We hear it constantly: “Social media is ruining our lives.” These words almost always come from people of generations who actually remember a world without it. I, a proud millennial, am not here to give any kind of lecture, and I most certainly am not here to tell you social media is bad, because it’s not. I love social media as much as—if not more than—the rest of us. Facebook helps me stay in touch with family members. Twitter keeps me connected to the world’s latest in news and pop culture, and provides a source of laughter via the endless circulation of memes. Instagram allows me to express my creative and social side. Finally, the one I literally cannot live without, Snapchat, lets me see what all my friends are doing at all times. So now that you all know that I too, can’t go without it, let me tell you about a time when I did.
No, my phone didn’t break. I didn’t do it in the spirit of a religious holiday. No one punished me into doing so. I willingly gave up social media for two weeks. Now, I know what some of you may be thinking—why on earth would someone do such a thing? I, too, was questioning my own sanity. Nevertheless, I did it and here’s how it went down:
It all started when the topic came up in one of my classes and a peer told a story about how she and her friends went for a hike and the motivation to do so wasn’t for exercise, fresh air, or even just an appreciation of nature. The sole purpose in climbing this hill was to get a trendy Instagram picture at the top. Once I stepped back and thought about it, I realized that’s pretty much why I do everything. I strategically wear an outfit out because I want to post a picture in it. I drive out of my way to an over-priced coffee shop just to post a story of an artsy latte. All these things I was doing suddenly seemed so pointless. All for a photo someone might look at for seconds, maybe hit the “like”-button, then scroll past and move on. This realization led me to challenge myself to a two-week social media detox because honestly, I didn’t think I could do it. If you feel like everything you do revolves around social media, or maybe you get anxiety when you can’t check your phone for an hour, you should try this too. I deleted all the apps that I would normally check on a daily basis and saw the world through my own two eyes—not a phone screen.
Week One: The cold sweats kicked in.
Okay, I’m being dramatic, but you get what I mean. I felt like a piece of me was missing, like my security blanket was gone. There I was, sitting in the doctor’s office with nothing to do but twiddle my thumbs. When an older woman sat next to me, I couldn’t pull out my phone and scroll through Twitter to avoid an awkward conversation. I had to learn the art of small talk and direct eye contact. And frankly, it was liberating. I started to notice when I was somewhere with my friends and something remotely interesting happened, everyone would rush to pull out their phones and record a Snapchat video of it. So I would end up standing there, being the only one actually watching what was happening. Suddenly, in a room full of people, I felt alone.
Week Two: What even is social media?
The empty feeling started to go away. Sure I missed being connected, but I didn’t feeling like the world stopped turning. My friends started to catch on and would notice that I wasn’t on my phone all the time. This led to them occasionally putting their phones aside, allowing us to simply enjoy each other’s company sans the constant scrolling, liking, and posting. As for my family, I have always grown up knowing that phones don’t belong at the dinner table and it is a time for catching up. So, the only difference I experienced is that I didn’t feel the constant anxiety that I was falling behind on my social feed. There were no notifications waiting for me at the end of my meal. I could give my undivided attention to the physical environment right in front of me.
The Aftermath: After two weeks of being social media-free, I crawled out from under my rock and back into the 21st century.
It felt nice to know that if I wanted to get on, I finally could, but I didn’t feel inclined to jump right back in. I had so much more free time when I wasn’t active on social media. I was more productive throughout the day because I didn’t feel obligated to check my phone every two minutes. I had genuine conversations with people, and overall, I felt much less distracted.
Although this was a great experience, like I said before, I love social media in all its entirety. I will continue to tweet, share, and post at my own free will. However, it feels empowering knowing that I can live my life without it. I challenge you to to give up social media for a certain amount of time you are comfortable with. Whether it’s a month, two weeks, or just a few days, see how it affects your daily life. If it is a problem among friends or family, challenge them to do it with you. You could even get creative and do something like, set all your phones in the middle of the dinner table and if someone reaches for her/his, she/he has to pay for everyone’s meal or do the dishes. Just remember, the stories your friends and family have to share with you are much more valuable than the 24-hour stories on Snapchat. Don’t be so busy documenting your life that you forget to truly live it.