Social media has become so ingrained in our culture that it’s easy to wrap up so much of our lives into how we’re perceived online. How many likes did my latest post receive? Is my outfit of the day pretty enough? Am I just as successful as my colleagues? And why am I not engaged yet? It’s exhausting to constantly pit every facet of your life against that of the people you don’t even have a close relationship with at all. Not to mention the hours of your life that go up in smoke from this obsessive checking and comparing.
I’ve been a social media fiend since my younger sister forced me to get a Facebook page back in 2005. Soon after, I was firing off 140-character missives on Twitter, writing about my career, relationships, and New York City on Blogger, curating creative design finds on Pinterest boards, sharing blog posts and articles on Google+, and obsessing over filters on Instagram. As soon as a new social media app came into existence, I was on it, figuring out how to best use it to connect with the creative community or get feedback on my published pieces.
But one morning in August of last year, I grabbed my iPhone, hid under the covers in bed, and decided that I was over all of it. My reason for wanting to leave Facebook came about months after a difficult breakup. After nearly six years together, my ex and I tried to remain on friendly terms, but seeing myself get replaced by another girl proved too gut-wrenching to watch unfold over social media. Instead of unfriending him like I should have, I decided to hide from everything. I didn’t want to see him being happy with someone else when I felt so heartbroken. I figured getting him and our former relationship out of my sight would help me get him out of my mind.
Let me tell you, Facebook does not make it easy for you to escape its grasp. Before you’re able to deactivate your account, the site shows you pictures of friends and states how much they’ll miss you if you leave. I can only imagine the stops it’d pull if I wanted to delete my account altogether. It already took me two days of trying before I was finally able to pull the trigger, temporarily close out the account, and delete all my social media apps from my smartphone.
Sometimes I’d wonder what I was missing out on simply because I was no longer on social media. Did people remember I still existed? If something awesome happened to me did it lose its worth because I couldn’t share it with my followers? I didn’t dwell on it too much though. I knew that those I was still close to would invite me via text or email and I found myself nurturing those offline ties even more. My life was not at all empty just because I’d removed social media from my life. On the contrary, it got filled up even more with activities and genuine connections. I started calling friends on the phone again and talking for hours into the night. Early morning texts to check in and wish someone a good day became routine. We’d make plans to meet up for dinner or create art. Catching up with a friend became more exciting now that I didn’t have the details and accompanying photos of what they’d been up to since we last spoke. All that time I’d spend checking on my newsfeed was now used to read articles online. I’d close my laptop earlier in the evening and watch documentaries on Netflix or practice the new hobbies I’d recently taken up, like guitar and ballet. And now that I no longer had to worry about maintaining my Instagram account, I stopped looking at the world in square-sized snapshots and the pull to document and caption every special moment slowly began to fade away.
It was such a liberating experience. Social media was now one less thing to stress over and I was no longer as concerned about how my life compared to everyone else’s online. Oh, if only that strength of character held strong after I decided to dip back into the online sphere.
Three months later, I went back onto social media because the holidays were approaching and I needed to promote my greeting card business, Porcupine Hugs. Almost immediately I found myself getting sucked right back into the obsession of checking my newsfeed constantly. I’d open one tab with Facebook, close it, and in a moment of complete absent-mindedness open a new one and start typing “Facebook” into the search box. It was madness all over again and I hated feeling as if I had never left at all. While I enjoyed seeing what my friends had been up to, I didn’t miss the vapidness of social media one bit. It’s been six months since I took my social media break and I’m trying to hold on to the things I learned during those few months and considering taking a step back from it again. While it can be a useful tool for making new connections and fostering old relationships, social media is not a requirement to accomplish any of those things. When I was offline, I was still able to make and keep new friends and was more in the moment when I spent time with loved ones. Simply put, I wasn’t any less social just because I wasn’t documenting every minute of it online and I didn’t miss the energy it took to brag about my life.
These days, you’ll still find me scrolling through Instagram and liking posts, but without the fervor I once had for the app. If a day or two goes by without contributing a photo of my own, I know the world won’t fall apart because I’m busy with other things. Twitter is linked to my Instagram account so I don’t feel pressured to juggle the two feeds separately. I’ll share photos and links on Facebook, but no longer get the urge to check into every restaurant I dine in. Do I check my Facebook newsfeed more often than is necessary or even healthy? Probably, but at least I’m more aware of how easy it is to lose myself and my time in that virtual vortex.
As for the “social” part of social media, I make sure that most of those connections and likes happen in real life.