Logging off: Meet the people who quit social media (and never looked back)
Turning their backs on the world of likes and followers is the best thing these former Facebook and Instagrammers ever did, writes Arlene Harris
Social media is the ultimate popularity contest with many subscribers measuring self-worth by the number of followers or 'friends' amassed. But while most of the world is still held in its virtual grip, a growing number of people are choosing to tear themselves away from their screens by deactivating their accounts.
Actor Channing Tatum recently told his 17.4 million Instagram followers that he's switching off in order to 'get his creative juices flowing' and there are plenty of ordinary people doing just the same. They're leaving behind the world of likes and followers - and they say their lives have never been better.
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Deirdre Coe was on Facebook for almost eight years and Instagram for two when she decided that the constant bombardment of photos depicting the supposed utopian life others were living was becoming exhausting.
"I had gone through some changes and looking at other people's so-called 'perfect life' was unhealthy for me," says the 57-year-old. "Even though I knew how it was making me feel, I kept on scrolling, so two years ago I decided to delete my accounts and it was the best thing I've ever done - I don't miss it at all."
The Dublin woman believes we have an increasing problem with interacting in real life which will lead to mental health issues.
"We have a big problem actually talking to each other," she says. "Being on social media contributes to isolation, loneliness and even depression - of course it can be helpful for networking but for anything personal I don't use it at all. If I want to know what's going on with friends and family, I speak to them."
Abbi Bramble (32), who was on Facebook from its conception and Instagram for six years, agrees with Deirdre. With over 10.5k followers she began to realise that her life was so public that people often recognised her and her girlfriend on the street, so she decided that it was time to start keeping some of her life private.
"Over time, I noticed my anxiety levels rising as I spent more and more time on my phone," she says. "I started to feel uncomfortable when people recognised me and had to be honest with myself about how much I had been putting online and how that made me feel - what part in me was being nurtured by chasing that high of gaining followers?
"I felt it was becoming negative - when you see a beautiful thing and your first instinct is to take a photo to show others that you saw it rather than enjoy the moment, then something has gone amiss. It's changing society and the way we enjoy our lives. We are no longer present with our friends when we are with them. Our minds are racing and we don't daydream like we once did. I thought being online and seeing lots of inspiration every day would inspire me but instead, since giving up social media, I feel more inspired and creative than I have in years."
Research has shown that social media does indeed cause stress amongst users - some who feel their lives are not as successful as what others are portraying, while some experience bullying, sometimes in a cruel and open fashion, but more often in subtle ways.
John O'Rourke can relate to this as both he and his wife Anne came off Facebook earlier this year following a spate of negative comments from supposed friends.
"I was on Facebook for the past eight years and Anne probably a bit longer," he says. "I didn't really do very much on there. I posted the odd photo from a fishing trip or reposted silly jokes, but I also used it to connect with old friends and family who have moved abroad and I liked it for that.
"Anne was more involved though and as well as genuine friends, she also felt obliged to accept friendship requests from people she hadn't had any contact with since her school days. Over the years she began to feel as though she was in competition from some of them as there was this ridiculous feeling of everyone trying to post better photos of themselves looking glamorous, drinking champagne, at parties or on holiday - it was enough to even make me feel depressed and I knew it was a total sham."
But while the Wicklow man wasn't impressed with some of his wife's social media friends he didn't really think it was doing too much harm until an incident which caused her to feel belittled and embarrassed.
"In the beginning Anne was quite easygoing about the daily influx of photos and boasts - I don't call them posts as they are actually boasts - but after a while it began to get her down and I could see her assessing what we had and measuring our lives against other people," says the 41-year-old.
"She didn't come out and say it, but after reading about someone's 'amazing' cruise she would always be a bit down. Then I noticed her becoming irrationally tearful and while initially she said there was nothing wrong, I persisted until she eventually told me that a group of her 'friends' had been subtly bullying her online.
"It started when she put up some photos of our holiday in Spain and one of them said she hadn't changed a bit apart from the fact that she had a lovely full figure these days, which was obviously meant as an insult. Then there were some comments about the 'old days' and before long Anne ended up as the butt of a joke. She was really upset about it and I said to her that she should get rid of them all and social media as a whole as it did nothing for her. I said I would come off with her and we both went cold turkey and haven't been on since. I have to say, it's the best thing that we have ever done and I wouldn't go back to it if you paid me."
Marcia McDonagh (49) also quit Facebook a few years ago as she feels the whole concept is time-consuming and false.
"I was a late-starter to social media as I really didn't have any interest but my three brothers live in the US so they asked me to join so I could communicate with them," she says.
"I went on for a while but only really used it when I was sitting in a waiting room or had time to kill. So I deactivated my account, but then when my youngest brother became a dad, he asked me to go back onto it again, which I did. But after a short time, I realised that I really didn't like the whole lack of privacy thing - everyone sharing pictures of their children or talking about their marriage break-ups. As far as I was concerned it was the same as me going out into the street with a sign detailing all the minutiae of my life - people would think I was mad and I feel the same about Facebook.
"I've conceded to joining WhatsApp so I can communicate with my brothers in a private group and that is great but I have no interest whatsoever in social media and the whole 'keeping up with the Joneses' thing. I really feel that it is causing people to lose the ability to converse with others. We need to get back to basics, put down the phone and just talk to people - take my word for it, life is a whole lot better without it."