Social media undoubtedly plays a huge role in our lives today. So the real question is, what’s the nature of that impact? To take a closer look, I conducted an online survey asking about 115 participants a few questions regarding their relationship with the internet, and the results were pretty interesting. 90 percent of people wished they used social media less, and nearly 60 percent reported they felt their time online had a predominantly negative impact. 69 percent of respondents even admitted to seriously considering the idea of ditching social media altogether, while 39 percent had already gone as far as taking an indefinite break from it at one point or another.
But I wanted to take this inquiry a step further, so I decided to go on the front lines myself—I decided to rediscover what life felt like without social media. For a duration of 30 days, I removed my presence from all social media platforms and kept a daily log detailing my experience. Quite frankly, I didn’t think I’d follow through with it, as I have a tendency to produce ideas and fail to actually execute them. In fact, I almost pulled the plug on day 6. But, I realized that backing out would only prove the narrative that I’m addicted to the internet, an accusation I’ve so adamantly rejected. To my surprise, I stuck with it, and it took a route that I was not entirely expecting. Eliminating my online activity for a month left me with more than enough time to reflect, and that’s exactly what I did.
The Physical Effect
The first changes I began to pick up were the most tactile: I noticed a shift in how I delegated my time. My days before I left the online world would typically consist of getting whatever schoolwork I had to do out of the way, then parking myself on our living room couch and dwindling down the remaining hours of the day binging YouTube, or scrolling through Twitter’s trending page. So this sudden surplus of time proposed a new—but warmly welcomed—dilemma: How should I spend it?
The first hobby I picked up was going for 30 minute runs/walks after school, a habit that quickly became the best part of my day. But it didn’t stop there—I also completed a puzzle, began writing more, and worked on building up my photography portfolio. Though on the contrary to the latter, in some scenarios (i.e., seeing a pretty sunset, going out to eat, etc.) I actually took less pictures. My attention was instead redirected to fully immersing myself in the moment—I knew I couldn’t share or post whatever I’d taken, anyway (a refreshing reality). However, I think my favorite change was that in my sleep schedule. Typically, I don’t get to bed til around 11:30 or later most nights, but after subtracting the endless hours of swiping through my Instagram explore page, that number went down a lot. In fact, there was about a two-week period where I fell asleep at 9 almost every single night. But that was all merely the tip of the iceberg, and in the coming days/weeks of this assignment, life-changing truths would begin to bubble to the surface.
I encountered an array of epiphanies over the course of my absence, but one of the most unexpected (an eye-opening) perspectives I had actually occurred on day 3:
¨I struggle with letting go a lot…Something about the past always seems more alluring, more comforting, than the present. Yet lately, I haven’t felt that way as much, despite that my circumstances are pretty much identical as they were when I started my senior year (in the beginning it was something I struggled with a lot). Being content with life in the moment is definitely not something that’s been achieved overnight, but I have noticed it’s a trait that seems to have drastically improved since I’ve started this experiment, which made me wonder: why? I came to the conclusion that you see your profile everyday, and on it is filled with your life’s highlights, preserved perfectly in time in the form of pictures, captions, conversations, etc. It’s exactly the stuff you would miss, and perhaps it sometimes serves as a reminder of how good life used to be.¨ – (Day 3)
So is Instagram the source of my inability to live life in the now? No, of course not. But the proposal that it’s fed into this constant battle of reminiscing is not exactly far-fetched. A lot of social media platforms are practically founded on the act of memorializing moments, sometimes in a way that makes things out to be better than they actually are. And I don’t think that’s something that goes unsaid: we acknowledge how the portrayal of our lives online can eclipse the audience from what’s going on behind the screen. But what if at the end of the day, the person you fool the most is yourself? What if our investment in preserving and glamorizing the present, our future selves grow more obsessed with a past that never really existed?
Maybe by making such a big deal out of every experience, it gives us a reason to look back, to compare what we have now to what we had then. Perhaps in the long run, it’s better to just take life as it comes, to fully saturate yourself in the moment and let it leave you without holding onto any piece of it. What good does fossilization do anyway when all we ever really have is now?
I was definitely expecting to see a change in myself internally over the course of this project, but given I perceived the vast majority of my interactions online to be positive, I hadn’t anticipated that change to be to such a high degree.
