Who needs social media? Millennials who hardly use Facebook, Twitter or Instagram

Some millennials here hardly use Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. They tell The Sunday Times there's more to life than posting updates

The use of social media is commonly associated with younger folk.

Nine in 10 millennials here use Facebook, the most popular social media platform here. On average, they spend 2.3 hours a day on social media, according to global insight consultancy TNS.

But some millennials here - aged 16 to 34 - do not have Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts or have not logged on in months.

This minority - The Sunday Times found six of them - may watch the occasional YouTube video or have a LinkedIn or Google Plus account, but do not post updates.

At some point, most had a Facebook account, but quit for reasons such as wanting to protect their privacy, avoid cyber-bullying or to have more time for their interests or with their loved ones.

My newsfeed was an endless stream of selfies and photos of food, holidays and relationships. It was easy to look at these photos and feel jealous or make unnecessary comparisons.

COOK LEON LIM, 24, who last logged on to his Facebook account in 2014

Part-time media student V. Ajantha, 22, who stopped logging into her Facebook account in 2011, says: "The idea of exhibiting my private life on social media never appealed to me. When my friends tagged me in photos, I would remove the tags because I didn't want photos of myself circulating on the Internet.

"And since I never did anything with my Facebook profile, what was the point of being on Facebook?"

The fear of cyber-bullying was why undergraduate Poh Li Ting, 22, de-activated her Facebook account in 2010, three years after signing up. She had felt uneasy that her friends posted unflattering photos of her and tagged her in them.

Although she is not sure if they did so out of malice, she did not like being laughed at over those unflattering moments.

She says: "I was still a teenager then, grasping with my individuality and self-confidence. Those photos of me in the middle of a laugh or rolling my eyes were a big deal to me and they upset me.

"I soon got tired of fearing when the next photo would be uploaded and decided it would be better to be off the platform altogether."

Most of the millennials who shy away from social media were uncomfortable with its culture, which they feel glorifies narcissism and leads users to feel inferior and inadequate.

Mr Leon Lim, 24, a cook at a hotel restaurant, last logged on to his Facebook account in 2014 and does not have a Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat account. He says: "My newsfeed was an endless stream of selfies and photos of food, holidays and relationships. It was easy to look at these photos and feel jealous or make unnecessary comparisons."

Singapore University of Technology and Design student Lim Huai Kang, 20, who last logged on to his Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts months ago, says: "Everyone on social media just wants people to 'friend' or 'like' them and make themselves appear popular. Some people also use social media to flaunt their lifestyles. This is not healthy."

He adds: "I enjoy the way I live my life now - having my books and a group of close friends. I am not going back to social media or to start using it just because everyone else is doing so."

Mr Marcus Ho, 31, co-founder of Social Metric, a social media marketing organisation, says he is impressed by these millennials who buck the trend. "For their generation, not being on social media is like not having an ez-link card or bank account. To make a conscious decision not to be on social media must have taken a lot of willpower."

Dr Carol Balhetchet, clinical psychologist and senior director of youth services at the Singapore Children's Society, feels that not being on social media would probably help one achieve a balance between time spent in the virtual world and in real life.

She says: "To the young, social media is so alluring because it is instant, free and can be accessed at any time and with little effort. That is why it is easy for young people to end up spending hours reading every post and clicking on link after link."

But Ms Claire Lim, regional director of Social@Ogilvy, the social media division of Ogilvy & Mather, warns that those who shun social media may be at a disadvantage in the working world.

Many private organisations and government bodies, as well as public figures, use social media to make important announcements, Ms Lim, who is in her early 30s, notes.

"In this way, social media gives people the competitive advantage needed to succeed. In this day and age, social media is no longer optional, it is a necessity."

Indeed, most other millennials were surprised to hear that some of their peers hardly use social media.

Undergraduate Kimberly Goh, 21, who is on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, says: "I don't know anybody who is not on social media. Ultimately, it is their decision.

"But for me, social media has made it so easy to stay in touch with friends, current affairs and new trends. I honestly cannot imagine life without it."


