What I learnt from 4 months “offline”

If you follow me on social media you may have noticed a lack of #AnimalFactOfTheDay, insect-recipe videos or, in fact, anything at all. I took a break from social media, or, as much as a break as I could as you may know my full-time job is in social media.

Now, social media absolutely has its place. In my professional life, I’m the Social Media Manager of one of the coolest and most inspiring nature-based organisations on Earth, turning world-leading science about our natural world into engaging content that is accessible through the online world. I love my job.

But beyond that, consuming social media content as individuals has changed. And that’s what makes me feel uneasy and on edge.

So I took a break. A break from creating content, from posting, and from talking to you – my audience and community who I love dearly. I took a break that meant I could focus on myself offline, my healing journey as I ventured through some difficult life lessons and experiences, and for which I needed undistracted recovery. The short break turned into four months, and now here we are. 

My time away from active posting, engaging and, the worst, doom-scrolling, taught me some things. It taught me some valuable lessons but it also brought up a lot of questions and forced introspections, and those are the things I want to talk about with you, my lovely community.

I started realising, whilst also knowing that this was something I’d actually known all along, that social media is simply about sharing real highs or real lows but not real life. But in this realm of a largely digital-focused world, what even is “real life” anymore?

If we post a photo of our fancy dinner and tequila shot, is that real life? In a way, of course it is, because we are literally out having that dinner and we are literally drinking that tequila shot. We are living that moment and feeling all of the emotions that come with it. It is our real life. But what about the emotions, thoughts, feelings, and before and after events that we don’t show on our instastories? And does our decision not to include those aspects and only posting us simply eating and drinking in that moment mean that we’re not showing our real life, our true selves? Of course, even 10 years ago it would be crazy to even ask this, because it’s simply one photo of one moment on one day, but the way that social media works is that we imagine that we’re all really showing up online and showing all parts of our lives. What’s up with that? Isn’t that a mad concept? And does this therefore mean that the expectations that we have of other people’s lives is on the people posting, or is it in fact on us, the audience consuming the content and subconsciously making those conclusions about that person’s life?

The things is, we pretend that it’s real life – that person is having a gr8 time !! Do we stop to think about that person’s life beyond the fancy dinner and tequila shot? Do we need to?

Is it actually that deep? The one instastory: no. Consuming social media for endless hours every day, the result of which has a huge impact on our minds and our thought-processes: yes.

Which leads me to ponder the question that came up most during these past four months of reflection – what are we expecting to find when we tap those apps? What are we seeking when we open up Insta? I think it’s the ingenuity that I find confusing and conflicting.

During the past months I actually came to find that the disconnection that I have been feeling over the past year or so (since I wrote this post) is in fact not with myself as I first thought, but a disconnection with who the world tells us to be by dictating what we should be spending our time on. I found that my time away from being online was rather a homecoming to myself, and a reconnection back to who I am, a part of me, the wholeness of me, that social media had taken away.

But how can social media have taken that away, when the essence of According To Jess has always been about showing up openly and authentically? I recently read Megan Jayne Crabbe’s newsletter and this line really stuck out to me – ” I realised that sometimes the ones who are shouting the loudest online are actually doing the least offline”. I realised how true that statement can be – not all of the time, but often. Because actually, in the moments over the past 18 months where I’ve been meditating more, being in nature more, deepening relationships more, planting more seeds, growing more food, and reading a lot more, I haven’t wanted to film it and edit it and post it – because I’ve found that doing that, and showing those parts online, actually take away the authentic energy of doing those things – it changes it. It distracts our subconscious and soon enough we’re looking for the number of views and likes and comments on those posts. In doing so, those initially wholesome and present moments of our lives are changed completely. We’re distracted, we’re instantly elated and then deflated with the disruptive rise and fall of notifications. Because that’s what social media does. That’s the model it was built on. And that’s what social media has taught us to be. How it’s trained our minds and bodies to act and react. Is that right? Does that make you feel uncomfortable? 

It makes me feel uneasy. And confused.

Because, when you have social media accounts that are built on educating and creating an awareness of nature reconnection and presence as I have, where does this leave me?

It’s made me think about how we’re often so busy trying to portray a “wholesome life” online that, in reality, we’re missing the fundamental point – actually living a wholesome life. And the pleasure that is seeked from trying to portray a wholesome life is the exact opposite of the message that we’re trying to shout about – we’re just waiting for those likes and comments saying what a wholesome life it looks like we lead. We’re not actually encouraging others to have a wholesome life and do those soul-nourishing things, we’re encouraging people to do things that they can then post on social media, seeking the same response of comments, because that is the model that social media is built on. It’s built to make us seek and chase and always want more and never find true satisfaction. And so the mindless rat-race continues and what have we achieved from our original goal of getting away from social media? Nothing. We have merely strengthened that bond, we are just seeking comments on a different post portraying a different vibe.

It’s only when we step back from being online and fall into the present moment that we actually feel peace. Think of a moment where you felt calm and safe and present – did that moment involve posting, sharing or scrolling on social media? I would guess that it didn’t.

People often share those quotes about what 100-year old women on their deathbed say about life. Sometimes it’s good to imagine yourself as that 100-year old woman and think about what she would say – I very much doubt we’d all be saying to the younger generations who are asking us “I wish I’d spent more time scrolling on social media and creating content that suits the algorithm.”

I’m not saying “let’s all ditch social media”. It absolutely has its place – I continue to learn so much from it, I’ve met wonderful friends from it and made brilliant professional connections too. But the definition of using social media is changing, I think. We need to go a step further than “set a time limit for your scrolling time” or “only follow those who bring you joy” – it’s still absolutely important to do those things, but perhaps we need to really sit down and listen to what our inner being responds when we actually and honestly ask ourselves “what are you getting out of your time on social media, what is it giving you?”

Despite this, there is also freedom within these online realms. There is freedom in being able to post what we want, how we want, to whomever we want at a time when we are feeling like we want to. So where is the line? Maybe, like all things and the essence of life, the answer is simply to be fully present. Doing things for the present moment without wishing something back from the past or hoping for something from the future. But how do we do this when our attention is sucked into social media?

Instead, let’s ask ourselves, who are we when we are not “online”? How can we show our truth and at the same time know the boundaries? Not the boundaries to sharing the depth of truth we want to go to, but knowing when the line is crossing over from sharing our energy online, to social media draining it out of us, as it often does.

I don’t think this is something that has one answer. it will look completely different to everyone. and as I evolve and grow each year, the answer will be different for me too. Perhaps it’s simply doing what feels right for us, each day, without being sucked into the pressures to perform, to show up, to be positive or explain why we’re negative.

Looking back over old diaries, a common theme kept coming up. “I want freedom” “I want to be free” – free from what? Freedom how? Free from worry, expectation, pressure, conformity, pain, hurt, trauma?

There is freedom in knowing that life changes, and it will change and continue to change no matter how much you try to plan, control and plan some more. But perhaps it’s important to keep asking ourselves the questions – what am I seeking when I tap those apps?

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