Deep down, I knew that he was right.
“I used an app called Stay Focused which blocks you accessing your social media accounts. The first two weeks were awful. I was constantly reaching for my phone on breaks at work, or when Violet was playing with toys, or first thing in the morning. It was so weird not being able to escape into that world of scrolling.
“But after three weeks I realised how much better I felt. I had time to do more shifts at work and my boss noticed how more focused I was. I’ve used the extra money to save for Christmas and home improvements.
“I felt less anxious and best of all. the extra time I had meant I was even more focused on my daughter. My one-on-one time with her helped me realise she was suffering a minor speech impediment. I hadn’t realised she had it because of my social media obsession.
“Sometimes I do miss sharing pictures and feel like I’m missing out, but then I remember how much more engaged I am in my life in other ways and it’s kept me away.”
‘Some friends got badly trolled so I decided never to use it’
Janey Stradley, 26, from Maidenhead, Berks, has never “liked” a picture, posted a video or been tagged in a meme.
The data input manager, who is dating Jason Fitzsimmons, 22, a pharmaceutical researcher, says boycotting social platforms online has made her a better friend in the real world.
She says: “When I was at primary school, I remember people talking about Myspace. Some of my friends spent their evenings creating pages with pink glittery writing and I remember thinking it sounded pretty boring. Facebook became a thing when I was 16. Back then, only a few people signed up. Me and my group of friends decided it wasn’t for us. We saw each other all the time outside school so we didn’t see the point.
“It’s not that I didn’t use the internet. I was always looking up new websites, listening to music and finding out new things. As I moved through secondary school, more and more of my friends eventually signed up to Facebook. I remember people talking about the pictures people had posted or tagged them in.
“It seemed like everyone was spending all of their evenings on Facebook and it just felt strange to me. If we went to parties and people took pictures, I would get text messages from people asking why they couldn’t tag me. When I told them I wasn’t on Facebook, they’d always ask why.
“I think that I felt uncomfortable putting pictures of myself out there for other people to comment on. By the time I was 19, I was so glad I’d stayed away. Half my friends had been bullied in some way on social media. Some were left devastated by a single negative remark.
“Others were trolled or messaged by bullies. I told them to delete it but they seemed to think that wasn’t an option. It was then I decided to never sign up to any social media, ever. I call and text my friends a lot and always make a big effort to plan get-togethers.
“More recently I’ve insisted on a “no social media” rule when we meet up so people don’t check it while we’re together. Everyone seems relieved that phones are put away. Some people ask: “Don’t you feel like you’re missing out?”
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“I feel like replying: “Don’t you feel like you miss out on things by constantly being online?” I know that if anyone googles me, no old pictures of myself drunk at parties or pictures with ex-partners are going to come up.
“My boyfriend Jason has a Facebook account. He uses it for work and a bit of socialising but not much, so he doesn’t think it’s weird I don’t use it.
“I like to keep my private life private. I don’t judge anyone who uses it. I understand people get positives out of it. I just know I feel happier without.
Ways to cut back on social media use
SOCIAL media expert Jodie Cook says: “For most millennials, social media emerged at the perfect time, as they were growing up. It was an exciting new way to communicate.
“The novelty of that has started to wear off, producing more of a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude. Plus much of the noise we hear about social media today is negative – concerns about too much screen time, links to mental health issues, online bullying and shortening attention spans.
“This means it is less appealing to people who haven’t yet used it.”
Here are tips to cut down your social media use:
- GET A WATCH: The No1 reason people look at their phones is to check the time. This leads to seeing notifications and then to a few minutes of scrolling here and there, which can amount to hours every day.
- SET A CUT-OFF TIME: In the evening, give yourself a phone deadline and keep it away from you from this time until the next day.
- GET AN APP: Use time-limiting apps that tell you when you have spent 30 minutes on Instagram in a day, for example, so that you are aware of the level of your usage. Or simply use the phone’s screen-time monitor.