'I can use the time better'


Sarah Folk plays frisbee with her church friends on weekends and has not logged on to Facebook and Twitter in the last four years. ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

It's common to see people her age glued to their phones, constantly checking their social media accounts for updates.

Yet, Sarah Folk, 17, has not logged on to Facebook and Twitter in the last four years. She does not have any other social media accounts.

Her only contact with social media is watching the occasional YouTube video, such as those about mathematics and physics, as well as a Google Plus account where she checks her e-mail.

But the second-year student at St Andrew's Junior College says she is not losing out.

She says: "I feel that instead of being on social media, I can use the time to do something better."

The student councillor, for example, spends her time after school planning events such as orientation camps and teachers' day celebrations. On weekends, she plays frisbee with her church friends, watches movies or plays card games with her family and friends.

From 2008 to 2011, she was active on Facebook, but says: "Whenever I spent time on social media, I felt guilty or angry at myself for letting it go to waste."

Her newsfeed, she recalls, was usually full of strange quizzes like "Which Disney character are you?". Messages from friends were often very superficial, such as "Had a great time". At times, a message appeared in the form of an emoticon.

She says: "I 'friended' everyone I knew, however briefly or vaguely. But when I saw their posts on my feed, I often skimmed over them quickly because I was honestly not interested."

She eventually stopped logging on in 2012. Looking back, she says that although there are advantages of using social media, some aspects of it did not sit well with her.

She says: "When we are flooded with images of perfect lives, people and food, it raises our expectations of how things should look like, and we often end up disappointed.

"Some of my peers ended up going through a lot of trouble choosing the best filters and apps to edit the perfect photo to get more 'likes'.

"It was all to feel hip, trendy, or to be worth something and this did not feel right to me."

Nowadays, she keeps in touch with friends by meeting them in person and via SMSes and WhatsApp messages.

There is no Facebook to remind her of friends' birthdays, of which she can remember only a handful.

She says: "It would be quite sad if I have to wait until my friends' birthdays to make them feel special, right? I should make them feel special every day."

And while social media is good for keeping in touch, it says something about friends who cannot find the time to meet, she adds.

"I believe in strong, personal relationships. I want my relationships to be close, or I would prefer no relationship at all."


'There is more to life than Facebook'


Mr Bryan Tan would rather play with his cat Simba than log on to Facebook. ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Despite his hectic schedule, lawyer and sometime singer Bryan Tan managed to pen three songs and perform them at two open-mic nights within the last year.

The 29-year-old even found time to train and participate in a Spartan Race Singapore event in May, where he ran more than 5km and overcame more than 20 obstacles. He also achieved his one-star kayaking certification in April from the Singapore Canoe Federation.

All this was partly possible, he says, because he stopped spending time on Facebook. For 10 years, he had spent the first 30 minutes of each day checking his newsfeed.

But after a brief stay in hospital last September, he stopped logging on because he wanted to make better use of his time. He says: "I had breathing problems in the past. After they were fixed, I had more energy and wanted to experience more of life for myself. And there is more to life than Facebook."

Nowadays, he starts each day with one of these activities: jogging, doing push-ups and pull-ups, having a cup of coffee, playing his guitar or playing with his four cats, Simba, Miko, Minx and Luca.

Instead of getting his news from social media, he reads newspapers and listens to the BBC. He also reads books such as Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom For Living A Better Life by American author and politician Eric Greitens.

Every weekend, he catches up with close friends over meals. He now meets them more frequently than when he was active on Facebook. Back then, he would catch up with friends only one weekend a month.

He says: "If I am going to experience things vicariously, I want to meet a friend to hear about their experiences instead of just looking at photos. Gestures make storytelling more interesting."

He communicates with overseas friends mainly through e-mail and WhatsApp messages. Sometimes, he sends them typewritten letters and handwritten cards.

"In this technology-filled age, there is a romance to sending someone a physical message. It shows you have made an effort to create something for them, instead of just typing something on your phone."

Is he concerned about missing out on important announcements on social media? He says: "If the news is big enough, it will make it to the radio, TV or newspapers and I will know about it."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 17, 2016, with the headline 'Who needs social media?'. Print Edition | Subscribe