I am writing this out of a twisted form of serendipity.
My smartphone has a defective screen, a pink vertical line going down its right side. I needed to put the phone in a parcel and ship to back to the company for repair; as none of my older back up phoned hosts a micro sim, I am phoneless.
Suddenly, my all-important digital girl Friday abandoned me. The omnipresent LCD-glowing reminder of self-importance extinguished. My GPS navigation, banking, Strava and fitness monitoring on hold; all the myriad of ways metrics capture my overall ordinary existence evaporated. My smallness became larger, bitingly palpable. Who on earth am I?
But I take heart. All is not lost. Now into my fourth day away from my phone and I already feel the difference of not suddenly being beholden to tsunamis of endless information, updates, tweets, pics and superfluous apps. It’s weird, I am starting to relax. Life’s proper cadence is returning, breaking back in and cutting through my restless fidgety need to check information.
I recently finished the brilliant ‘Black Mirror’ Season 3 on Netflix. The show looks at the potential dystopian effects of current technology strengthening its vice around humanity. In episode one the five-star experience ranking system is enlarged to determine social class and structure. Bryce Dallas Howard plays a character so consumed with pushing up her star rating she carries a burden: the fake, strained smile of wanting and needing to be liked constantly. The pressure eventually breaks sending her into a dark world of social shame, humiliation, but ultimately liberation. In a perverse way as she breaks out of the need to prove and validate herself constantly. Her plight achingly echoes many stories of depression people have told me over the years.
My forced tech tap-out caused me to realise more than ever that filter of viewing the world when depressed is so easily engendered by social media platforms. When depressed comparing yourself to others, feelings strong sense of inadequacy when judging yourself almost superficially to other people’s more constantly easy and carefree lives.
It’s a hideous and punishing prism that becomes almost impossible to escape, especially when severely depressed. This tendency to compare your insides to someone’s outsides is a killer, an all too human tendency and almost auto-suggestive if hooked on social media.
For the depressed person engaging in social media, everyone else appears to have it so easy. While you’re stuck in quicksand, gasping for air, they are excessively hash-tagging, dropping ‘baes’ and emoji narratives of their sunny afternoon arm-in-arm with their eternal soulmates #friends4eva – ahhhh. The social have and have-not gap never appeared so damning, so real, and so depressing.
Unfortunately, it was not a surprise then to read an article on CNN this month pointing out clear rise in depression, especially among teenage girls who tend to be high users of social media.
It doesn’t have to be this way though. As I discovered recently, the failure of technology, being unexpectedly short-circuited can, put you into a more reflective, thoughtful in which sometimes greater meaning can be obtained.
As tough as my depression was (and trust me, it was bad), it caused me to embrace so many things like meditation, faith and meaningful work, that I would not have done if I didn’t go through depression. I hated it at the time but it caused a space of reflection out of which much positive changed occurred for my mental health and wider life.
In a small way, this timeout from the phone has reminded me that unexpected changes, breaks, forced silences can sometimes create the reflective space you need in this world of never-ending complexity.
Maybe the best thing you can do today for your mental health is not map out another automated reminder, to do list or calendar integration but simply press pause.