My friend and fellow BWS writer Oscar Hong recently wrote a post about his experience with not using social media for a week, and after talking, he suggested I write about my experience about not using social media for half a year.
We have pretty different reactions to using social media. Oscar, on one hand, is pretty level-headed about his consumption and what he sees, while I can sometimes spiral into the loop of checking others’ posts too much and getting stuck into the dreaded infinite scroll. For me, deleting social media was just a decision that made sense. As a high school student who would generally see all of his friends during the day and outside of school, I didn’t find much of a need to keep social media, especially considering my troubling relationship with it.
My experience mainly revolved around:
I deleted instagram first, and my life became… different. I became more aware of myself and other people’s attachment to social media. Often, I would instinctively pull out my phone to check what other people were doing only to realize the app wasn’t there anymore. Within a week or so though, I began to feel much happier about my life. I wasn’t comparing myself to others anymore, and best of all, I felt like my interpersonal communication skills had rapidly improved; instead of keeping my eyes glued to the screen all the time, I was actively engaging in conversation.
When I felt comfortable enough, I made the next big step to delete Snapchat, my main form of out-of-school communication with people. There was a bit of regret in the beginning, unlike deleting Instagram. For starters, everybody used Snapchat. The ubiquity in my high school led to a severe case of FOMO during the first couple of days out. People were asking me why I wasn’t responding to their snaps, and I often heard about what people were doing days after it happened.
On the other hand, deleting Snapchat resulted (like Instagram) in a rapid increase in my general well being. Again, I wasn’t constantly comparing myself to others, and I also learned to prioritize certain aspects of my life. Constantly receiving a stream of irrelevant outside information had conditioned my brain to be terrible at handling its own problems and dealing with boredom, so when I abruptly stopped social media consumption, I had to go through a self reckoning.
It was an important process though. Many people (myself included) can be uncomfortable confronting their problems because of the sometimes, seemingly unsolvable weight they pose on our lives. They drag behind us like heavy prison chains, hanging at the edge of our periphery, but never being removed. When I took away my daily dose of distraction and reality distortion, I was forced to think more deeply about what I was doing rather than what others were.
Generally speaking, Snapchat and Instagram were my biggest time sucks. They were able to take up an infinite time of my day, leaving me with little energy to do work or having productive relaxation — reading, meditation, etc.. When I first removed them, I learned to deal with the (painful) boredom with self reflection and exercise. But later, as I let my guard down, some other, less used social media apps began to take up more and more of my life, almost as replacements for the empty spaces left behind by Snap and Insta. These three were LinkedIn, YouTube, and Reddit.
Disguised by their supposed benefit to my “productivity”, I could quickly rationalize why they were worth using.
“But, I can learn new skills through tutorials!”
“But, this is a way to maintain my connections!”
“But, I like the anonymous communities of like minded people!”
Alas, these were all still excuses to fall back into the same negative patterns that I had before. Some of you may be asking yourselves here if I am a technophobe. I’m not. I love technology. I love the power of sharing, of media, of instant connectivity. However, I don’t like how they can sometimes detract from the ability to live life to the fullest. If I spend all my time attached to a pixelated screen in front of my face, flashing information that is dedicated towards making me react and click, then I’m not putting my energy towards real, tangible goals. It was the fallacy of “improved productivity.”
I was always in the process of “making myself better”, but I was never able to implement it because I was always looking for the next life hack or tip. It’s similar to why some people actually advocate against reading self-help books; they can keep you in a spiral of extreme highs-and-lows as you continue to read but never use, feeling disappointed, spurring more reading. While the deletion of Snapchat and Instagram were easy because I didn’t like using the platforms all that much in first place, taking away LinkedIn, Reddit, and Youtube was significantly harder.
I started by deleting the Reddit and Youtube apps for my phone. This was incredibly painful. It got so bad that sometimes I would stare at my phone screen because it reminded me of using the apps. It took time to adjust. The boredom was instantaneous, and the transition to a productive me felt as slow as the shift from winter to spring in New England.
I did it though. Through sheer force of will and the adoption of better habits and uses of my time, I was could better cope with the “hole” left in my life. Moreover, I found myself realizing that other people were constantly on their phones, even if it wasn’t for social media.
One morning, in the post-first period dreary start to the day, as I walked through the halls, I noticed how many people were either frantically typing onto their phones as if they were trying to squash a bug, or they were blasting painfully loud music into their AirPods. Most people’s heads hung downwards, looking at the ground instead of the people around them. Before then, I would have been like that.
I never ended up deleting LinkedIn (as you could probably tell from my post history), but my relationship with it definitely changed. In the past, I would spend a lot of time on LinkedIn reading random posts and connecting with lots of people, convincing myself that I could leverage those connections in the future. However, I quickly realized my faulty reasoning after I started deleting my other apps. Many of the so-called “productive articles” I was reading weren’t helpful for my daily life. Also, I found out that I was consuming a lot of junk content, or irrelevant information that aimed to sensationalize. On the other side of the platform, I realized many of the connections that I was making weren’t deep or meaningful. In other words, I had a large, but superficial network.
I’m still on LinkedIn, but I don’t use it the same way as before. These days, I might post an article I’ve been working on or chat with some of my closer connections. It’s all about moderation.
Will I ever get back onto social media? Probably not for the rest of high school. I’m pretty happy with how I feel when I’m not constantly thinking about others’ lives and all the “wonderful things” they’re doing. Furthermore, getting off of social media has allowed me to be more present in social interactions, and has taught me to that boredom is a good thing; it gives me the motivation to pursue what I love.
As for the far future, it’s hard to say. Having a presence on social media has become increasingly important in our connected world, but that’s a decision for future Joe to make.
If, like me, you feel like social media is taking control of your life and thoughts, try a break! You might be surprised with how good it feels.
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