For most of us, scrolling is life. We begin and end our days on the ‘gram, digitally watching the lives of our closest friends, those we’ve just recently met (and followed), and the celebs and influencers we will most likely never actually know IRL. As an older millennial, I struggle to find meaning in the Instagram landscape of 2019. I remember a time before cell phones, before ‘following’ became an acceptable method of getting to know someone, and before we captured every single thing on our story. To explore this cultural shift — as well as my relationship to it — I decided to quit all social media for a month. I deleted all social apps — Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and by far my biggest time-sucker, Instagram.
And just to be clear, I didn’t delete my accounts. God, no. I deleted the apps by jumping through each carefully designed hoop to take a hiatus and deactivate…for now. To be honest, even the idea of temporarily closing my account felt a little crazy. Would I still exist? Who am I when others aren’t watching my stories? How would I know if I was missing something? This may sound a little absurd and perhaps a lot relatable. Next, my FOMO set in hard and a few interesting things happened.
1. I kicked a bad habit. I didn’t realize how bad my addiction was until I became aware of how often my fingertips unconsciously and automatically scanned my phone, in search of the missing app. I suddenly became aware of all the time I had filled — waiting in lines, hanging out with friends, and even in traffic — with this unnecessary, often rude, and definitely dangerous distraction.
2. Real-life became real again. Once I broke the physical habit, my mental landscape shifted. Mundane activities continued to be mundane but instead of fleeing, I was present for them. I noticed my surroundings, smells and sounds, and observed life in real time. My daily routine became less about other people’s lives and more about my own. It felt like there was more space in my brain; life became quieter and more interesting. Boredom didn’t feel so boredom-y anymore. Once I stopped trying to capture each experience, I started feeling more connected to each moment — whether interesting, beautiful or completely ordinary.
3. I reconnected with myself. Influencers aren’t doing most of us any good. Instead of feeling thankful for the life we have, we end up longing to be somewhere else. Maybe we even long to be someone else. Once I stopped regularly watching the exciting (and often really extra) lives of the rich a/o famous, my own life began to feel fuller. I became aware of how lucky I am to have a (mostly) healthy body and mind, a supportive family, and friends who show up for me IRL.
4. I got way more done. It’s incredible how much time I wasted. Once out of the distraction hole, I got more work done at work. At home, I cooked, read and wrote, and worked out more. I started making art as a side hustle. I even slept more once I stopped beginning and ending each day on the ‘gram.
5. I decided to go back. After a month, it seemed pretty clear I had no desire to reactivate my Instagram account. My mental and physical health had improved, my days felt fuller, and I couldn’t come up with a single reason to return. Another month went by. Although not convinced it served my life at all, I was curious whether a healthy relationship with social media could exist. And so I DL’d and signed on. As of writing this, I’m in the process of purging my following list from just over 2K to below 600. I just want to follow my friends, a few local businesses, and a token celeb or two (I’m looking at you, Trevor Noah). Instagram doesn’t allow mass deletes, so I’m once again feeling enslaved to a platform I’d tried to leave behind, constantly checking to see if the unfollow button will work yet. TBD on this but ideally I’d like to reach a place where social media can be a part of my life without taking away from my *actual* life.
I’m not claiming to have the answers. As with most things in life, there are pros and cons to engaging in the world of social media. I would, however, challenge you to take a break. If not for a whole month, try a week, or even just a full day. Delete yourself and see what happens. It may be subtle or drastic, but you’ll probably experience something weird — and weird is pretty worthwhile in my book.
(Photo via Getty)