I deleted my Instagram app recently because I was feeling overwhelmed by all the noise.
My obsessive refreshing of the feed, checking for new stories and new 'likes' was not helping in the slightest. I felt crazed, unable to stop myself from reaching for my phone every few minutes, making my working-hours habits pretty gnarly. The lackluster feelings I have about my job, combined with the way I was compulsively checking Instagram, combined with all the cool shit everyone *seems* to be doing online was tanking my already-low self worth. (You're not doing enough, you're not good enough, you're not enough, blah, blah blah.) I had come to need that boost of serotonin I get from others' approval, and being online was no longer feeling healthy for me.
It's only been about a week since I deleted that deceptively old-timey-looking little camera graphic off my phone, but I already feel calmer. There's more space in my head. It's quieter. My anxiety has cooled. I'm getting more done, my ability to focus is getting better. My incessant need for instant gratification and constant positive feedback has waned, and it feels good. I feel more in control of my emotions and the way I spend my time. I feel more content overall.
I've taken social media hiatuses before, and I'm sure this won't be my last. It's not a new concept, but I do think the break helps; kind of like an internet modem getting a hard reset. Unplug and leave unplugged for at least 60 seconds, plug back in and hold down reset until the light starts blinking green again. You're good to go! I'll get back online again to be sure... but what if I didn't?
There's a growing frustration within me, and maybe one day it will overpower my need to be seen and heard in Internetland: I resent the feedback loop that is our usage of social media. Feel bored or unseen > Post on social media > (Temporarily) get your fix > Repeat. It's really quite unfulfilling. There is merit to allowing ourselves to feel bored without the distraction of a phone in front of our faces. And there's definitely merit to sitting with ourselves instead of distracting ourselves from uncomfortable or unwelcome feelings with social media.
I resent the commercialization of art, the monetization of our lives; the exploitation of our kids for likes and comments; the 'pic or it didn't happen' mentality; the vanity of the whole thing; the influencer culture; the need we feel to not only document our lives, but to put it out there for it to be evaluated; the way we devalue the mundane and place aesthetic on a pedestal.
To be clear, I'm not coming from a place of judgment or a 'holier than thou' attitude. If you have a healthy relationship with social media, props to you. If you're social-media-abstinent, then props to you. No one's better than anyone else here. Social media is just a fact of life that we have to contend with, and each person's relationship to it takes on a unique form. For me, lately, it's become kind of a beast.
I explored the topic of my relationship with social media with my therapist last week. Broaching the subject always invokes a sense of shame. Admitting that it's sometimes a problem for me makes me feel weak, inferior, and kind of pathetic. I get in my head about what it says about me that I can't put down my phone, that I like the positive feedback I receive when I post something that resonates with other people or garners approval. I don't like the fact that sometimes I live in the virtual world as much as, or more than, I live in the real world. But I don't want that to be that case — I want to experience things for the sake of experiencing things, not for the sake of other people seeing me experience things. I want to be defined by the things I do in the real world, not only in the virtual world.
For sure, there's good that comes from social media. I've made genuine real-life friendships that began as Instagram friendships; I built myself a little community of people I trust and who cheer me on; I find inspiration in the things others share; I think sometimes I inspire others; and I'm able to stay in contact with people who I otherwise likely would have lost contact with — Like my two friends who I met in Costa Rica nearly ten years ago (Hi, Marianna & Kerry!). They live in New York and I'm in Kansas, but we still keep in touch via social media. I love that.
But what does social media do to us, exactly? In my experience, it often disrupts my sense of peace, it makes my mind race with could be, should be. It distracts me, it makes me compulsive, it makes me seek external validation obsessively, it makes me compare myself to others and their achievements.
I know there are tons of articles and think-pieces out there (and, ironically, social media posts, teehee) detailing and dissecting the problems with screens and with social media. This isn't a novel topic. I'm just a discontented Millennial sharing my feelings, because that's precisely what us insufferable Millennials do!
I think, or maybe I just hope, there is a growing disquiet about what the internet, and, more specifically, social media, is doing to us. I know I worry about my own kids growing up in an era in which encountering screens are as unavoidable a fact of life as bowel movements (sorry, I have a soft spot for poop humor). My kids don't have tablets or iPads, but they do get plenty of screen-time out of the TV on nights and weekends. It's easy to let the TV do the childcare while I get other things done. So, no, I'm not judging you if your kids have iPads. If I were, I'd expect to be called out for calling the kettle black.
So, back to the question: What if I didn't get back online? Would the positive outweigh the negative? Honestly... probably. I'd be better at being bored, I'd continue to be more present with my babies and my husband, I'd be more content with my own life because I wouldn't be constantly, often subconsciously, comparing my life to others', I would spend less money, I'd have a better ability to focus... the list could go on.
I'll probably get back online because it's what we do. But I think it's important for us to be aware of the way our usage of social media impacts our mental, physical, and emotional health, and be able to step away when the effects have become harmful to our health.
What do you think?