In pursuit of cleaning and simplifying my life, I deleted my social media to give myself ~space~. In case you didn’t know- ever since the 7th grade, when I first made my Facebook, I have been tragically dependent on social media. This isn’t your typical “social media is bad” Medium article– so keep reading.
There are many ways I can ramble about this, so in typical me-fashion, I’m going to break it down into parts:
- How I Got Into This Mess: A History
- 3 Things Social Media Made Me Do
- Some Things That Quitting Social Media Taught Me
- Healthy Social Media Practices™
How I Got Into This Mess: A History
Like a lot of other kids in my city, I made my Facebook in the 7th grade. Any cringe-worthy Facebook memory you have, I participated. I posted “Like My Status for a…” and “Like this for a confession” posts all the time, all with horrifically decorative punctuation usage. I campaigned for ASB President on Facebook. I tagged my friends in those “Tag your friends” pictures. Late night Facebook chat conversations, confessional “About Me” notes– all of it.
For the sake of brevity, I’ll just say it: My participation in all of these things at such a young age socialized me into behaviours that rendered me dependent on the validation of others and a need to perform for my peers. I saw the pictures of my friends at sleepovers- I was jealous. Yes, I posted statuses for the sake of hoping to catch the attention of the guy I liked for 3 years. Yes, I felt validated beyond anything I had ever experienced before whenever someone posted on my wall and rated me as a 10 that is “so cute! so hapy that were friends!!!!!” after I liked their status for a rating and a compliment. Yes, I felt a little smug when I was tagged by my very best friends in their pictures and statuses, telling the WHOLE world that we’re best friends. Yes, yes, yes.
Do you know what that does to you? You’re 12 years old, and suddenly you’re thrust into a world of infinite insight into the lives of others. A world where you can shape what people see about you. No longer does your image rely purely on style or who you hang out with at lunch– you can explicitly show people: 1) how many friends you have, 2) what kind of things you like, 3) what OTHER people think of you, and so much more!
My sense of privacy was annihilated the moment I found out that I could impress people without even being around them. This was not good for the character-building and crippling insecurity that comes with middle school.
In addition to this, I dare to admit, I also was a part of the One Direction fandom. Yes, you cannot tell me anything about that situation that I do not already know. The energetic and passionate cult of teenage girls that so unapologetically loved and still love five British boys, I was one of them. I had a fan account, multiple fan accounts, all of them a secret (sorry, Mom). Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Kik– the works. I won’t get into it– but this added a dimension to my online engagement given that these communities/relationships were purely developed and maintained online.
So, to sum this all up: I positioned myself at a very young age to completely rely on my online presence as an accurate, holistic, complete illustration of myself.
This is funny because I have an entire blog now with almost as much about me as anyone could possibly ask for. Some things never change.
3 Things Social Media Made Me Do:
Anyway, out of all the things my 8-year career on social networks has conditioned me into, I will shine a light on the 3 primary mental-frameworks that came to shape the way I navigate relationships and my identity, all courtesy of the gentle grooming of the Internet.
- Compare my whole self to the versions of other people that they present to the public. This is an obvious problem.
- Feel like people are watching at all times. Vonnegut describes this in The Sirens of Titan: “The Earthlings behaved at all times as though there were a big eye in the sky—as though that big eye were ravenous for entertainment.” Surprise, Kurt, you’re right! The world is one, big, collective eye and everything I share is my performance. This is also a side-effect of the fact that I was watching everyone else at all times, constantly logged-in and scrolling through.
- Think, “No one really knows me,” despite the hyperactive sharing of myself with other people. A blurred line between public and private identities. Obviously, no one will ever know the entire truth of who I am. As a very performative person (aka #2), social media built me a persona with guidelines to act within. Thus, leading to frustrations regarding who I thought I was, and who I was expected to be.
There is a whole encyclopedia of other effects. But we’ll focus on these 3.