As a general rule, I tend to try and share things that I feel will help others, which is what the majority of my work as an artist is geared towards. But in doing this, especially online, I unintentionally created a reputation for myself as “the nice girl.” Was that an inherently bad thing? No, of course not. But the pressure to live up to this title I had obtained resulted in repeatedly putting my happiness second to everyone else’s. I over-analyzed my every action, attempting to fit the mold of a person everyone convinced me I could.
But then I removed myself from social media, and consequently, I was left with only one version of myself to keep up with—just me, “in real life” Alli. And honestly? It felt really, really good:
¨I’ve noticed that I’m being more bold and decisive lately, with less regard for what the outcome may be (not necessarily in a bad way, though). I think this might be because for some reason I feel the need to keep up with my “persona” online, which is weird because I don’t even feel like it is a persona, because I genuinely post things that are an extension of myself, as opposed to trying to trying to build up and image or something. But I feel like some people have this grand perception of me (at least I’ve been told), and I don’t see myself that way at all, and I don’t really want to be seen that way. I just want to be seen exactly as how I am, my goods and bads, because that’s how you know who likes you for you. Deleting social media off my phone felt like I was severing my connection with that world…So being freed from that, I don’t feel like I have to keep up with anything… I can just be myself, and be real, and be human, and it feels really refreshing. ̈ -(Day 5)
I started saying no to people more. I started doing things I usually wouldn’t have. In fact, I even ended up going to my first party and on my first date! And despite whatever the outcome of those experiences were, I got to know myself better. Sometimes, I think we get so caught up in becoming who everyone else believes we are, that we let go of who we actually want to be. But there’s a certain freedom that comes with living unapologetically, with waking up and looking at yourself as a blank canvas, with choosing to be clay and not stone; that’s where endless possiblities begin.
After reflecting and, consequently, redefining my relationship with the online world, I had a revelation about the internet that shed some light on its (possibly) insidious side. Social media, while a great tool that allows us to accomplish any number of things, can also be a breeding ground for self-esteem issues—but not in the way you might expect.
It’s no secret that the constant comparison war takes its toll on our well-being. Continuously seeing the highlights of other people’s lives in your feed, or the unattainable touched-up images of Instagram models scattered all over your explore page is undeniably exhausting. But in the process of recognizing how other users’ posts have invaded our sense of self-worth, the consequences of our personal (seemingly) positive interactions online has slipped beneath the radar.
Now I’ve never posted something with the intention of getting compliments or praise. However, I’d be lying if I said I haven’t used the affirmation I’ve received in order to try and discredit my own insecurities; and I doubt I’m alone in that endeavor. I think often we feel we’re getting something good out of these internet exchanges, and granted to some extent we are. But perhaps the validation we get via retweets, or the high we feel from compliments left on our latest picture doesn’t build up our confidence, but rather infiltrates it with an empty—an unreliable— source of assurance. Feeding off the back-pats from other people merely distracts us from working out issues within ourselves, leading us to mistakenly believe that maybe everything is alright after all. Soon enough, we find ourselves caught up in this cycle of temporary bliss, and—more detrimentally—reliant on external sources to coddle our self-image.
Too often I’ve found myself attempting to confirm I’m a “good person, ̈ or that I’m ¨pretty,” or ¨important¨ with the things other people have said to (or about) me online and off—a pattern I was unaware of until I began this experiment and my main supply of ovations was cut off. Yet surprisingly, my confidence seemed to grow during those 30 days; I attribute that to the fact that I had to find myself a new cheerleader: me. And what better foundation for our own confidence? After all, the only bottomless pool of self-love you can draw from is your own.
So, is social media a good thing? Absolutely. It has connected people across continents, provided platforms for important issues, and created a space for users to express their creativity. But as the saying goes, too much of a good thing can be bad. It’s vital that we take time away from social media, even if well feel it doesn’t influence us, because sometimes things can have an undetected hold on that can only be realized through its absence. I would definitely recommend trying this, maybe not to the extent I did, but spending time offline actually had a lot of unforeseen positive impacts on me as you’ve come to hear about.
This is not a condemnation of the internet—I love the internet. But I do look at it differently now because it no longer influences me in the way it used to. In fact, I don’t even believe social media itself is the problem, but rather the ideas larger corporations choose to capitalize on. Platforms such as Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram, for example, promote the urge to preserve everything, or allow an opportunity to present a persona to show to the world, which, as explained, may not be the best thing. But at the end of the day, the nature of the impact of social media in one’s life must be determined by the individual. Thankfully, we can largely control its presence in our lives, and so whatever concentration that may be, as long as you’re genuinely happy—and healthy—so be it.