Everybody does it, and nobody knows why.
There's nothing inherently wrong with social media, but there's nothing innately good about it, either. All I know is there's something wrong with the way a majority of us use it. And I'm no exception.
So, let me say upfront, that if you're looking for venom and ammo either for or against social media, sorry, you won't find it here.
That said, we've all heard the melodramatic complaints about social media; angsty rants about its problems. Well, social media isn't a required activity – if you're so bothered by the flood of posts and updates and images, turn it off. It has as much power you give it. I understand that it can feel like an obligation, though, especially when "everyone does it". But you don't have to kick everyone off of social media in order to find a truer connection with others. But you also don't have to be off of social media entirely. Even though being off of it entirely is what I've chosen, and what I've benefited from.
I'm not here to tell anyone they're wrong or right in the time they spend online.
You can waste your life away from a screen, just as easily as you can in front of one.
What if instead of raising hackles about social media, we just escape from its dictatorship, and learned not to depend on it? Being heavily for or against social media just gives it more power, and creates more distance between people –you're not likely to connect well with someone any better when you've gone offline if you're too busy judging the others around you for their electronic habits. What if we could just drop the addiction without making a huge fuss? That's been my goal this summer.
Here are some of my thoughts that swayed me to take some time away from social media – at least for the summer, and potentially for much longer than that.
The main problem with Instagram is that it's all about images. Appearances. The surface. One glimpse without a whole lot of framing words and background information. Here, a good looking person is favored over those who are less attractive, no matter what it is those good looking people are advocating in their posts. Maybe some are posting about causes they believe in, and there's nothing wrong with celebrating life events and relationships.
It's not looks that makes a person good or bad – it's how a person uses their influence, no matter where they get it from.
And those with influence on Instagram are those with a pretty face. Again, there's nothing innately wrong with sharing celebrated life events and relationships. But celebration and relationships can (or at least should) thrive outside of sharing images of them to strangers.
Is an experience no longer valuable in of itself these days? Do experiences have to be shared and approved of by strangers to have worth for the participants?
More often than not, those who are attractive and highly followed on Instagram are just advocating for their own worth, their own beauty, their own success, popularity, etc., which they want to be validated form external sources. This creates problem for them, and for their viewers.
Can you imagine if in real life we all walked by each other, saw how good looking other people were and how good their clothes were, how impressive their skills were, and just chose to stare at and huddle around those people to watch them, regardless of if they were kind or unkind? Creepy. And unfair – to both parties. You as the watcher, on the one hand, would probably feel envy and incompetency as a result of following around those people. Not fun. And although the followed person gets admiration, they don't get any kind of lasting reinforcement with value and lasting comfort. They don't get to be Known.
Those who are admired for their appearances will probably just feel a mounting need to keep on appearing a certain way, unable to show their true imperfections, struggles, and fears. They will feel the need to be perfect in order to be wanted and worthy. And that's not fair, either.
I realized with Instagram that I was wanting to be admired, but I was also wanting to be understood. Not a good place to go for deep connection. I'm notorious for long captions, often of things I've written, speckled with quotes I resonate with.
As I'm maturing, I'm learning that I want to be loved more than I want to be impressive.
Instagram is about being approved of, not about being raw and real and connected. My life has flawed lighting all over the place and I'm doing both you and myself a disservice by trying to pretend I actually have no acne, all my clothes are new, and all my friendships are happy all the time. My clothes are torn – I'm torn. And that's ok. Good, even. I grow from my tears. I still struggle with wanting to be admired.
But comparison is a losing game. You can't feed that beast to keep it at bay. You have to starve it.
So, being off of Instagram has been a huge help to me. I compare myself to other girls less. I don't have to change certain features or lament how I differ from others. I think about my physique a lot less, and I can focus more on who I am, and less on who I seem to be. I also realize that instead of writing big captions to nobody in particular, I can text call and better yet, converse with someone in real life about what matters to me and what matters to them.
The time I don't spend on social media isn't spent just staring into space. I'm connecting in more real ways than I had been previously.
The one issue I've encountered from being off of Instagram has been when I actually do make in-person connections with new people, the way people stay in contact these days is usually asking for each other's social media, instead of each other's numbers. This is ok, as long as that media connection is a means for planning more in-person connection, not merely reducing that new connection into media only interactions (which are sometimes wordless interactions of mere pictures or videos back and forth).
Which brings me to my next deleted social media account.
The one leg up that Snapchat has on Instagram is that, although there can be group chats, typically snapchat is used for 1:1 conversations. The downfall? Oftentimes Snapchat conversations become mere pictures with no words at all – for days and days on end, and for what purpose? A streak.
I've had them, but I hate snapchat streaks. Relationships are not measurable. They don't exist for that purpose. So what is the value in having a snapchat streak? If your relationships can and need to be validated by how many days in a row you have sent each other selfies, I think that's an issue. What I think is even more of an issue, though, is if you need streaks to feel like you have friends. I don't say that with hate, or with self-righteous criticism, I say it with concern.
However many people you have streaks with is not a legitimate way to measure how many friends you have.
To do so does you a disservice, and it does the other people a disservice. I honestly believe that streaks can be a way for people to use each other for cheap validation. I don't say this to be mean or condescending – I've been a part of this very mindless cycle. And I'm sorry for it.
Can people have good, meaningful connections on many back to back days? You bet. One hundred percent. But I think any snapchat user can admit to having at least a few people they snapchat just for the streak. And they probably think that person doesn't have much to say, and we can sell each other sort as simple, thoughtless beings if we don't explore each other's thoughts and experiences in real conversations.
My other problem is with Snapchat is that oftentimes, the images sent back and forth are selfies. How long has mankind even had technology? Not long. We used to just see ourselves in puddles, if that.
Now we are drowning ourselves in hundreds of images of ourselves, every day. I don't think this is healthy for any person, no matter how they look.
How we look is so little of who we are, and we shouldn't reinforce to ourselves, or to others that our appearance is most of who we are. It's a mere shell – why keep showing each other our shells instead of our hearts and minds? (especially because, let's face it, all of our 'shells' are gonna get pretty wrinkly and gross someday.)
Not having snapchat has allowed me to be less distracted. Instagram posts and looking through Instagram feeds usually take up more time in fewer bursts. Snapchat has interrupted my homework, my social interactions, and simple moments of walking outside, reading, or reflecting otherwise. I love that I am able to be more present without sending a few pictures every half hour, sometimes every few minutes. It's freeing that I don't have to entertain myself with a screen so often, examine how I look, or compare my life to others on their stories and how their appearance looks that day.
Now, I text and call more, and I identify the people in my life more in what they say and what we experience together, than what they look like.
On the whole, social media isn't evil. But the ways we can choose to use it, and the amounts we can choose to use it certainly can be. Being away from Instagram and Snapchat has allowed me to grow and change, and be a much more contented and present person. If this sounds like a relief to you, give it a shot – I'll take living moments and pouring into true connections over supporting the mass-production of self-promoting images any day.