Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. We rely on these sites on a daily basis - how else are we going to keep hundreds of our friends and followers up to date on our daily experiences, whilst following theirs? (In an entirely non-creepy stalker fashion, of course).
The question is: do we actually need such tools in order to lead a successful social life? We shudder when we think of the past - how on earth did we live without our laptops and smartphones?
But are we actually entertained by what we do on these top-of-the-range electronic devices? You log into Instagram and discover that your friend from school (who you barely, if ever, speak to anymore) has taken a lovely selfie with her friends in a restaurant. Another acquaintance has taken a photo of the Starbucks coffee they've just picked up. Yet another has taken a picture of the setting sun. Fascinating stuff.
Facebook offers more of the same. Upon logging in, you're greeted with statuses moaning about going back to work, raving about the brilliant drunken antics that were had the previous night, how excited they are about an upcoming holiday, and shouty rants about poor drivers and sports. You're also treated to Instagram-style photos here, just in case you're craving even more random photos of inane objects and "arty" shots of public places.
Is any of this information useful? Sure, the internet is a great place to keep in touch with friends and family - but maybe it's time to take a step back and look at how much social networks dominate our lives. This can only be done by giving yourself a social networking detox.
There are many benefits to deciding to take a break from social networking. Sure, you'll experience withdrawal symptoms to start with ("What if someone's messaged me? What if I've missed something important? What if I miss out on the latest Miley Cyrus/Justin Bieber scandal?") - but once that's over, you'll be faced with something new and unusual - something aptly termed, by Tumblr users, as "the outernet".
The outernet offers many perks. Walk into a coffee shop and have a chat with the barista instead of keeping your face glued to your phone screen. Go for a walk, nod and say hello to the man walking his dog. Get home from work, read a book, get some gardening done, maybe even get going on that to-do list you never got around to starting on - because taking out some "me" time is essential to enjoying the "we" time when you go out with your friends.
Such a detox can yield hugely beneficial results. Your real-life friends - as in, the ones who you do more with than stare at each other's photos online - will seek you out via means other than the Internet. You'll go out and meet them, and actually talk with them, connect with them.
Before too long, you'll feel much more sociable than you ever did when you were stuck to your phone or laptop. You'll spend more time out of the house than in, which will give you more opportunities to meet new people. Having more time on your hands means you can take up a new hobby and meet new people. More of your friends will take the time to find out how you really are, as opposed to what you last ate and photographed for Instagram. Event invitations on Facebook will be swapped for telephone calls inviting you out - making you feel that your presence at a party or dinner has genuinely been sought out, appreciated and wanted.
Photographs you take with your friends can be printed and placed on your mantelpiece instead of getting lost in a sea of newsfeed updates from people you barely know, giving them more meaning and significance.
The outernet can be a very friendly, fulfilling place - if you'll give it a chance.