I deleted my social media platforms during spring break because I wasn't spending my week tanning on the beach or exploring a new city. I was going to spend my spring break in my parents' new home up north – in a much colder climate than Atlanta, in a house that was often empty as my family was at work and school, in a small, sleepy neighborhood spared from the big sights that spring-breakers flocked to. I figured that I didn't want to spend my precious time off mindlessly scrolling through my feed and being sucker-punched with jealousy every time I saw another beach picture.
Deleting Instagram and Snapchat was a way for me to try to connect to living in the moment and maintain the gratitude for what I had. Besides, I convinced myself I had better things to do than surfing the internet. I had books to read, TV shows to binge, and, most of all, sleep to catch up on. In my ideal week of relaxation, the stress and time-consuming nature of social media did not factor into it. Deleting the apps from my phone should have been simple.
Except, of course, it wasn't.
Even without the time-sucking apps, I was still drawn to my phone. I found myself missing the social media platforms, missing the sense of being connected with other people and the glimpses I got into their lives. There were often times when I would wonder why I hadn't heard from my classmates - and, with a shock, I realized it was because I had deleted one of our connections. I hadn't checked Instagram for six days. For all I know, they could have died! Although I deleted social media to avoid procrastination, I still found ways to waste my time on my phone. I looked through all of my photos and old messages. I surfed Google (who does that anymore?). If there's any consolation that reinstalling the applications was a good idea, it is that I am a hardcore, do-or-die master procrastinator, who will inevitably waste her precious moments, whether on Instagram or elsewhere.
The real problems started when I reinstalled the apps right before spring break ended. Even before clicking "install", I couldn't stop thinking about what I'd missed, to the point where it would distract me from being present in the moment with my family. As soon as I had Instagram up and running on my phone, I was hit with a sense of dread and anxiety. Photo after photo that had gone unnoticed for days trickled through my feed. Miami. Mountains. Michigan. Pictures of friends and family and food that made me instantly jealous. Everyone and their cousin were posting spring break pictures. I desperately checked my camera roll for anything I could post, but the only thing I found were videos of my brother and pictures of books. My mind started rushing a mile a minute as I started contemplating all the people I needed to get back to, the posts I had to create. The intense pressure of staying afloat in the tsunami of curated perfection.
And indeed, as I scrolled through my feed, each post looked utterly perfected to create a dream-version of the situation. When I looked at social media in a new light, every moment seemed superficial, altered to present an ideal image to the world. How many of the posts on my feed were every-day moments that were simply edited and photoshopped? Thinking back to the moments I had over this week, there is no doubt that, if I could portray them in a certain light, I could pretend that I was having the time of my life. In the virtual world where anything is shown at its best, what is truly the difference between a beach trip and a staycation? (Disclaimer: I had a lovely spring break, regardless of whether I posted anything on social media or not. This is an important fact to remember.)
Although my first reaction was incredulity that each photo seemed so fake, my second reaction was an intense sense of jealousy. It didn't matter that I had very similar experiences to the posted pictures if I could only portray them in a certain light. After all, I had the basics of all social media posts this spring break. Time with loved ones. Outings. Good food. But then I pulled up Instagram and start playing the comparison game (man, this girl went to the movies with her parents when we just stayed home to watch Netflix?), and became the loser in my own beautiful life. Feeling so envious when looking at other people's feeds has taught me that social media sucks our gratitude.
Instagram and Snapchat do very little in harvesting joy, and instead, allow us to see all we're missing out on. They transform our lives into the comparison and competition between others that they were never meant to become. In fact, when I deleted the applications, I noticed I was much more appreciative without them. Without knowing what my friends were up to, I could no longer compare our circumstances. My experiences throughout my week no longer competed with my classmates for the ultimate spring break, but simply resorted to what they were: a date with my mom to lunch and a basketball game with my brother and dad. Moments of warmth and love untainted by competition and envy.
My detox taught me one thing above all: social media is toxic. It is anxiety-producing, stressful and overwhelming. Yet, all the while, I appreciate some of its aspects. I love how I can connect with my friends through it, whether by DM or by tagging each other in memes. I love how I can keep up with the lives of my friends all over Europe and beyond. I love how some of the accounts that I follow inspire me and laughing at the memes on the "search" section on Instagram.
Although I won't be permanently deleting them for the moment, I definitely feel that I need to consider how social media interacts with my life. This break, I've learned to engage in the real, no matter how ordinary – soaking up the sunlight without a filter, and making amazing food without the necessity to post a picture. My life was no longer viewed through a camera or a screen, but I was living it to the fullest by spending my time in ways that built me up rather than stressed me out. I read the entirety of Me Before You (would highly recommend), played frisbee with my brother, or had a deep conversation with my mom.
The world didn't know these things, and, as far I'm concerned, the world didn't need to know them. I don't know how I'm going to concretely limit my screen-time and stay grounded in the real, but I do know that it is important for guarding who I am and what I value: that social media must remain second in my heart, whereas this life – this beautiful, wonderful, curious and fascinating life – must remain first.