“We can’t jump off bridges anymore because our iPhones will get ruined. We can’t take skinny dips in the ocean because there’s no service on the beach and adventures aren’t real unless they’re on Instagram. Technology has doomed the spontaneity of adventure and we’re helping destroy it every time we Google, check-in and hashtag.”
– Jeremy Glass, We Can’t get Lost Anymore
I came across this quote a few years ago and it’s one that has really stuck with me – and subsequently inspired three separate social media hiatuses – but rest assured, this isn’t going to turn into a post about how terrible social media is or a lobbying effort to get you to give it up. I think social media is a powerful and amazing tool that helps people stay connected, serves as an outlet for creative expression and freedom of speech, gives a voice to those who might feel like they don’t otherwise have one, and is an unrivaled platform for promoting widespread positivity, awareness and change.
That said, it’s also a black hole of never-ending viral videos, pictures, news headlines, personal highlight reels and product placement. Maybe you’ve got your social media usage and habits under control, or maybe you find yourself on your phone constantly, checking in on your “friends”, thinking about what you’re gonna post next or scrolling through your feeds just to kill time while you watch tv, wait in line or even hang out with your friends.
Five months ago, that was me. I found myself using my phone to pass the time instead of talking to people in my class, noticed that my love of picture taking had become motivated by a desire to show off on social media and had started subconsciously defining and gauging success based on what I saw other people doing; I had become dependent on Instagram for news related current events, relied on social media to maintain friendships for me and noticed that I was no longer experiencing or appreciating life to the fullest because I was too attached to my phone.
My phone had become a social crutch and a boredom blocker – it was time for another hiatus. I deactivated Facebook and deleted my social media and gaming apps. Five months later, here’s what I’ve learned:
1.“You find out who your friends are”. The most surprising (and welcome) realization this hiatus brought was just how many friendships I had outgrown without even knowing it. I’ll admit, sometimes I get so caught up in the day to day craziness of my busy schedule that things (and people) become “out of sight [and] out of mind”. In times like that, I tend to lean in a little more to my social media. It keeps me updated on what’s going on in my friends’ lives and helps me maintain casual contact, but it also (often) serves as a reminder to check in, catch up and make plans with friends I haven’t talked to or seen for a while. This time around, without those updates and reminders, the surprising part wasn’t who made the effort to keep in contact with me – I’m at a point in my life where those people are constants regardless of whether or not I’m on social media – but instead who I felt inclined to reach out to, to check in on and make a conscious effort to keep in touch with. Those are the friendships I know still serve me; those are the friendships that don’t exist out of convenience, obligation or simply because they always have, they are the ones that extend beyond acquaintanceship and are the ones I will continue to take the time and make the effort to maintain.
2. I was missing out on more than I realized. It was about re-learning to be present, to be still, yet content, but it was also about not letting life pass me by while I sat idly playing on my phone. Before my hiatus I couldn’t tell you the last time I watched TV, waited in a long check out line or got in bed to go to sleep without also mindlessly doing something on my phone. When I embarked on this hiatus I wasn’t conscious of just how much time I was spending checking social media, scrolling through Pinterest or playing games on my phone; it had become a mindless default distraction. I was using my phone to fight short-term boredom, but before I knew it, hours were gone. Without social media I didn’t have to carve out an hour (or more) of my day to scroll through my feeds and without gaming apps to keep me occupied I was forced to pass the time in other ways; suddenly I had more time to read, work out, write, go for walks, sleep(!), play outside with my dog, catch up at night with my parents, etc. I’m not good at sitting still and I’m not the kind of person who can just come home from work and watch TV until it’s time to go to sleep either, so eliminating that crutch forced me to be more active and to think intentionally about what kind of things I really wanted to do to fill my days.
3. Don’t do it for the Gram. Let’s be honest, if you’re just doing it for the gram, you’re probably trying too hard. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to share good news, cool vacation pics, Top Chef worthy meals or fun times with your friends, but at the end of the day, it’s more important to experience the good times than to document them – something I admittedly have to remind myself of often. I think I’m afraid that if no one captures the memories they’ll get lost and forgotten over time, and while there may be some truth to that, I’m also learning that if I take the time to consciously sit back, soak in the moments and strive to be fully present in them, they can last just as long as the pictures. I love taking pictures and that won’t change (sorry not sorry to all my friends and family), but I’m certainly much more conscious, and capable, now of balancing my desire to capture the moment with my desire to truly live it.
4. FOMO is a thing of the past. On social media everyone looks like they have their shit together – work, family, travel, relationships, money, etc. It’s so easy to get caught up in what other people are doing or what they have and it’s easy to lose sight of just how great things in our own lives are. During this hiatus, without the ever-present highlight reel of other people’s lives to compare mine to, the only markers I had for gauging happiness, success, fulfillment, etc. were my own. I made decisions based on what I truly wanted and felt, rather than what I thought would help me measure up. I reconnected, re-learned and redefined what motivates, inspires, drives, and fulfills me. And while some days may not be as exciting or Instagram worthy as others, I know that who I am and what I have is more than enough.