The kicker is this: These three things are three fundamental struggles that were central to my development throughout my adolescence. This idea of comparing myself to others, the act of constantly performing for people, the reconciliation of my public and private identities? All major things I had to overcome throughout the past five years of my life. While, no, I’m not going to pin this purely on social media as the chief causation of every insecurity I have, I will say that these insecurities were carefully maintained and groomed by the iron grip that social media had on my everyday life, heavily affecting the way I navigated my friendships and identity.
I can only speak to my own experience with it, I know plenty of people whose relationships with social media are not nearly as intimate as mine, which is amazing. However, this is my experience, from a more radical end on the spectrum.
At some point in high-school, I had Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, ask.fm, Tumblr, Path (when that was a thing), Kik- any permutation of those things! You name it! I have been through it all!
I placed so much importance on it. I would spend hours on Twitter, I had an Instagram all 4 years of high school and posted on it religiously, I hopped off Facebook (but came back strong when I went to Stanford Summer College). I made my high school’s Instagram and Snapchat accounts, so it was even integral to my work in my Leadership Commission, too. I cannot paint a vivid enough picture to show you how central my social media was to my life. It was an entire venue for interaction that existed separate from reality. I didn’t know any better but to just want to share everything on it.
I’ll be honest, I think some of it stemmed from a fear of not giving people my “full self” in real life. Some part of me wanted people to fill in the gaps based on my online accounts. I wanted everyone to know all parts of myself all at once. That I would die to see Phoenix in concert and that I played tennis and did Theatre and loved Lord of the Rings. It was a complete picture. Kinda. Well, it was a persona. A character. Something that people could use to interact with me without me worrying about them not knowing the full truth of me.
But that wasn’t the case, huh? Clearly, it wasn’t even the “full truth.” Even then, I still struggled with the fact that people did not know the actual full truth of my reality because, even off-line, the persona, “Izzy Angus” was perfect and she could do no wrong. She had a perfect life, she was smart, she was confident and quirky, she did theatre and was class president, whatever. That idea of “perfection” poisoned every concept of myself that I had. So, not only was I comparing myself to other people’s curated realities that they share online, I was comparing myself to my own curated reality and who I thought I should be. While this is a problem separate from social media, social media definitely played a huge factor in compensating and projecting more of that untouchable, pristine goodness that I thought I pursue.
Now, I have a blog that works the opposite way- Life is fun and circular.
Fast forward. It’s January 12th, 2018, I think? I spent Winter Break with a passive eye and ear on everyone else’s Winter Breaks– all documentations obviously curated to share the most glamorous parts: New Years in New York, Christmas in London, lavish hotels and absurdly urban bars, tropical getaways, etc. etc. etc.. I knew we were all performing for each other, whether we admitted it or not. I got sick of it.
So, I quit.
Now, quitting social media taught me a lot of things. I just needed to separate myself from the situation to get some perspective that I never had the chance to internalize throughout my stay on the good ol’ Internet.
Some Things That Quitting Social Media Taught Me:
- Catching up with people is a lot more genuine when you actually have to catch up with them. Peripherally observing someone’s life based on what they post is a disingenuous way to maintain a friendship. Get coffee. It doesn’t matter if it’s been a month since you’ve spoken or if it’s been 2 weeks since one of you has last texted back. Make it happen. Keep in mind, people are busy! Be patient and make it happen if you want it to happen.
- Being active on social media suddenly makes me feel accountable for staying in instantaneous contact with people who reach out to me, which should not be the case. I do not like the idea that if someone texts me or Snapchats me, they can expect me to respond within 24 hours. If you are my boyfriend or someone I am working with or my best friend, or someone I am seeing that day, I will text you back semi-immediately and will expect the same within reason– but it takes time and mental energy to engage in a conversation! I will respond when I am good and ready. I found myself feeling less guilty about taking time to process and respond to texts on my own time because then people didn’t have a pulse on if I am idle and on my phone or not.
- It’s not personal. This can be read in a lot of different ways, and I’m gonna assume that your interpretation of this is probably exactly what I’m thinking about.
