Today, social media is more than apps on our phones — it’s like another appendage. We know that we don’t need it, yet we can’t help but constantly check Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, or peruse through Pinterest in our downtime. It happens when we’re in line at Starbucks, using public transportation, or even just grabbing a quick meal alone. It’s almost like we are too afraid to be alone in our own head-space. That is why I decided to challenge myself to stop using social media for an entire week.
My relationship with social media looks a little bit different than most people’s. I wasn’t allowed to have social media until I was around fifteen, and I only made a Facebook when I got to college and decided that I probably should have one for all the organizations I was in, and for networking. Instagram has been an outlet for me; I have not one but two – my main account and one that I use to share my poetry. Going into this challenge, I wasn’t using Snapchat all that often, snap streaks were losing their allure, and having had some of my male friends hit me up after a few too many drinks left me with a sour taste in my mouth. Twitter had been deleted a while ago when I realized I was only really using it to follow accounts that were on other platforms, and to share music.
To start my challenge, I deleted all my apps the night before. The biggest hurdle? Group Me, though messages can be sent as texts, deleting your apps in one fell swoop will not change the settings. It was a strange feeling staring at the empty screen. There was a feeling of “lightness.” I expected to wake up on the first day and get more done; meditate, read a devotional, go for a walk, or study before class. However, through this challenge, I found that social media wasn’t the only thing holding me back from my personal and health related goals.
On the first day, it wasn’t before 9 a.m. that I was ready to tap into this “social media reflex.” I went to get coffee at Capital Grounds and there wasn’t even a line. While I was waiting for my order, I went to check my phone and I had to remind myself that there was nothing on my phone for me to check! I could check my email, but I didn’t want to check that. Checking social media has simply become a habit, I’d sooner check in with the online world than make small talk with the people around me.
This challenge also sparked some candid conversations with others about their own social media use. In one conversation with Rebecca DeLong, a junior, I discussed how one would describe Pinterest to someone who has never used it. “It’s a good way to waste 45 minutes of your life,” she said. She said it jokingly, but she had an honest point. On my Pinterest, I have great quote boards and poetry boards. Most recently, Pinterest served as the inspiration for me getting my pixie cut, but it no longer has a place on my phone.
Since completing this challenge, I have been taking the opportunity to reevaluate how I am using social media. The first day back, I re-downloaded my apps in baby steps. I started with Instagram. One of the key things that I noticed was that I was following the same people on both of my Instagram accounts. I decided to make my poetry account only for my work, since I never really looked at my feed anyways.
I also looked at my followers on my personal account and asked myself, “Do I really know these people? If I ran into them would I say hello or be happy to have a conversation with them?” and asking those intentional questions paired down my following number from around 360 to 210. I did the same for Facebook and went from 355 to 267. Interestingly enough, Facebook has a feature that says: “Get to know your friends,” as if you don’t know them already. This will give you stats about how many mutual friends you have, if you have a location in common, an organization, or if you attended the same event. I also decided to download the Snapchat stories that I wanted to keep, and not use it anymore. I re-downloaded Group Me and no longer use the Messenger app on my phone.
My huge takeaway from this challenge is that we don’t need social media. We might think that we do, and there were several times out of habit that I went to post something or needed to check something, but there were still ways around it. Social media even tries to cling onto its attachment to us. Throughout this challenge, Instagram kept sending me emails about my stats trying to get me to re-download the app. When I re-downloaded Facebook, there were notifications for individual posts from friends almost trying to yell at me, “Here’s what you missed while you were gone!” But you know what? I don’t think I missed anything. This challenge has forced me to use social media more intentionally, to use is as a tool rather than to let it use me. I’m not perfect. In the last couple of days, I’ve still scrolled through my feed for longer than I’d care to admit, but I’m a little more aware of what I’m doing now, and I’m grateful for having had this experience.