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Opinion – Life online is losing its appeal

As we review the digital habits of the last few years and question what they might look like going forward, several factors point to a future in which we aren’t quite so wrapped up in the virtual world.

Isn’t it strange to recall a time when social media didn’t exist?

For the past decade, we’ve watched as platform after platform has materialised, some cementing themselves at the heart of our digital habits, others fading into the background to be dredged up only when a friend asks ‘hey, whatever happened to Vine?’

Today, a substantial portion of our regular interactions take place virtually, and most of us would be hard-pressed to survive 24-hours without scrolling through the feeds of our favourite apps.

Fixation aside, however, the tide appears to be turning as more and more people start taking their lives offline.

Beginning post-pandemic – during which we grew tired of being stuck to our screens – the last few years have seen us strive to be more authentic and present IRL, which can be tough when mindlessly swiping on Instagram stories, losing braincells on the TikTok For You Page, and wasting hours formulating a photo series good enough for the grid.

But has this been feeling less appealing for everyone, or simply a select few? And is there a possibility of a future in which we aren’t quite so absorbed in the virtual world?


The diminishing novelty of once-obsessed over platforms

Regardless of how often this is disputed of challenged – largely by the billionaires at the helm of these apps – the notion that social media is in its ‘flop’ era makes a lot of sense in light of recent events.

First came Instagram’s blatant disregard for user-preference with a shift away from chronological to curated content feeds, infuriating creators whose organic reach has since been rocked.

Shortly after, impressed by the success of BeReal among users newly concerned with ditching superficiality, TikTok introduced an undeniably similar feature, speaking to a wider craze of mimicry in the social media space.

Recognising that what works on one platform can be carried across and iterated upon, apps are now shamelessly nabbing original concepts from their competitors and putting their own spin on them, in contrast to the calls for more honest online experiences that gave them the idea to begin with.

There’s also been a mass exodus of X (formerly known as Twitter), as Elon Musk’s messy takeover and decision to introduce a monetised blue tick status led people to reassess their involvement with a site becoming increasingly unstable – and unnecessarily costly.

With this in mind, no wonder a rising number of users are losing interest in platforms that ignore their needs and continue to diminish in quality.

The oversaturation to disconnection pipeline

In the context of our emerging detachment from life online, the progressive difficulty of developing a unique identity in the face of aesthetic culture is proving to be quite the turn-off.

Casting a large net over how we perceive ourselves, the new micro labels, ‘groups,’ and personalities we’re constantly inundated with on social media – and urged to align with – stem from the ‘pace of our nostalgia,’ which according to experts is revolving so fast it’s tripping over itself and making us feel like we’re trapped inside a time capsule machine with every style and every era happening all at once.

The best example of this to date has been the popularity of Vintage Tech, Y2K, and Regencycore, all themes that were reintroduced on social media and consequently mainstreamed.

‘There has never been a society in human history so obsessed with the cultural artefacts of its own immediate past,’ writes Simon Reynolds in Retromania, which explores our collective passion for commemoration.

As he alludes to, this miasma of revivals, remakes, reissues, and re-enactments that we can’t escape from is providing limited room for originality and leaving us gasping for air.

With the Internet so completely oversaturated, the futility of our digital personas has been brought to the forefront, and many are choosing to opt-out as a result.

This is also what’s amounted in the collapse of the 20-year trend cycle, which now runs through from start to finish in a matter of weeks. Washing over us like the wave of references it is and devoid of its fuller past meaning, none of it seems real anymore.

On this note, I’d say it’s relatively unsurprising that logging off is gradually taking precedence over getting lost in the busyness of a (virtual) melting pot that’s defined by ephemerality.

The longing to be more present and authentic

Possibly the strongest contender for why we’re abandoning our smartphones is our growing desire to build lasting memories that aren’t muddied by the pressure of keeping up appearances that social media so relentlessly puts on us.

A combination of lockdown urging us to appreciate human connection that isn’t solely granted to us on Zoom and a shared understanding that we’re all faking it not making it at the moment, the boom in more down-to-earth representations of who we are online is emblematic of the nihilism that’s inherent in our lives now.

Amid rife dissatisfaction as we consciously enter the final and irreversible stages of global warming and the end of the world feels imminent, why bother entertaining the expectation to be picture-perfect on an app; to advertise a wholly curated existence to our peers?

Why not focus instead on our immediate realities, on fostering a decent handle on who we are offline, and on making the most of the time we have with the people around us?

Surely I’m not the only one who struggles when I’m talking to someone and they’re tapping away or interrupting the conversation with ‘wait two seconds while I upload this.’

Nonetheless, this is not to dispute the countless positive aspects of social media.

It’s indisputably fun – albeit addictive – allows us to access any information at the touch of a button, opens the floor to discussions integral to provoking change, and lets people join communities they hadn’t before thought they wanted to be a part of.

Not to mention the job opportunities it offers, particularly those which have transformed the creative landscape (for better or for worse, you tell me).

But if all we’re doing is posting about how depressed, anxious, and overwhelmed we are and using BeReal to bask in the revelation that our friends spend just as many days lying in bed as we do, can we  really overlook the plausibility that feigning contentedness online is nearing its expiration date?

Who knows, a bit of distance may even remind us of what was so truly magical about it in the first place.