- Posting on social media is a way of seeking validation and reminding people that you exist. It can be a lot of other things, but, often times, it’s that. One night, I was sad, bored, and lonely. I thought a lot. I found myself craving to post something on Instagram. I wanted to know someone was thinking about me, anywhere, even if just for a second. Not necessarily the healthiest way to engage that feeling, but that’s what I was conditioned into and I recognized that. I ended up getting lost in a movie, then falling asleep. I let the feeling wash over me and consciously reminded myself that people care about me, even when they aren’t telling me.
- I was a lot more dependent on the gaze of others than I would have ever admitted. I probably still am, too, but in a less active way.
- I, personally, am very prone to be emotionally affected by what people post. Whether its an upsetting news article, a negative finsta post, a positive finsta post, a beach selfie, anything. I would have never admitted it, but I am quite vulnerable to those things. Even when you know that you shouldn’t be feeling a certain way after seeing all of the everything about someone else’s life, sometimes you can’t help but feel it.
- It’s hard to get away.
- It can be good. You just have to engage in Healthy Social Media Practices™!!
Healthy Social Media Practices™
Since I am making my grand return to the sphere of social media, I made sure to stay conscientious of toxic aspects of it that I should consciously try to step away from. Thus, I came up with a handful of ways to healthily take part in a thing that can be quite beautiful, if wielded correctly and how to continue separating myself from bad things about it without a complete disconnect.
- Limit time on it. You can reap the benefits of being on social media without scrolling all the way to point you left off from. Especially when you’ve had your account for a few years, accumulated a mass following list, and have hundreds of things to “catch up” on.
- Don’t share everything.
- Keep very private parts of life (like relationship business!!!) off it. Good or bad, all of it is for you and your person. Sharing a picture is okay and showing appreciation is nice, but, at least for me, I feel like keeping it lowkey is nice. More for you, less for the world. However, I understand! I don’t think it’s unhealthy to share positive things about your relationship on social media. I think oversharing is just not for me when it comes to that.
- Constantly remind yourself that people are curating their profiles. Their lives aren’t perfect even though they have VSCO X and a Canon60D and can make it look real good.
- Take breaks. We’re not made to take in this much information and be this intimately acquainted with the lives of other people at all times. People used to have to call each other on the phone and mail each other pictures to get updates on what’s happening. You’re not obligated to keep super up-to-date tabs on people, nor should you.
After typing this, I feel like all of this is pretty obvious. It’s the same stuff that everyone tells you constantly in every other self-help-y social media article.
Just know, that for 8 years, I had all of these things spoken at me and all of these things in the back of my mind, yet still allowed myself to dig myself into an unhealthy relationship with it. However, I was 12. I was a teenager. I wanted validation and I was stubborn enough to think I was the exception. I quite literally did not know any better and did not think I was as dependent as I was.
I think no matter what you’re doing, just be careful to assess what your intentions are whenever you’re doing anything online. Subtweeting, sharing a picture of your dog, posting a Snapstory from Philz or Blue Bottle– idk. Why are you sharing it? Not saying it’s a bad thing. I’d post my Chai from Coupa every day if I ever got Snapchat back (which very much so might) because it’s artsy and cute and I wanna share something artsy and cute.
Just be intentional with your time and with your actions. Just like with anything.
Social media is beautiful. I love it. Lots of great things going for it.
However, it can be dangerous if not monitored, like anything. Be conscientious and take care of yourself.
Thank you for reading! I’m back on Instagram and Facebook with a bit more of a detached perspective now. This may seem trivial, but I can assure you that it’s not.
The kind of assessment I just demonstrated is essential when considering anything that you regularly engage with.
How the media that you take in affects you, how your interactions with people are affected by certain things, how your mindset and outlook can be affected by a book or a nagging thought or a person.
Assess your environment, the things you allow to shape the way you navigate the world, and yourself.
Constantly pursue a peaceful life.
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