It’s been about two and a half months since I deleted my Instagram and Snapchat accounts, and I’m coming up on a year since I permanently deleted Facebook. For those who are curious, here are some of my observations from the post-social media world.
First, I will admit that it was very hard to let go. I still miss being able to share pictures easily with all of my friends, and I miss seeing the pictures that others share (especially of babies and children, who grow up far too fast between visits). Before I finally deleted my Instagram accounts (yes, I had two), I scrolled through and looked at everything I had ever posted. I ended up taking screenshots of a lot of the posts, because there were a lot of really good memories captured in many of those pictures and accompanying captions.
It was difficult to say goodbye to the memories contained in those posts, but I realized that there was also a bit of self-idolization inherent in nearly every single one of them. I will readily admit that embracing selfies and other pictures of myself really helped me to overcome a lot of insecurities I had around my body image, and for that I am grateful. But I also know that the times when I was happiest and the most secure in who I am, I was posting the least amount of pictures, especially pictures of myself. C.S. Lewis said that true humility is “not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” Without the lure of constantly wondering whether any particular moment or experience or outfit is worth capturing for social media, I am now able to look outside of myself a bit more. I can forget about myself, not in a negative way that forgets my own value but in a way that is merely more interested in the world around me. Also, checking those social media feeds often left me with very negative reactions, even when the posts I was seeing were very positive. Even when I curated my feeds to be more uplifting, I was still left with feelings of envy and Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). Social Media was not helping me cultivate virtue, even when I intentionally tried to follow people who would inspire me.
Another observation I had that really fortified me to make that final break with social media: the closer I am to someone, the more I actually felt excluded from their lives when I only learned about something on social media. Not even big stuff. But even that someone went to a concert or had a nice date. There is something alienating about feeling like you are eavesdropping on other people’s lives, especially people that you otherwise feel very close to. In a real life example, it doesn’t matter if someone is talking loudly in a public place so that everyone around can hear them, you still feel awkward because you aren’t actually part of their conversation. And very often, that was what social media felt like to me. I was observing the lives of my friends and acquaintances, but I was never really participating in those lives. It’s hard to know what level of intimacy you have with someone if you know as much about their day-to-day life as their grandma, old college roommate, and current co-worker all do. I am at a time in my life where more and more friends are starting new relationships, getting engaged, or having babies, and how one finds out about such occurrences is fascinating to pay attention to. It’s become so common to just put up an announcement or short comment on social media and tell everyone you know at the same time. But I know from experience that when someone has taken the time to call or meet with me in person to share some kind of exciting news, it not only means more but it’s also an important social cue as to the level of friendship that we share. But with social media, it becomes so easy to miss even the opportunities for such cues. Perhaps that is why so many of us can feel isolated and alone, regardless of how many “Friends” we have, because we never really know where we stand with anyone.
Now, the consequence that I was not expecting is that I’ve been forced to confront and deal with some behaviors that are sadly all too common these days; mainly, the need for instant gratification. Shortly after deleting my social media accounts, I had to also take the Amazon app off my phone, because I was doing a little too much scrolling and one-click shopping with all my new “free-time”. I had a serious addiction; if certain apps are on my phone I HAVE to click on them. Amazon was very dangerous for my bank account, but even Pinterest can be a little hazardous for my mental state in many of the ways that Facebook and Instagram were. I still constantly pick up my phone to check for notifications, even though I have practically no apps that need to notify me about anything. I’m now trying to cultivate a sense of Delayed Gratification, but it’s not easy. The need for validation, for stimulation, for entertainment; we are so used to being able to get these things at the click of a button, and if the “fix” doesn’t last very long, well then just click the button again. But that’s not how I want to live my life anymore, I want to be able to wait for the things that are important, to be able to discern what has the most value in the long run. Self-mastery and discernment are dying arts.
Of course, the biggest boon from giving up social media has been to my writing and reading practices. I’ve just finished re-reading Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (which has to be the most validating book I’ve ever read), and it was a good reminder of how important it is to properly manage my mental and emotional resources and reserves. I need a lot of time to process new information, regardless of how important that information is, and so the constant barrage of status updates and news articles on social media takes a greater toll on me (and other introverts) than we often realize. In other words, having to constantly digest what was going in everyone else’s lives and in the world in general was a serious drain on my mental reserves and left very little brain power to be able to do the work that was actually important to me. I am now much better at monitoring the information that I am taking in, information that that has to be processed and assessed and filed away mentally, and so I have been able to be much more productive in my creative output. And because I am not spending so much time scrolling through news feeds, I have much more time to read the books that I am interested in and that are also contributing to the work that I do. Last year, I averaged reading about four or five books a month; so far this year, I am averaging eight.
I know that not everyone is ready or even interested in giving up their social media, and maybe you don’t even need to. I have friends who barely even check their accounts most of the time, but keep them mostly in order to keep in touch with co-workers, former classmates, or distant family members.
However, even if you are just a casual user like that, I still encourage you to take a good look at the relationships in your life and whether social media is actually helping them or if it is just encouraging harmful habits (or harmful relationships). Is it making you complacent, when you should be acting more intentionally towards the people you want to maintain in your life? Is it fostering feelings of envy or judgement towards others? Is it feeding your own vanity? How can you make more positive connections with people? How did people do things in the days before social media? What would work best for you?
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