TORONTO — Ed Sheeran treated his 16 million Twitter followers and 5.5 million Instagram followers to a surprise on Sunday when he announced he would be stepping away from social media for an undisclosed period of time.
Through an Instagram post, Sheeran revealed he was beginning to see the world through the pixels of a screen rather than his own eyes, and that he wanted to take the opportunity to “not [have] to be anywhere or do anything [and] travel the world and see everything I missed.”
The post has received over 500,000 likes. Fans greeted the announcement with a mixture of understanding and disappointment.
The move has triggered a conversation about the value of social media and our emotional well-being when tethered to a smartphone and scrolling through updates.
Psychologist Nicole McCance said an addiction to social media can erode our self esteem and leave us feeling worse than when we first logged on.
“We tend to compare ourselves with others just generally and it doesn’t make us happier,” she said.
“One thing we have to keep in mind is that they are only posting on good days, something that is filtered and the best version of themselves. So keep in mind that it’s not real.”
McCance also noted that social media can program us to be preoccupied with sharing a moment, rather than living it.
“We’re posting all the time and not actually enjoying the moment,” she said. “Because we’re too busy thinking about the caption on the post we’re about to do.”
Sheeran isn’t the first celebrity to announce a hiatus from social media. Nicki Minaj, Iggy Azalea and Jennifer Love Hewitt have also done so, but the departure is rarely permanent.
Miley Cyrus announced she was stepping away through a YouTube video, which ironically went viral.
The GlobalWebIndex reports that the average user spends 1.72 hours per day scrolling through status updates and posting or commenting on social media, which represents almost 30 per cent of online activity.
But due to the ubiquity and usefulness of platforms like Facebook and Twitter, many are unable to completely unplug because they rely on their marketing potential and reach.
Gina Cosentino, a freelance columnist and consultant, said on Facebook that, “Going on such a diet for me is impossible as I use it as a form of earned media.”
McCance advised against the “cold turkey” approach. Instead, she suggests trying to curtail usage by leaving the smartphone in another room, “So it’s going to take more effort to get to [it],” or cutting off screen time after 6:00 p.m.
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