I spent the last 3 weeks without Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google and Gmail while I was on holiday in China. Most of the foreign social media was blocked for political reasons except WeChat and LinkedIn. My social media usage was suddenly reduced by about 70%.
So you might ask ‘How did you feel?’ I also wondered how this had affected me so I started thinking and had a few conversations with myself (not in a crazy way).
Here are the top 3 things I learned
1. You never really appreciate something until it’s gone
I would like to think that I have a balanced view and usage of social media (given my special interests in CyberPsychology). Social Media is not a crucial part of my life, but it’s what it represents that is. The freedom, the connectivity with people we care for, and about things that matter. When it’s gone, the negative feelings can be overwhelming and possibly even damaging. I didn’t realise it until it was taken from me.
I missed being connected to people. For Facebook Messenger, I was able to get a new message notification so I could see that John sent me a message briefly before it disappeared. The frustrating part was knowing that someone had sent me a message but I could neither read nor reply. For other platforms, I didn’t even get a notification.
Surprisingly, not being able to post my holiday photos and stories in real-time did not bother me. (I don’t think it bothered my friends in Ireland either, maybe some didn’t even notice I was gone).
As you may know, posting on social media can induce positive feelings so I missed out on those for sure but it is the negative feeling that I have noticed more.
I felt like I was being controlled regarding who I could or could not connect with; where and when I could express myself; I noticed the growing anger of being stripped of my ability to access information; the frustration of not being able to reply and stay connected with friends and family; and the sadness of the temporary loss of my freedom of speech.
2. Super App is great but…
WeChat – the Chinese ‘Super App’ for everything from basic functions such as messaging to third-party services like ordering taxis, buying movie tickets, ordering food, paying bills and my favourite one which is paying and sending money to friends. Yes, real money, not like Facebook’s cryptocurrency Libra.
I did NOT need a wallet when in China, I only needed my phone when I went out. I could pay anyone almost anything by scanning their QR codes or giving the vendor my own QR code. Even beggars on the streets had QR codes.
The part that concerns me the most is the fast growth of the mini programs on WeChat. They are like apps within the WeChat app. What’s concerning here is the lack of information and education on how and what these programs and vendors can use when it comes to the user information they harvest through special offers, forwarding and marketing promotions. What’s worse is that if something bad happens, who should I report it to? If you have lived in China, you would know that it’s not always easy to make a complaint.
3. Detox doesn’t always mean good outcome
My 3 weeks ‘forced detox’ may have induced more negative feelings that positive ones. Obviously, this is not properly measured nor required by blogging standard. If you are thinking about a social media or digital detox, I think you should definitely have a conversation with yourself to understand what the real problems are, what you will be missing and gaining in order to achieve the right goals of detox.
If you haven’t heard about CyberPsychology, basically we are studying how people interact with each other online, how behaviour is influenced by technology and how technology can be developed to best serve our needs. This forced detox and discovery of a super app experience has made me realise that having neither access to technology nor information about technology, my personal experience was pretty negative.
A new paradigm that I am looking into is called Positive Technology – the use of technology to improve our personal experience. In other words, instead of being a slave to technology, we can create technology/features that promote positive behaviours and functioning. Maybe it’s time to stop slating successful companies but instead, we can focus on better identifying technologies can help us to improve our own personal experiences.