About a year ago, I took myself off of Instagram. I haven’t regretted it or even really looked back. The changes have only been positive. While I had a brief stint where I thought I was harnessing my creativity, eventually I came to realize I had become more of a sheep. What was unique about what I was posting were the words I would write underneath my pictures–but no one really cared about what I had to say. Instagram is a visual medium–it doesn’t particularly cater to my strengths. It took me a long time to realize that I was looking to others to mimic their style and how they put things together. I think on IG we’re supposed to call each other “inspiration”. But I never felt inspired. I felt like a follower–desperate for more of my own followers. One summer date night I watched as my hubs–whom I knew was starving, sit patiently with food in front of him. Getting hungrier he motioned to me, “get your pic baby, I’m bout to dig in.” When I realized my partner had been trained to wait to eat his food, that’s when I knew I was done with IG.
The decision to leave Facebook has come much more recently for me, it’s only been a few weeks. I feel compelled to write about it because it feels different from leaving Instagram. The minute I signed off of IG I felt like a weight had been lifted. My brain was no longer required to think in this duality–What am I doing/How do I want to share what I am doing? I had gotten to a point where I was never just having experiences–I was having them and then interrupting them with thoughts of how I would share them. It just wasn’t how I wanted to live anymore.
My relationship with Facebook has dwindled significantly in the past year. Right before I deactivated a few weeks ago I was only signing on once or twice a week to share my blog posts and engage with anyone who had commented on something I had written. I went back and forth trying to figure out how to eliminate my personal account and just keep a page for my blog. The longer I researched it, the more I resented how much time I was spending on the platform. Eventually, I just decided to pull the plug altogether.
My decision hasn’t been without consequence. With the elimination of a Facebook audience I’m down about 100 readers per post. While those numbers may seem insignificant for some, they are large for me. Without social media, it’s clear I’ll have to work harder. Right now, I’m trying to decide what’s more important–growing my readership, or living a lifestyle I feel good about. Does that sound like a no-brainer? Yeah, I’m not sure either…
I don’t want the new iPhone. I don’t want a freaking robot in my apartment who knows when I’ve run out of dishwashing tabs and orders them. I admit I’m a bit of an old fogey, but I’m not anti-technology. I just question how much “happier” all these “improvements” are making us. If technology is supposed to make us more free, why do I feel more and more dependent?
No matter how confident, self assured, and independent you are, I think it’s impossible to use social media platforms and not get caught up in the comparison game. For a while I accepted this. I thought hey, maybe every time I see that girl from high school with some new accolade I’ll use it as motivation–it will light a fire under my ass when I need it. Problem is, it hasn’t worked; competition with others doesn’t really bring out the best in me. It worked in high school–in sports, but that’s about it. The truth is whenever a percentage of my energy is being taken from my goal and put towards measuring myself against someone else–I lose. This idea always makes me think of that photo of Michael Phelps’ competitor losing out to him because he can’t help himself–he turns his head to steal a glance to see where Phelps is at. The gold medalist is of course face forward, with his eyes on the only thing that matters–the wall–the prize.
So if Facebook wasn’t motivating me, or making me happier, I started to wonder…what was it doing? When I started considering this I realized that I had been on Facebook since I was 20 years old. That’s 14 years–nearly all of my adult life. I go on and on to my co-workers all day about how concerned I am that kids nowadays are growing up with screens attached to their faces, but until recently, I’d barely contemplated what it’s meant that I’ve amassed and curated an audience for my life for the past decade and a half. As real and authentic and transparent as I’ve attempted to be–I’ve still performed. The platform demands it. I think the degree in which it requires us to perform depends on us, which is why it may be important to start understanding who we are and what we really want from a social network.
I know a lot of people lately have been reminiscing about the “old days” of Facebook, when it was all baby pics and vacation photos. In the midst of this Russia fiasco, even Zuckerberg is calling on his minions to tweak the algorithm and go back to prioritizing personal posts. I’ve thought to myself–maybe that’s the problem, I should stop trying to have a voice on social media and just treat it more lightly. I should share the bright and easy bits and pieces of my life with friends and family. Hmmm…friends and family. If I’m going by that measure then I’ve got about 700 people to de-friend. Cause the truth is, it doesn’t matter how genuine I am–what I would share with my real life friends and family differs from what I’m willing to present to hundreds or even thousands of people. While it can feel good to connect to individuals from the past, I fear that these connections have mostly served as a sense of validation and have often been quite fleeting. They pale in comparison to the life experiences and interactions that compile each day and add to my real character. I think that’s where the real conflict within me lies–if I’m able to live happily and in authenticity in the physical world, must I persist in my struggle to replicate that authenticity in the digital atmosphere?
The strange thing is, I manage just fine in the blogosphere. Perhaps this is because it is my space–it’s not shared like a social network. Here I feel connected but not herded. I don’t feel pulled to follow or deviate from any norms. I don’t feel obligated to discuss or contribute to what’s “trending”. Not being on Facebook feels like not being a part of the machine. And for now, that feels really good.
I do wonder if I’ll change my mind. The embarrassing truth? I think about Facebook. And why shouldn’t I? It was a daily part of my life for double digit years. It’s almost comical that I thought I’d be completely free of it and all it’s entanglements in just a couple of weeks. I’ve seen a lot of people write about short breaks from social media and they usually say the same things: “I didn’t miss it at all.” “It was a welcome break.” It’s not that I don’t believe these people, I just also think most of them are trying to convince themselves that they are not addicted to these platforms–that they can take them or leave them whenever they want. And maybe they can. But I doubt they can do so without it continuing to occupy some space in their mind. After all, there are surely things to be missed. March Madness is coming up, which traditionally has been one of my favorite times to be active in social networking. Sharing sports with a larger group of people is actually probably what I miss most. Still, I’m not sure what I gained from those connections is worth what I might continuously be losing.
I think that’s why before I give in and laud this all as just a worthwhile experiment, I’m going to give it some real time. There’s been a large part of my brain that has been occupied by social networks for years. I’m hoping if I allow for the real distance that’s needed to truly vacate that space, it will make itself open and available for endeavors that truly cultivate my imagination and creativity.
Whenever I look back at college, I often think: Damn, I wish I wasn’t so wrapped up in my eating disorder and in alcoholism–I could have participated more in school–maybe gotten a great internship, worked at the school radio station (did we have a radio station?), maybe even studied abroad. My experiences are what they are, and I value them. But I’m especially grateful for those moments in my life that I’ve given myself a chance–when I’ve realized that eliminating something that may not serve me may be just what I need to make room for something that does.
Is life different without social media? Will I be happier? I think only much more time away from it will tell. I’ll keep you posted…
What is your relationship like with social media? Do you feel like it’s an honest one–like you know what it means to you and your life? Have you ever taken a break from social media? How did it feel? Do the different platforms have different effects on your life? Have you eliminated one and not the other? Tell me why, I’d love to hear from you…
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