I didn’t use social media for a year. It wasn’t some sort of social experiment. It happened across the course of junior year of high school. I disabled my Instagram, I deleted Snapchat, I was done and over it. I did it because of this sole reason: my boyfriend at the time, who was an internet influencer himself, thought I was attention-seeking.
In the words of Viner-turned-YouTuber Cody Ko: “That’s the whole point of Instagram. That’s the whole point of anything. Start a private Instagram account, keep it at zero followers and see how much fun it is.”
The year where I was absent from social media is the year I felt the most lonely. I fell into a spiral of self-hatred and loneliness, not to mention resentment towards people who used it. Social media was my method to cope with my issues, and it had been my way of coping with insecurity and loneliness for so long: as a child of social media, and especially as someone with a significantly older brother, I started using these platforms at a young age, and I’d simply never stopped.
My last post before I abandoned social media
On top of this, social media was my only outlet. I didn’t have anywhere to share or promote my writing. I was trapped all alone with my thoughts, and with nowhere to express my creativity, I was stuck chasing my own tail. Between an emotionally distant boyfriend and the absence of social media, I felt more helpless than ever.
As our generation becomes more and more devoted to social media, we find ourselves investing all our spare time into it. Over the past decade or so, people have felt less and less of a need to physically pick up the phone or even text their friends. So it took a little while for my friends to catch on. They could tell I was distancing myself, but when they finally realized what was happening to me, it was too late: I had already stopped responding to anyone who’d been in my life prior to my relationship with my then-boyfriend, who would give me the silent treatment for hours or even days if I got in touch with a friend he didn’t approve of.
The loss of social media had a staggering effect on my life. I was missing out on the hangouts and get-togethers that people were planning in their direct messages and Snapchat messages, I was missing out on jokes and memes—but most of all, I was missing my friends. With the connective tissue of Snapchat streaks and Facebook feeds providing the basis for most of our interactions with our friends, giving up social media was also isolating me from the real world. For me, my world was just my boyfriend and me. Torn between being in a toxic relationship with my ex-boyfriend and a long-distance relationship with social media, I was more lonely than ever.
Not having a social media presence took away the best of me.
As I regain control over my social media platforms, I am also regaining control over my own life. Not only am I no longer looking to others for validation, but I also finally have the opportunity to release my emotions and energy in a safe and healthy way.
My first post upon return to social media
When I talked to people in direct messages and in comments, I was forming connections—not just superficial connections or even social friendships but also relationships with people who have helped me with my career. Most importantly, though, I was back in touch with my friends. After a year away from social media in which words like “finsta" and “rinsta” had entered common usage, when I returned, I felt like I was in a different world. My friends’ “finstas” were plastered with photos of each other, day-to-day encouragements of one another’s efforts to get by in school, silly inside jokes and bad group selfies that made me laugh. Even though the social media landscape had changed in my absence, the comfort it provided me had little to do with all the platforms and features I had missed: for me, it was all about the people on social media—not just those I already knew, but rather the social safety net of it all, the way strangers could easily find themselves emotionally supporting people they might not even know.
When I read others’ experiences about how not using social made them feel less stressed out or even “cleansed”, I can’t help but wonder how much that has to do with the mindset with which we approach social media today. When I was younger, I started off using social media and many other online platforms in hopes of making friends. Maybe it was because my brother was seven years older and I didn’t have many friends my own age, but I spent my time in Club Penguin wisely, trying to befriend others in the town square. I didn’t want to squander my brief and precious daily internet time.
I didn’t use social media for a year, and I gave it up for all of the wrong reasons. In reality, I felt like it harmed me more than it did any good. If I could have a do-over, another chance to choose, I would choose social media over false love.