Late night scrolling, harsh blue lights, calculating algorithms and plummeting dopamine levels: Gen Z have had enough of social media.
“[It] makes me feel like reality is boring and gray compared to what I’m seeing [on my feed]. This process of comparing the things you see on social media… just takes away your authenticity…” says 19-year-old Amira Kair.
A Dubai-based university student, she decided to delete her Instagram account after spending at least 4 hours on the platform every day. It left her feeling “stressed and depressed”.
She says: “At first you get the feeling of being happy and satisfied, especially when you’re bored, because this is something you use to distract yourself. But after some time… You want to come back to this one place like it’s a different world, which gives you the illusion that it’s more interesting than your life…
“But then I realized that we are looking more similar to each other – surgeries, fashion trends, interests, even the news we are following… we just go with the flow. We are becoming unconscious zombies following short-term happiness; something that will give us dopamine again,” Kair says.
It’s no wonder she feels that way. Around 90% of young women aged 18 to 30 edit their pictures on social media to reshape their bodies, jaws and noses, according to a 2021 study by City University of London, with 70% feeling pressure to present perfect lives, while 86% admit their social media representations do not reflect their realities.
But in deleting her social media accounts, Kair found herself in another dilemma: she struggled to entertain herself.
“It was a big question of, what can I do to entertain myself in my free time?” she says.
“I was looking for this entertainment from external factors like social media, but once I deleted that and connected to myself more, I listened to myself more, like what are my interests and likes, what would make life more profitable for me, what kind of hobbies can I learn now?
“I feel I am becoming happier because I don’t get influenced by someone else and I am finding my own authenticity through that and connecting to my actual human nature of being myself and not being influenced by any other external factors,” she explains.
It’s that same reasoning that led Kair’s classmate Sarah Albasheer, a self-proclaimed former social media addict, to follow suit in deleting her TikTok and Twitter accounts.
I had Twitter, but I deleted it because it was such a toxic platform. For some reason, whenever I go on Twitter, I feel like everyone is so mad or annoyed, even if it’s from something very small. You’d find them exaggerating,big-time. Everyone is mad there for some reason.”Sarah Albasheer
But it was TikTok that Albasheer was most addicted to, and where she would spend approximately 6 hours a day scrolling through.
“I felt like I’m not using the phone, the phone is using me… [Social media] is not built for communicating, that’s what I believe in at this point. They are not actually interested in making you communicate, they are interested in always keeping you on the tip of your toes, or always checking your social media so you don’t miss out on anything on the platform.
“I [felt] programmed to open my phone every 2 seconds, even if I didn’t get any messages, just to scroll through my stories or look at people’s stories, or to feel like I didn’t miss out on anything…” she says.
While Albasheer’s Twitter and TikTok accounts failed to provide her with a sense of purpose or achievement, her experience with Instagram proved the exact opposite.
“I got the opportunity to work with Adidas through Instagram, and opportunities to work in art directing and to work with local companies and organizing events like with the restaurant Salt. I’m working with them now in event organizing because of Instagram,” she says.
She’s even decreased her daily screen time to just 6 minutes.
“I feel way more productive, and this productivity makes me feel happier. I feel accomplished, even if I’m not doing that big of a thing, but also the idea that I am not doing something useless – getting more quality time with my loved ones, writing more, doing anything, even if I am staring at the wall – the fact that I am not a slave for this phone or for social media, it makes me feel way happier,” she admits.
Another self-proclaimed social media addict, twenty-one-year-old Mohammad, who asked to remain anonymous for the purpose of this article, has also felt happier since cutting down on social media. About 2 years ago, he went from spending 17 hours every day on the platforms to just 2 hours in total.
“I would say I was a social media addict because I was a different person back then. I loved staying at homeand scrolling on social media… But I felt exhaustion. I would sit there and be happy but after that, I’d just sit there and stare and be like, what am I going to do now? It leaves you with an empty feeling…,” he says.
So, what changed? He felt a newfound appreciation for life.
“I’m more of an outdoors person now. I explored all the seven emirates and it gave me a way bigger sense of joy and dopamine… I have a friend I always go out with on these road trips. I know it’s not much, but in Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah, there are mountains and hills, there’s natural views.
I never actually got to appreciate these types of things until I went out, so I was like, you know what? My phone is never going to give me that, no matter how much I look at natural scenery online like on TikTok, Instagram, or whatever, I’m never going to actually, truly appreciate it until I go and see it.”Mohammad
Despite having to use social media for work-related responsibilities, he keeps his usage to a limit.
“I have to keep up with some certain news that happens in regards with my work… Now, it’s strictly professional. If I do post, I post either twice a month or sometimes on my story but just news or things that have international concern,” he says.
Mohammad’s method of replacing social media with a healthier habit like outdoor activities is the right way to approach social media addiction, according to clinical psychologist Juan Van Wyk from The Lighthouse Arabia.
“When we’re talking about addiction or dependency, sobriety is not the opposite,” he says.
“A cleanse or thinking about eliminating it as the solution is missing the point. Any dependency or addiction stems from a lack of true and deep connection. With a cleanse, I think you’re just eliminating the cause or the actual root of the problem for a very short period. The thing with social media is it creates a false sense of connection, a false sense of achievement.
“What I would recommend is try and identify true ways of creating a deep sense of connection to yourself, to others and a true sense of achievement that’s actually fulfilling, and that isn’t an illusion… You have to put in place the healthy thing. Just eliminating the unhealthy is not going to work, because you’ll fall trap to the same thing again,” he says.
So, the next time you find yourself scrolling through social media for hours on end, remember to switch off your phone and go for a walk or meet up with a friend, lest you end up feeling like an ‘unconscious zombie’.