To be or not to be on social media: that is the old-age question even the Elizabethan playwright William Shakespeare struggled with. Okay, maybe not that exact question, but it is one I struggle with, especially as the new year approaches with possibilities of change and re-branding the "New Me." Some people I am sure, especially younger ones who were exposed to social media at a younger age, would be baffled at the prospect of even questioning the deletion of social media as it is so ingrained in our modern society. Others scoff at social media, especially members of the older generation, deeming it the bane of today's generation of zombies.
Since creating an Instagram account in sixth grade many a year ago, I have found myself in the middle. Initially, I just started an account to be cool and fit in, my main objectives in middle school (admirable ambitions, I know). Over the years, my relationship with Instagram changed, vacillating between addiction and enjoyment, loathing and entertainment. I used it as one would use TV after a long day, a break from thinking to mindlessly scroll. This comforted me - I was only using it to relax, after all, and had no real attachment to it. But after hours of relaxation, I had to wonder … Besides the gratification one receives from likes in response to a post or picture, the simple and easily-accessible abundance of new material triggers an award response in the brain, and the psychologists behind the social media moguls work to increase this. I became conscious that my relaxation was taking a little too much time of my day, and downloaded the app Moment which records your screen time and the number of times you pick up your phone.
The results were somewhat unsurprising, but still disappointing. I spent an average of two and a half hours on my phone each day, about 18 hours each week. Almost an entire day spent mostly on, yep you guessed it, Instagram. And later, Twitter. I was horrified at the numbers that told me by the time I die at a ripe old age, I will have spent years on social media (roughly, I didn't actually do the math). I imagined time as sand and countless posts on Twitter that made me half-snort in laughter but I forgot immediately the next day, in heavily-edited photos of people I have never talked to, of eight second Snapchat stories that add up to hours. I deleted my social media apps except for Snapchat, keeping the accounts but removing the apps from my phone. It was frustrating at first, but I did decrease the amount of time spent on my phone, and I did find myself feeling happier.
Then I slowly replaced the time spent on those apps with other sources — I spent more time on Snapchat and watched pointless YouTube tutorials, book hauls, and clothing hauls (Which are bizarre? I still don't know why I enjoyed watching people show off what they bought, but at least I didn't watch other people play video games I suppose). Social media apps or not, my brain craved mindless entertainment, which is okay … to an extent. Eventually weeks later I redownloaded the apps, and then began the cycle of deleting and redownloading that continues to today.
My social media persona is not me, and I dare say many others feel the same due to the prominence of spam or "finsta" accounts. There is no rhyme and rhythm to when I post, but usually on Instagram it'll be a pic with my friends and on Twitter a summary of a funny event. For a chunk of time, my Twitter was solely used for wishing others happy birthday. I don't post selfies, I rarely retweet. I don't think the old criticism of social media making you jealous of your friends really applies to me, but I do feel worse after scrolling through social media for an extended period of time. I hate online textbooks because social media has trained me to skim online texts. I always joke to my friends "I have the attention span of a chicken nugget," but can't help attributing my fragmented attention span to my frequent checking of social media.
Besides my mild addiction, there are other factors holding me back from deleting my actual accounts and disappearing from the void of social media forever. A half a year ago, my friends and I all graduated from high school, the majority of us taking paths separate from the others. An easy way to keep updated on their lives was to check social media, and this applies to everyone who I do not see often but still care about. A part of me sneers If you really cared about them, you'd give them a phone call, not comment "Cuties!" on their selfie with their dog. Still, social media seems the easiest way. Another reason I enjoy social media is I view it as a different form of people-watching. As an aspiring writer, I am always interested in other people's lives and stories, and social media provides intimate glimpses into even strangers' lives. Also as an aspiring writer, social media is a convenient distraction to startling or tackling projects. It's also a valuable platform to share links to your writing and share your work. I follow many artists, tattoo artists, poets and book accounts that I would have never found without social media.
So the conundrum continues. Social media has pros and cons depending on your usage and attitude. In this new year if I don't delete my accounts and move to the mountains to live off the land as a hermit, I hope to at least remedy and come to terms with these, and use the outlets less and live more.