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As a teenager in today’s modern world, I am no stranger to social media. I, like everybody else under the age of 30, have an account on pretty much every main social media platform that you can think of: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, Pinterest, Reddit…the list goes on, literally.
As a citizen of the digital age, there’s seldom a time when I see people not using their phones. Everywhere we look now, it seems that everyone is glued to their phones—in lines at the coffee shops, in class, in college dining halls, on the streets. There’s no escaping the digital world.
I witnessed the extent of our digital addiction in high school, seeing teachers yell at three, four, five students per class for being on their phones rather than listening to the lecture. During lunch time, in-person conversations and general teenage tomfoolery were things of the past: Even when sitting across from their best friends, I noticed my peers still couldn’t take their attention away from their phones.
For most of high school, the amount of time my peers and I were on our phones was something that I considered to be normal. Everybody was doing it—what was so bad about it? It wasn’t until my senior year that I suddenly understood that instead of being a way to connect people, social media was actually starting to drive us apart.
As for myself? I’ve never been a big social media user—you’ll seldom find any selfies of me on Instagram or Facebook, and my Twitter is a barren wasteland.
Despite barely ever posting on my own accounts, however, I was 100% addicted to social media.
Every morning after waking up, even before getting out of bed, I would roll over, grab my phone, and proceed to spend the next twenty minutes scrolling through every single social media app on my phone, updating myself on what kinds of posts I’d missed while I was asleep. The same process would happen during lunch, then again when I got home from school, then later while taking a break from homework, and, lastly, right before I fell asleep at night.
By my senior year, I admitted to myself that I had a problem. I knew that checking my social media 5+ times a day was useless; I didn’t follow enough people that my feed was updating that constantly, and even if I was, there was no need to check my social media more than twice a day. It was all the same anyways. The same posed selfies of all the same girls on Instagram, and the same political posts and memes on Twitter and Facebook.
Although it had been fun at first, my experience with social media had quickly transpired into being something that I felt like I had to do, simply because it had been in my daily routine for so long.
I no longer found it fun, but I kept doing it because everybody else was, too.
But why? Why did I feel like I had to have it? Why did I feel like I was dropping down on the invisible social ladder if I didn’t post on Instagram at least once a month? Why did I feel the need to check each account at least five times a day, even when I knew nothing new had been posted?
In January of 2017, I decided to give up social media completely. My goal was to quit social media for one month and see what would happen.
I started by deleting all the apps, and to make sure I didn’t cheat and re-download them, I set a parental control on my phone. To prevent cheating on my laptop, I blocked the URLs of all the social media websites I could think of. Another goal: keep my phone turned off and in my backpack during class.
And thus, my journey of being social media-less began. Every morning during the first week, I subconsciously rolled over in bed, grabbed my phone to check my social media apps, and was hit with the harsh realization that they weren’t there anymore. The subconscious checking of my phone went away halfway through the second week, but then the feelings of social isolation began setting in.
Before class started every morning, I could usually be found with my other classmates sitting at my desk, scrolling through my news feed until the bell rang. But now I had nothing to occupy my attention during the ten minutes before class started.
I remember sitting awkwardly at my desk the first day without my phone, painfully wishing I could take it out of my backpack and have it in my hands. Even without having social media to scroll through, I wanted it in my hands, just so I could look like everybody else and at least pretend that I was occupying my time with something rather than finding different spots around the room to stare at.
It was depressing, to say the least. I began feeling socially awkward in public because I wasn’t constantly looking at my phone.
At lunch, I sat silently among my friends, all of whom were glued to their screens. More than once I attempted initiating real conversation but failed miserably when the conversation took a sharp turn back to memes and laughing at people’s Snapchat stories
If there was an awkward moment between me and another person, or if I was waiting in line at the store, I didn’t have my phone to escape to. As I broke my habit of routinely checking my phone, I began noticing just how often my classmates were on theirs. Instead of daydreaming in class, I started counting how many times certain students in my class would check their phones within the hour.
The top record was a boy in my AP Statistics class, who, despite sitting in the front row, never had his phone out of his hand. I considered him an anomaly, however, and the second highest record was a total of 25 phone checks within the hour.
That equates to checking your phone every 2.4 minutes. I don’t think the word insane is enough to describe it.
After a few weeks, I began to feel that my relationships with the people around me started to dwindle because I was, in a way, completely disconnected from them. I often didn’t know about the latest party or social event happening during the weekend because I wasn’t on Facebook or Twitter to hear about it. Unless someone told me about it in person or I made a conscious effort to ask my friends what they were doing every weekend, I would miss out on socializing with friends.
Eventually, I resorted to being the one host of the social events, just so I wouldn’t have to constantly ask what was happening each weekend. On the weekends that I did have friends over, I would suggest we play a game I invented called, “Who can go the longest without reaching for their phone.” I would make all my friends put their phones in a box, and whoever was the first one to cave and check a notification or text message had to perform a gross or embarrassing dare of my choice.
It was a clever way of getting them to put down their phones for once, and—most of the time—it actually worked. Without Instagram or Twitter constantly distracting them from what was happening right in front of them, I found that my friends would usually be having so much fun that, after a while, they would completely forget they didn’t have their phone in their hands. In those moments, we were able to connect on a level without likes, retweets or reblogs, and I much preferred it that way.
Finally, the last day of January rolled around. On that day when I got home from school, I re-downloaded Instagram. I was proud of myself for going a whole month without social media but was admittedly eager to scroll through all the posts I’d missed out on during the last 30 days.
I opened the app, began scrolling, and quickly discovered… that I didn’t care.
Dozens of selfies and travel photos had been posted during my time away. As I kept scrolling, I realized that I’d lost the capacity to care about any of these posts. My friend went to Florida over Christmas break and posted a selfie on the beach: it was a nice picture, but at the end of the day, I didn’t care whether she went or not. In fact, I found that I didn’t care about almost any of the pictures posted in my social circle. When I really thought about it, none of the posts on Instagram benefited me in any way.
When I started my challenge, I expected that, by the end, I’d be dying to get back onto social media. But by the time January ended and I’d successfully accomplished my goal, I found myself somewhat disgusted with the idea of rejoining social media. That day, I decided to delete my Instagram and Twitter accounts completely—I didn’t want to rejoin the group of people that checked their phones every 2.4 minutes. I said goodbye to selfies and pictures of food without saying goodbye, and I preferred it that way.
When I told people that I had accomplished my challenge and subsequently deleted my entire Instagram account, I got a lot of judgment. Most people said something along the lines of, “You’ll be back on Instagram within a month,” or “Wow, that’s crazy. I can’t imagine not having Twitter or Instagram!”
More than a few people tried to persuade me to hop right back on the social media train, but I wasn’t having it. My life had improved so much in the past month, there was no way I was going back. I started sleeping better because I wasn’t staring at a screen for an hour before bed, I was able to get my homework done a lot faster without getting constant distracting notifications on my phone, and I felt so much happier.
I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong or evil about social media—I just prefer to live my life looking up, now, rather than down.
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