While isolated in college, scrolling through social media and endless FaceTime calls became my lifeline. But social media also became an addictive whirlpool of fake news, illegal lockdown parties and increasing numbers of heart-breaking posts. From my room on Brasenose New Quad, I watched people lose family members, my mum put in triple the hours at work at the COVID ward and endless status updates about a “hoax virus”. Being alone took its toll and I struggled to manage my time on social media without being pulled into a hole of statistics and guidelines.
The week before my (online) Mods, I took to managing my screen time. I can’t lie, I don’t actually think I cut down my screen time by much, but what I did (and still do) was limit my time on news sites using the Apple Screen Time feature. I limited myself to 20 minutes a day scouring Sky News, The Guardian and other such websites. This meant that clicking through links I saw on Twitter and Facebook was a no go. Within days I felt a sense of relief; my brain was no longer buzzing with headlines. I also muted the words “Lockdown”, “Coronavirus” and “Covid-19” on any social media platform that allowed me to do so. It might appear that I was adamant to block myself off from the reality of the pandemic, but I found that catching up on the news for just ten minutes in the morning and for just ten minutes in the evening worked wonders on my mental wellbeing.
I am under no illusion that my relationship with social media over the period that I spent on my own during lockdown was healthy, but it was the only way I could stay in touch with my family and friends. I used video call to celebrate my little sisters’ seventh birthday, Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day and introduced my grandparents to the fact that, yes, if you press the little video icon you can see my face in real time. Regular virtual quiz nights replaced the nights I would usually spend at the pub with my friends, bringing a sense of normality through the craziness that was virtual Trinity.
However, perhaps the most important encounter I had with technology over lockdown was at 3am, when I felt like I was the only person in the world awake, and I sent text after text to the Shout anonymous helpline. And I was not the only one, I received an automated message that read “please bear with us, we are experienced an unexpected volume of messages at this time.” Those late-night conversations, despite ending in suggestions of mindfulness and a cup of tea, were often all I had when my world was asleep. Covid-19 has seen a rise in Mutual Aid Groups, online support groups and resources being made freely available for people to occupy and educate themselves through the pandemic and I truly hope that this sense of community can be maintained as we progress.
Social media and technology are often blamed for an increase in mental health issues, but for me, it is as much my friend as it is my enemy. Excessive time spent scrolling through my Instagram feed with posts almost begging people to think of others and social distance versus Snapchat stories of people recreating club nights in their kitchen sent my mind into overdrive. But social media has also displayed the best in communities; I have recently heard someone liken social media to an extension of your personal circle. The key to a healthy relationship with technology comes from curating feeds to be spaces that make us feel as good as our friendships and imposing boundaries as we would with people. After all, we are all humans behind the screens.
Artwork by Rachel Jung