Title: R29 Features Editor
When I told a couple of friends that I was giving up WhatsApp for a week (over WhatsApp, of course) their first remark was, “So? We can just text you. Or email you. It’s hardly life-changing, is it?” After I responded with an eyeroll emoji followed by the middle finger, I thought about how much a week off the app might actually affect me.
As pathetic as it sounds, my main concern was my social life. My evenings and weekends are organised almost entirely through WhatsApp. There’s a nonchalance to making plans over it (“Beer?” or even just "🍺 ?"). I was prepared to be excluded from dinner plans. But what would be really devastating would be a party invitation sitting in my inbox, unticked, my first knowledge of said event being when I saw everyone having a great time at it on Instagram. There's a reason I check in to WhatsApp upwards of 30 times a day.
I wondered who I should warn that I would be off the app and decided on just the two main groups (even I’m not as dramatic as to make a Facebook status about my upcoming absence).
And so I began. I didn’t delete the app (because for the sake of this experiment I wanted to know exactly how many messages I missed out on) but I silenced it so no notifications appeared. I didn’t miss the constant interruption at work – I certainly don’t check my phone every time a new message arrives but if my WhatsApp is going crazy, it stresses me out. Without it, I felt free and I definitely focused more on tasks.
Forgoing WhatsApp also reminded me that no one phones each other anymore. On my second night in I dial my friend Fifi’s number. “Why are you calling me?” she asks, sounding concerned. “Oh just for a catch up.” Clearly hearing something approaching desperation in my voice, she offers, “Well you’re not missing anything on the group chat”. I obviously pretended that I’d barely thought about it.
Sure enough on Friday, an Australian friend Facetimes me asking why I haven’t responded to his Whatsapp. Finally, a little concern
I have a few dear friends around the world with whom I am in regular contact, in America and Australia, and I stay in touch with them exclusively via WhatsApp. It is such an easy way to stay in each other’s lives. My friend Lucy, who lives in Perth, and I regularly ping each other a couple of boring titbits – details of hangovers or new clothes that I would never deem worthy enough to include in an email. But it’s this minute detail that creates closeness when there is, in reality, a great distance. Sure enough on Friday, another Australian friend Facetimes me asking why I haven’t responded to his WhatsApp. Finally, a little concern.
When I eventually clicked on the app on Sunday evening, exactly 1,148 messages flood in. Did I miss much? Not really. In fact, I can’t even be bothered to scroll back through the group conversations so I must have a better hold over my FOMO than I thought.
Mainly what the week proved was how much I enjoy the camaraderie of the WhatsApp groups – I never realised I relied on it so much. There are never fights on there, barely even disagreements; it’s just a place for humour, observations and idle chat. A bit like being transported to the pub with your mates at the touch of a button, whenever you might feel like it. I haven't turned the WhatsApp notifications back on just yet, though.
Title: R29 Fashion & Beauty Editor
Is it tragic that the first thing that crossed my mind when the idea of a digital detox was proposed in a New Year, New You-themed editorial meeting was: “Oh god, I wonder how many followers I’ll lose?" Don’t worry, I know the answer is a resounding yes. If ever there was an indication that I have an unhealthy dependency on Instagram, I’m pretty sure that’s it.
However, whether it’s a symptom of chronic nosiness or FOMO, from dawn ‘til dusk, I’m constantly scrolling through the ‘gram to see what my friends (occasionally enemies, exes, etc.) are up to. The addiction is so real that I often find myself 18 weeks deep in a random stranger’s profile, smiling placidly at their Insta-life before I ask myself how the bloody hell I got there.
Having joined Instagram three and a half years ago, albeit very late to the party, it’s been a constant companion and a loyal friend, keeping me abreast of anything and everything, from breaking global news to the birthday party all my pals are at in Soho while I’m on holiday on the other side of the world.
Yes, my cold turkey Insta detox might have been only seven days but prior to this, the longest I’d not refreshed my feed was probably one afternoon. Max.
The next couple of days passed quite easily, too, though I struggled when I wondered how many pics I might have missed of my gorgeous niece and my friends’ cute cat. Though I was managing my detox quite well and assumed my week away from Insta would go unnoticed, I was surprised that those close to me had clocked on. Midweek I got an urgent text from a friend saying “Are you going to follow back my new account anytime soon?” and when I informed my boyfriend’s sister that I’d given it up she laughed before saying she had wondered why I hadn’t liked her most recent pictures. How omnipresent and desperately active with likes or comments had I been for people to notice I’d been MIA for just a few days?
