It’s been three days since Ash Wednesday, and there have already been a bunch of successes (and failures) during this time of penance. For starters, I’ve been off social media for the longest amount of time ever, which has led me to do a lot more living. It seems most of my young adult life has been lived in full view of this imaginary Internet audience who may or may not have ever given a damn, and I’ve already experienced just how freeing the lack of their gaze has been. No longer do I feel suddenly bound to judgement, perfect lighting, or posed “candid” shots. I’ve put my phone down (except for now, as I type this) and feel as lough a heavy weight is gone. The burden of trying to impress, or even just simply exist in, the Internet social sphere, is much heavier than I realized. Boiling frogs, I suppose; the weight increases gradually over the years, until you somehow start making decisions based on strangers’ opinions of you.
I wasn’t exactly sure, when I decided to “cut the social cord,” if I’d be able to actually go through with it. Granted, I’m only 3 days into this, but I don’t really see how I can go back. It’s as if my voice was silenced by the din of others’ opinions, and I, in my sensory overload, forgot how to speak. I couldn’t figure out what I wanted, what I really liked, for myself because I was being bombarded with images and advertisements and recommendations from people and companies I wasn’t particularly passionate about.
That’s all not to say the benefit of social media use was entirely lacking; I would not have met the amazing people I now know, or have become involved in so many wonderful efforts, were it not for Facebook and Instagram and Twitter. The beauty and curse of social media is its ability to make the world seem simultaneously so much smaller and so massively larger than it really is; and while feeling the pain and frustration of refugees, or the anger of political activists, is important in the development of empathy for the other, it can lead to burnout and overwhelm when you’re naturally empathetic to begin with. My days were filled with scrolling and likes and stories and trending topics, all while my own story, my own life was being put on the back burner. I LOVE the connection available through social media, but the all-encompassing deluge of other people’s lives and opinions needed to be reined in.
So, here I am, typing away with my thumbs as my kids nap and my husband and his parents tend the fire that’s boiling our sap in the backyard. Oh yeah, we’re REAL New Englanders, ha! But if you do a sap boil and don’t post pictures on Insta for all to see, does it really even matter?
The problem I personally have with social media stems from my deep-seated desire to be heard. I am an introvert through and through, but that doesn’t exclude me from the utterly human condition of needing an audience. Shakespeare had the theatre, Tolkien the page, and I had a smattering of friends on Facebook. Instead of ticket or book sales, I tracked my success via likes; reviews were replaced by comments, and my self-esteem rose and fell with the activity on my feed. I became enraged, disheartened, and encouraged by what the Internet threw in my face, and instead of reading essays and articles I read headlines and personality quizzes. I know I am not alone in this all-consuming reaction to social media, but this has been the first time I’ve really truly faced my own problem head on.
I’ve always been an all-or-nothing kind of person—and when it came down to Facebook and the like, I was all in. A platform where I could share my views and life updates in snippets and not actually have to talk to people face-to-face? Count me in. Unfortunately, my soul sort of got squandered in the process. I’ve kept my face in front of a screen, trying to capture the perfect angle or voice my concern via yelling into the void, instead of actually, you know, living it out. While I know loads of other people, billions probably, can have a healthy relationship with social media and continue to live their lives like normal, I am not one of them. I need to totally pare down, and I have until Easter to figure out exactly how.
My family, living all over the world, would be deprived of adorable snapshots of the kids, and my own social life would suffer (most of the events I’ve attended have been advertised on Facebook), so I know completely cutting myself out of the Internet picture is probably not the right idea. On the other hand, I don’t need to have the apps on my phone. I don’t need to have my phone in my hand at all times. I will not miss any super important information from anyone if I do not check my phone every five seconds. FOMO is real, y’all, and I’ve got it bad. But while I’ve experienced it a lot, what I’ve actually missed out on are conversations with my family, lots of time reading, and real-life adventures because I’d have rather been sitting at home with my phone in my face. And sleep—I’ve definitely missed out on sleep.
So what’s the plan, then? Should I keep the apps off my phone and just use my tablet or computer? Should I set social-media-free times during the day, or try to wade back in as normal but with this new perspective? In the grand scheme of things, this seems like an exceedingly small problem to have, but it has eerily affected my life in much bigger, more insidious ways than I could have fathomed. Mea culpa, my friends.
Have any of you ditched social media for good? Set limits? Let me know what’s worked for you!