I wrote an article back in May about why I decided to quit Instagram.
Then, about three months after bidding farewell to the ‘gram, I started getting that itch. Despite feeling an overall sense of peace and freedom without social media, questions started sneakily making their way back into my mind.
Maybe I was just making too big of a deal about this whole social media thing, I thought. Maybe I can use it constructively now, I pondered. After all, I do kind of miss seeing pictures of my good friends’ lives on a regular basis.
Despite a gut feeling urging me to leave it be, my curiosity got the best of me and I booted up my old personal account.
Yesterday, I went whale watching in the San Francisco Bay with my boyfriend. It was a gorgeous day, complete with crisp fall air and beaming rays of sun. As we set off into the open ocean, my cell phone’s presence in my purse started pulling at my attention.
Look at all those sailboats! That would make a great Instagram photo. Wow, check out that goofy seagull flying right next to us! I could take a video of that, now that would be funny. If I could snap a picture of a whale, that would be, like, a next-level Instagram post!
We approached the Golden Gate Bridge, and as if on queue, the majority of people on board whipped out their phones and started snapping pictures of the captivating landmark. Looking through their tiny screens, they madly tried to capture the perfect shot. After trying to resist the urge to take out my own phone, I couldn’t refrain any longer. I pulled it out and joined in with the others, taking approximately 11 pictures too many of the same thing at slightly different angles. My boyfriend, on the other hand, has not used social media in a few years. I looked over at him calmly enjoying the scene, seeing it through his own eyes, relishing in the beauty of the moment.
I got home, uploaded my photos from the day, inserted a witty caption that I had been mulling over on and off all day, and anticipated the likes I would get.
I woke up the next morning, and despite setting a rule to not look at my social media for an hour after waking, opened up Instagram. I saw that a number of people had liked my photo. A little pride welled up inside of me. I scrolled through the rest of my feed and saw something that someone posted that left me with a bad feeling. Cool, great start to the day. Then, of course, I was updated that Rachel had eggs for breakfast.
In that moment, something clicked. What the f*ck am I doing? What is the point of all this?
I started doing a little research and was not surprised to read that many people can relate to my distaste for social media.
Some recent studies showed that, essentially (in my own non-scientific words), the closer our cell phone is to us, even if it’s turned off, the more stupid, distracted, and closed off we become.
Heck, even Justin Rosenstein, the engineer who created the “like” button on Facebook (which he now describes as “bright dings of pseudo-pleasure”) is now taking measures to protect himself from the negatives of social media and smartphones, going as far as having his assistant set up parental controls on his phone to limit usage, according to an article in The Guardian. Rosenstein is not alone. Other engineers from big tech companies have echoed Rosenstein’s feelings. Is it not concerning that these people feel they need to protect themselves from the very things they helped create?
That was all the convincing and validation I needed. I promptly deleted my Instagram and once again felt that calm ease flood through my body.
In my opinion, we check social media so often for the same reason we open our fridge 12 times a day or drink beer at a party: to numb what we’re feeling or to produce a false sense of comfort and validation.
The reality is though, our obsession with social media is only making us feel worse, dumbing us down as a society, and fundamentally altering our ability to communicate and connect with each other.
Social media shows an airbrushed, carefully-curated, distorted view of people’s lives. It’s so easy to think that everyone has it together except you, but that’s just the impression that is given through these filtered, handpicked snippets. I’ve talked to a number of people who are going through something in their lives, as we all do, but you would never have any idea by looking at their social media profiles. This becomes an issue when we compare our real lives to others’ deliberately-selected and exaggerated successes. It can leave us feeling less than, not as successful, and not good enough, which is simply not true. If we continue to bend and meld our lives to live up to these false standards, we could end up living based on other people’s rules and expectations, rather than living for ourselves.
I was not surprised to learn of the study in which people became less intelligent and more distracted the closer their phone was to them. I know that’s true for me. I can be trying to be productive, but just knowing that my shiny phone containing endless bits of information is sitting right next to me dulls my ability to focus. In my experience, social media is the exact opposite of mindfulness.
I’m honestly quite scared for our society when it comes to human connection. I grew up right on the cusp of the Internet explosion. I got to experience a childhood without cell phones, social media, and massive reliance on the Internet, but come high school and college, all of these things were erupting in popularity. As each year went on, I saw people, including myself, become more and more closed off. More fearful of natural conversation. More isolated.
Of course, there are always two sides to any argument. I do have many friends who use social media and they seem perfectly content and happy doing so. I know it’s a huge medium for businesses. If you can use social media in a healthy and balanced way, I take my hat off to you. If you experience positivity from it, kudos for finding something you enjoy. If you use it to expand your marketing business and it’s working, God speed.
I know, for me, it’s a time suck, a distraction, a way to avoid, a source of stress and anxiety, and an addiction.
I might miss seeing pictures of my good friends on a regular basis, but it’s up to me to connect with them in other ways. I might miss feeling that little surge of happiness and comfort when someone likes my picture, but I know I’m the only one who can truly create validation and safety for myself. I might miss seeing funny dog memes on the regular, but I can find other ways to laugh.
In coming to all these realizations about my relationship with social media, I kind of felt like Neo from “The Matrix.” He finally sees the matrix it for what it is and is able to set himself free. So here I go. Operation Quit Social Media Take #2. I’m thinking this time, it will stick.
How do you feel when you log on to social media? Good, bad, nervous, happy, scared, entertained, depressed, unworthy? Tune into that feeling and see what that might mean for you and your future social media use. There is no shame in admitting that something that a lot of people use doesn’t make you feel good. In fact, I think you might be surprised that most people share in these feelings.
Do what’s best for you. Your happiness is more important than a filtered photo.
Author: Katie Leigh
Image: Andrew C/Flickr
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron
Social Editor: Travis May