Thank heavens I quit Insta a few days after SaltBae broke the Internet, otherwise I’d have been beside myself for missing out on such a crucial pop culture moment
Since re-joining Instagram at the beginning of this week, I’ve only been on a couple of times and even then it was merely to check out a fashion campaign I was writing about (and make sure the Insta world hadn't ended). As of yet, I’ve not frantically scrolled down my infinite feed to hungrily absorb as much information as possible, like I used to. I won’t claim that I’ve weaned myself off Instagram entirely and that it will no longer be a part of my inane daily routine but I’ve definitely been reminded of how rich life is IRL, away from the artifice, and I certainly didn’t miss it half as much as I thought I might.
Being cut off from not only my own narcissism but the narcissistic echo chamber Instagram has created was a necessary refresher and reminder that although I enjoy it on a superficial level, for the most part I shouldn’t and couldn’t care less about likes. My digital detox happened to coincide with a week of cataclysmic political unrest and a disturbing sequence of some of the most serious social issues I’ve had to digest in my 27 years so unsurprisingly, missing out on a few selfies and #ootds paled into microscopic insignificance.
Title: R29 Editor
I was an early adopter of Facebook. I joined in October 2005 (see my album “Random, 2005”) when it first became available exclusively to 21 UK universities. I had heard of this website where you could see images of people you knew who were at university, and I was sick with desperation to get on it. Not just because I was a giant internet neek, but also because I really really wanted to see what one particular girl was up to. This girl was the best friend of my boyfriend at the time, and he kept going to visit her at uni – and some. If I could just see her photos from university, which I knew he would be in, I thought I’d be able to figure out if they were more than just friends. They were. I found out from a Facebook photo – bear in mind this was really early days Facebook when no one really knew how it worked or who could see what so I may well have been one of the first British witnesses of Facebook adultery. Dumbstruck by this genius piece of socio-technology that solved a huge problem in my personal life, for the last 12 years I’ve blindly followed Facebook everywhere it’s suggested I go. Until last week, when I endured a seven-day hiatus, which was really very inconvenient.
After the first morning without Facebook, I was so wracked by millennial FOMO that I logged back on and posted a status saying “Off Facebook for a week – please text or whatsapp me instead” which received 10 likes and one heart emoji comment. That afternoon, I received two texts sincerely asking if I was okay from people who had presumed I’d left Facebook because I was having a mental breakdown.
I very rarely add pictures to Facebook now because of Instagram and I even more rarely get tagged in any. In fact, considering it’s the number one social network, my personal life didn’t suffer at all in the week away from it. This, I have concluded, is because I’ve stopped going to nights like ***LOFT WAREHOUSE PARTY SATURDAY 28th***. Although come to think of it, I kind of miss those nights – as captured in my 2011 album “doing life”.
So, no change to relationship status or social status. The challenge for me was how it affected my work, which was threefold:
1. News. I consume most of my news on Facebook. I follow places like Channel 4, BBC, Vice, Guardian, Mashable, i-D, Dazed, Broadly – pretty much every relevant news and content platform so that I’m aware of which media is covering which story and in what format. Of course, I can consume news in other ways – which I did for the week – like going on the actual websites, reading the push notifications on my phone and going on Twitter a bit. What I missed was the curation. Because what I really want to know when I’m going on Facebook is how my 632 friends are reacting to the world. I have crafted, and heavily edited, this network of 632 people over 12 years and I trust them and their taste absolutely. Them and their taste is how I know when a story is worth covering, writing about, considering. It’s how I learned about the women’s march and the protest Owen Jones instigated on Monday. It’s the first place I go to be in the know.
2. Sharing. I share loads of Refinery29 articles on my wall (is it still called a wall?), either that I’ve written myself or that other people have written for Refinery29. It’s like a constantly moving portfolio of work that is instantly engaging and fed directly to the people I want to reach. I guess it’s free PR, but it’s also a brilliant, non-invasive way of communicating: here’s a link, if it catches your eye, great, if not, carry on. I’ve written loads on mental health for instance and sharing these articles on Facebook has resulted in a lot of amazing and important conversations with friends or acquaintances who have read them.
3. Commissioning. I commission a lot of articles on Facebook, so help me God. A substantial % of my 632 Facebook network are really good journalists, award-winning photographers and very cool people whose opinions are better than journalism anyway. And so I message them on Facebook and ask them to write/ shoot/ contribute, and they message me on Facebook and ask to write/ shoot/ contribute. In the week I was off Facebook, I missed messages from two major editors who wanted to work with Refinery29. I guess when you're available and online, you get good stuff, and when you're not, you miss good stuff.
So to my 632 friends, and my special friend – Facebook – who tells me how it is, I'm lost without you. There's no other platform that archives my youth, my work, my friends, the best nights of my life and all the hundreds of thousands of jokes I've shared with my boyfriend. It's all there, at the click of a button. A week off is fine – what really scares me is the thought that one day, Facebook might get a bug, and crash, and wipe out 12 years of my life. Then there'd really be something to write about.