By: Sarah Prosser
I’ve had a Facebook page since Facebook first became somewhat commonplace in American culture in the early 2000’s. I know, this comment shows my age, but more importantly, it shows that social media has been a part of my life for about 10 years.
I am a Millennial, the generation where our growing up coincided with the “growing up” of social media. We Millennials began our lives in a world without social media. In elementary school, we had AOL messenger and dial up internet. As we grew into middle schoolers, cell phones and Facebook suddenly became social norms. In high school and college, cell phones began to hold your “life” in your pocket. Social media expanded rapidly, with Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and a slew of other social media applications joining Facebook as dominant players in the social media marketplace. The Millennials are a generation of guinea pigs for a life lived both in reality as well as in the digital world.
My relationship with social media started to turn sour two years ago during my second year of law school. School was rigorous, and my personal life was exceptionally messy at the time. Nonetheless, I continued to post artsy pictures with thoughtfully creative captions to feed the perception that everything in my life was peachy keen. I was afraid to be raw and vulnerable, to show my social media “friends” that anything was less than great.
Last summer, after my second year of law school had ended, I finally had space to breathe and reflect. In prayer, I felt prompted to take a good hard look at my social media use and the place that social media had in my life. I realized that for the better part of a year, I had been painting a picture on social media of a reality that was not being lived. I realized that I subconsciously and habitually looked at life and its happenings with the mindset of “I should take a picture so I can post this later” or “I’m going to do *insert activity here* because it will make a good Instagram post.” I also became more aware of the time I wasted mindlessly scrolling, and that more often than not scrolling only served to either (1) fuel my need to gossip about others and what I saw posted about their lives, or (2) cultivated feelings of comparison in my heart.
I was disgusted.
After I had those realizations, I tried to mitigate the situation by deleting the social media apps on my phone, or by setting a timer on my laptop that limited my social media use. While those tactics worked for a short time, eventually I would fall back into old habits, uploading the apps on my phone or deleting the timer on my laptop. I decided I needed to do more—it was time to deactivate my accounts.
Getting rid of social media was harder than I expected. The thought of deactivating my accounts stirred up feelings of loss like I was about to lose a dear friend. Those feelings bothered me. All I was really losing by deactivating my accounts was my ability to instantaneously tell others about my life and the ability to constantly be “in the know” about other people’s lives. Hitting the deactivation button shouldn’t have been that hard, but it was. This internal struggle was more confirmation to me that my relationship with social media was unhealthy.
It’s been over a year now that I haven’t had social media. Granted, I will admit that I have reactivated my accounts a couple of times for various reasons, some of them necessary, while others were moments of weakness. After reflecting on this past year, here are my top three takeaways after my year without social media:
I live in the now. I used to live a double life—part reality, part digital reality. I had a distorted view of life where the pictures I was posting mattered more than living the moment I was capturing. Now, the present moment is my only reality. My experience of life has become richer because I am able to fully engage in what’s happening right in front of me instead of worrying about what I’ll post online later.
FOMO and comparison have lost their power over me. I used to spend way too much time worrying about what other people were doing with their lives. It bothered me when I saw people doing other things and I wasn’t doing those things too. The ridiculous part is that I often felt this way about things that I wouldn’t have been invited to in the first place, or about things that I wouldn’t have even been interested in doing in the first place. Now, I’m oblivious about a whole bunch of things, but I’m more aware of the things that matter. I was also afraid that when I deleted social media I wouldn’t be invited to events anymore. This has turned out to be entirely false. Turns out if people really want you to be there, they’ll text or call you.
I actually know people, and people actually know me. Social media creates an illusion of knowing people when, for the most part, you really don’t. Social media also creates the illusion that people know you. Now, if I want to know about someone’s life, or if I want someone to know about mine, I have an actual conversation with someone. It definitely takes more time and effort than just scrolling through social media, but it’s worth it because my relationships have become more authentic. I know the victories and struggles, not just the highlight reel.
I use my time more productively. According to a study by Social Media Today*, teens spend 9 hours per day on media, with 30% of that time being allocated to social media. That’s 2 hours and 42 minutes per day spent on your phone on social media. Maybe you don’t fall into this category, but it is worthwhile to be more attentive to how much time you are actually spending on social media each day. Now that I don’t have social media, I’ve found that I have a lot more time in my day to do more edifying things, such as spending more time in prayer, reading, or catching up with a friend on the phone.
I’m not as overwhelmed with information. The amount of information I consumed on social media overwhelmed me. Have you ever felt overstimulated after scrolling? It’s hard for our brains to process so much information so quickly. Now that I’ve stopped the constant scrolling, my brain is less overwhelmed and better able to handle the tasks at hand.
Before I end this very lengthy blog post, I want to make a clarifying statement. Social media is not inherently bad or evil. There are definitely good uses for social media. However, social media is a tool, and how we use that tool determines whether its use in our lives is life giving or not. What is the place social media holds in your life?
*Evan Asano, Social Media Today, How Much Time Do People Spend on Social Media?, https://www.socialmediatoday.com/marketing/how-much-time-do-people-spend-social-media-infographic