What were some of the first things you did when you woke up this morning?
Wash your face? Have your breakfast? Make your bed?
Grab your smartphone to scroll through your social media feeds?
If you did indeed reach for your phone to look through Facebook, Instagram or Twitter for the latest updates of things that occurred while you slept, you’re not alone.
According to a global mobile consumer trends report by Deloitte Global in 2016, 78 per cent of “consumers in developed markets” such as Singapore check their smartphones within an hour of waking up.
This statistic is symptomatic of society’s reliance on smart mobile devices – in the same report, it is further revealed that smartphone users check their devices about 40 times a day on average.
And the activity that majority of people use their smartphones for?
You guessed it: surfing social networking platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
This comes as no surprise, with a report by statistics portal Statista placing the total number of social media users around the world at a whopping 2.46 billion in 2017.
Yet, even as the influence and ubiquity of social networks continue to grow – the number of social media users is expected to reach 2.9 billion by 2020 – some technologically-savvy individuals have deliberately chosen to insulate themselves from the phenomenon.
Protection of personal privacy
For Mr Manoj Sharma, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of smart survey analytics company CusJo, it was a matter of protecting his personal privacy, which he realised was being compromised just by being on social media.
“Most people use social media to connect with one another, but the organisations who develop these (social media) platforms have a different purpose for it – to gather data of their users,” Mr Sharma, who is in his 40s and has been involved in the technology industry for over two decades, told The Pride.
“Information about who you are, which is valuable to advertisers, can be harvested through your activity on social media… from the pictures you post, to the things you ‘like’ or ‘share’.
“I felt this compromised my privacy, and so I eventually decided to wean myself off social media.”
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Mr Sharma, who ironically has done social media consultancy work for government agencies and various other organisations, admits that his personal accounts have not been deactivated as “there is still a need to engage on social media from time to time.”
His accounts, however, are bare – there is no profile information and no picture, and they do not even carry his name. Friends and family members have also been told not to post pictures of him online.
Mr Sharma’s aversion to sharing information on social media is something that Ms Gayle Phua, a law student, identifies with.
The 42-year-old however, says this is simply because she is more “private in nature”, and so does not feel comfortable using social media as a tool to broadcast information about herself to the public.
“The world on social media is very small. Whatever posts you put up or are tagged in are out there in the public and you never know who’ll come across it,” Ms Phua said.
“I’m not too enthusiastic about the idea of being so open. That’s why I hesitate to use it (social media) to share my thoughts, photos, information about myself. But maybe that’s just me, as my personality is a bit more private.
“So, I just have a Facebook account now, but I mostly use it to connect with friends from overseas. Other than that, it’s inactive.”
Using time more meaningfully
Having worked as a website designer, Mr Reeve Lui – now a business development executive at a B2B (business to business) customer intelligence and sales leads platform – is also no stranger to the social media landscape.
However, like Mr Sharma and Ms Phua, Mr Lui’s social media accounts are inactive and devoid of any posts.
The 27-year-old does not bother logging in to check for updates on his social media feeds as he feels that it is “not in his best interests to do so”.
Explained Mr Lui: “I’d rather use the time to enrich myself by reading or learning about new things. Unfortunately, most of the things you see being posted on social media do not have much in the way of value…a lot of it is fluff and nowadays, half of what comes up isn’t even true.
“The design of social media is meant to draw you in for long periods of time, and you can see that quite clearly everywhere you go now…people are stuck looking at their phones using social media, be it when they’re eating, walking or just waiting at a traffic light.
“I’m very particular about how I use my time…I’m not saying those who use social media are wrong to do so, but I prefer to spend my time on other things that I personally feel are more worthwhile.”
Mr Sharma believes that getting off social media has helped him to be more productive in life.
“If I want to spend valuable time with my family and friends, or focus on my work, I find that social media becomes a huge distraction,” said Sharma. “Therefore, not being on social media really helps with productivity.
“Of course, from a company’s perspective, we have no choice but to have social media accounts. Nonetheless, I make it a point to still control my interaction, exposure and time spent on social media.”
Preference for deeper relationships
While social media purports to connect and bring people together, Mr Sharma feels the interactions and relationships formed online are often much shallower as compared to when it is done face-to-face.
Although he admits that not being on social media might sometimes see him get the “latest gossip” later than everyone else, he insists he does not feel left out when his friends get together to discuss these issues.
“I’ll find out about the hot topics of the day through instant messaging applications like WhatsApp, or even better, through face-to-face conversations anyway,” Mr Sharma said.
“So, now I’m receiving this same information, but at a more personal level. I tend to find that conversation about the topic then becomes deeper, and the interaction is more meaningful this way.”
Ms Phua is another who sees more value in one-to-one interactions, as compared to when it is done over social media’s public platform.
“If I want to communicate with my friends, I prefer to do it using applications that allow for one-to-one conversations, like WhatsApp, Telegram, or even a traditional phone call,” said Ms Phua.
“So, for example, if I see something interesting or beautiful, I’d rather call my friends to tell them about it instead of taking a picture and posting it online. I find that to be more personal, and at least my words will not be misconstrued or misunderstood, which is much more likely to happen in the social media sphere.”
For better or worse, Mr Sharma, Ms Phua and Mr Lui are minorities in a society that is growing increasingly dependent on social media.
Ironically, it is a trend that is proving to be of concern for some of those who were integral in creating the social media and online space, according to a recent article by The Guardian.
Among those speaking out against the influence of social media is former Google employee Tristan Harris, who told The Guardian: “All of us are jacked into this system. All of our minds can be hijacked. Our choices are not as free as we think they are.”
In order to further his cause, Harris, who along with another ex-Google employee James Williams, founded an advocacy group, Time Well Spent, which tries to educate the public about the workings and traps of social media.
Speaking at a TED talk earlier this year, Harris warned of the consequences of letting the powers of social media networks run unchecked.
“A handful of people, working at a handful of technology companies, through their choices will steer what a billion people are thinking today,” he said.
“It’s changing our democracy, and it’s changing our ability to have the conversations and relationships that we want with each other. I don’t know a more urgent problem than this.”
Perhaps we should warn everyone about this. Not by making a social media post and hoping it goes viral, though.