I quit social media
And nobody died
(Disclaimer, I didn't fully quit social media. But since our brains have all been reduced to mush by constsant notification syndrome, I needed a clickbait title… #irony)
I was born the day before Google (24th September, 1998) and so have grown up in parallel to our tech and social media boom. I'm young enough to be of Generation iphone, and (just) old enough to have enjoyed a relatively screen-free noughties childhood; from 2010 onwards was, however, a different story.
Over the past year I have been reviewing my social media, and have pretty drastically cut down on my usage. It's been incredibly liberating. I have had Tumblr and Twitter fully deleted for all that time, and, more recently, Snapchat and Instagram, both for about 3 months. Getting rid of Facebook would have been too difficult, as it's now the primary destination for group organisation, free messaging, and event promotion; instead I just use it for practical reasons (keeping in touch, finding about events) rather than vague browsing.
Sure, I sound like a hermit, a Luddite, a retro-loving hipster. Everyone uses social media; why get rid of it? I don't believe, especially, that 'Social Media makes us unsocial'; pretty much everyone I know is capable of using it to enable, and improve, their 'IRL' social life, rather than letting the screen detract from it.
For me, the main reason for quitting was its impact on my sense of self-worth. Despite being a self-confident, secure, relatively robust person, I found that the false reality presented on social profiles was altering, insidiously, the way I valued myself. This coincided with those years of most intense self-introspection: age 13-16, when the throes of puberty strangle all sense of certainty and stability. Social media established clear standards of validation. Be pretty, be sexy, be popular. Go on holiday in sunny places, go to the coolest bars and restaurants and cities, get invited to the right parties. Be exclusive, be enviable, be emulated.
There was nothing wrong with me, at 15; and yet I suddenly started believing there was; I didn't feel attractive, loveable, or cool enough. Of course, this is puberty speaking, but in the online world such adolesent agonies were thrown into unnaturally sharp relief.
Skip forward a few years, to age 17, and I was benefiting from the kind of life i'd previously hoped for; and I got the memo that I should share this, ALL OF IT. Before, I'd mainly lurked; now I created my own content. I enjoyed the dopamine rush of likes, heart reacts, comments. I felt validated by my anonymous online army. I put up the pictures, wrote the comments, clicked on the events, that would create a decent online persona. I added hundreds of peripheral people, checked my phone with the urgency of a paramedic, polished and perfected my online identity.
Then, a year ago, I started to feel uncomfortable. By developing my online presence, I was forcing others into the position I had occupied, age 14; every party I was at was a party someone else wasn't invited to; every city or eaterie I visited was a place someone else might feel jealous of; a picture of me and my boyfriend reminding someone of their single status. When I updated my Facebook Bio to include 'University of Cambridge', I received an avalanche of likes and comments – more than ever before- and felt awkward. I was recreating myself as an aspirational figure; this jarred with my conscience. Social media was making me vain.
So I started, slowly, to prise off the tentacles of social media. Initially, it was tricky, and I felt withdrawal symptoms, as with any addiction. It was unsettling to no longer know what everyone was doing; I found myself composing captions and comments to no purpose; imaginary Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram posts filtered my experience of beautiful views, social occasions, eating out. And then it didn't matter any more. I re-affirmed exactly who my 'real' friends were; what I enjoyed doing. I learnt to exist in the present moment again, to get bored and lonely, to have head-space. It was like being a child again. Without a screen to scroll, an update to check, the world became a richer place. It's corny, but life seemed set in permanant technicolour; I noticed the colours of the leaves on trees, heard birdsong and barking and conversation again, memorised details of entire landscapes. Perception and memory became clearer, as I could no longer rely on the storage capacity of a computer.
There's hundreds of fantastic and terrible things about social media; I'm slowly coming to a more balanced conclusion about the features I do and don't like. I miss a particular friend, who lives in a different city, sending me Snapchats of his siblings, and our mutual friends, with sarcastic comments; I miss insane photos of Latin American landscapes filling my Instagram feed, as they really motivated me to work hard in learning Spanish; I miss, superficially, the blast of self-confidence that comes with a flurry of likes . Perhaps in the future I'll manage to reconcile the pros with the cons; but, for now, I'm staying offline