When people ask me for my Instagram, I give them my email address instead. For over 30 weeks now, I have been social media free. As a twenty-year-old in the 21st century, this statement can be difficult for some people to process. After making this change, however, I can certainly say it was for the better, and I will not be returning to the ‘gram any time soon.
Quitting social media has shown me how consumed we are, not with our real lives, but with the lives that play out on our screens. I have found that the two most harmful effects of using social media are a) how much time we are wasting on our phones each day and b) the way we are replacing real-world interactions with likes, emojis, and stories.
Over half a year after deactivating my accounts, I’m quite literally living my best life. I have gone on three trips abroad, I can play the ukulele, and most importantly, I have deepened my relationships with those who matter most to me. If you’re still skeptical, here’s the recap of how it all played out:
My Social Media Story
I was born in 1999. This means that by seventh grade I had my first cellphone. My parents bought it for me, so we could communicate about pick up times and such. I didn’t think that was cool, so I kept the phone a secret from all my friends, which I now find a little odd. But I was an odd kid, so at least I was staying on brand. Anyhow, I had an iPod Touch before I ever had a smartphone, and that was the medium through which I was introduced to Snapchat, Instagram, and Vine, along with a few other social networks that died off more quickly.
I think I deleted my Snapchat account on five separate occasions. The first was in eighth grade when one of my friends teased me about “what Snapchat is really for” (i.e. sending inappropriate pictures). In tenth grade, I deleted my account again because I never had any best friends or anything to post on my story. Before I left for college, I was back by popular demand, but only adding a few select friends who wanted to keep in touch while I was away.
At first in college, I tried to pretend I didn’t have an account, but people started to find me by phone number, so I pioneered the “finsnap,” an account I could actually use while people added me on the other. My original account, while initially obsolete, eventually became an important channel of communication once again. However, as my usage increased, my fears about not having best friends or anything to post on my story came back as well.
Instagram, on the other hand, I loved. Its harmful effects were far less obvious to me. The only problem I saw in Instagram was the time sink, so, like my serial account deleting on Snapchat, I would frequently deactivate my Instagram account during times when I really needed to focus. But I always knew I would come back eventually, and my mind was always turned on for photo ops and caption ideas.
Why I Quit Social Media
When I arrived in Singapore last summer for an internship, I was in the midst of one of my infamous Instagram cleanses, trying to immerse myself in the new culture and concentrate on my new job. As I met people, they asked me for my Instagram account, and I would tell them that I wasn’t on Instagram at the moment and would offer them my email address instead.
Somehow, the rumor that I did not have any social media at all spread among my fellow interns. And I kind of liked it. I totally would be the person to be completely oblivious to anything contemporary. It fit my brand really well.
Nevertheless, I had made a plan to return to my social networks after four weeks. I had said that I would allow myself to log back in and post all of the cool photos I had taken during my first month in Singapore (there weren’t any). Instead of turning my accounts back off again after the weekend, I decided to stay live and communicate with my new Singaporean friends who weren’t in favor of the idea of using email to communicate.
During this period, I noticed a big change. Coming off one of the happiest months of my life, I suddenly became dejected and anxious. Things that were familiar to me, like crying in bed at night and constantly feeling lonely, started creeping back into my life, and the only thing that had changed was my social media usage. It was only then that I realized the pain that these apps were causing me.
I would use Snapchat groups as a replacement for real conversations, leaving me feeling even more lonely than before. I was hyper-focused on what others thought of me, trying to milk as many likes and comments as possible out of each Instagram post.
I tried many tactics, like removing almost half of my Instagram followers and getting back to my finsnap, but at the end of the day, I realized: the only way for me to heal was to cut my usage entirely.
What I’m Doing Now
Seven months after officially quitting both Instagram and Snapchat for good, I feel the best I ever have mentally in my life, I am truly connecting with those around me, and I have time to do a lot of really cool things. I can wholeheartedly say that quitting social media was the best thing I ever did for myself.
For several reasons, which I will conveniently list below:
1. I get to see complete people now. People say over and over how social media is just a highlight reel of people’s lives. When you distance yourself from people’s “highlight reels,” you are able to see everything that happens behind the scenes.
2. I’m more happy than jealous for other people. When you see the complete person, you’re there for the whole process. When your friend finally gets the job they’ve been coveting, you understand how hard they’ve worked to get it. People’s lives are no longer a constant stream of accomplishments, so when something good happens, I can truly celebrate for them. Not to mention, people just aren’t as good looking in real life as they are on Instagram.
3. Spending time alone is no longer lonely; it’s reflective. Constantly seeing people having fun with others, along with the ability to contact anyone in an instant, makes alone time in the app-era feel, well, lonely. When you remove these factors, being alone becomes a time away from distractions, and this time to unwind and reflect is crucial to creating meaning in our lives.
4. I have time to save the world. There’s no denying how much time we waste on social media. I set app timers and went on detoxes, but Instagram still consumed my mind constantly. We spend so much time worrying about what everyone else is doing that we have less time to get out there and do anything that is actually worthwhile.
5. I’m focusing on forming connections with those who deserve my love. Besides social media’s effects on my mental health, another factor that inspired me to leave it all behind was the abundance of random acquaintances who were stealing my time and attention. People I hadn’t seen in seven years were still on my timeline, and, at the risk of sounding rude, their lives were irrelevant to me. Now, I can focus my efforts on connecting with those who really matter to me. Without social media, you have to make an effort to keep up with people’s lives, forcing you to form closer connections and build more fulfilling relationships.
No longer motivated by the superficiality that marks a typical young adult life, I’m continuously setting goals for myself, and I’m genuinely interested in the lives of others. When I talk to people now, the conversations are no longer empty. I have many stories to share and many questions to ask about what they’ve been up to.
People are afraid that quitting social media will cause them to become disconnected from the world when in reality, social media is the thing that is already causing them to be disconnected. Leaving my apps behind has allowed me to experience the world like never before. Seemingly counterintuitive, now that I have nowhere to post photos of all the cool things I’ve been doing, I’m more likely to try to do cool things. As for keeping up with my friends, I send lots of emails. It seems more personal that way, doesn’t it?