My name is Abby and you should NOT follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat. Why? Well because you can’t, I don’t have any social media.
As a 21 year old college student, this is a fact that often surprises and can sometimes disappoint people. Peers sometimes act as if our friendship is somehow missing something fundamental when they realize they can’t share Facebook posts with me.
Now to clarify, I’m defining social media as social platforms with a feed, I don’t consider messaging apps to be social media the same way sending a text isn’t social media.
I’ve been off Instagram for about two years, off Facebook for about two and a half and off of Snapchat for about six months. There are no other social media platforms I’ve used consistently so I won’t discuss them.
So, why would you quit social media?
For me, the main motivation was to be more mindful, particularly in how I use my time. I’d often be on my social media while walking, waiting for classes to start, in lines, and in the bathroom. I’d toss my bag down when I got back to my dorm and reflexively open up my phone and scroll through feeds for 45 minutes.
On days when I was feeling depressed or anxious I might scroll through for hours at a time.
I knew that social media was not a good way to pass the hours, and always beat myself up for getting sucked into it. So when I felt down, I’d reflexively kill time on my phone because it was the easiest knee jerk thing for me to do, get sucked in for hours, beat myself up for doing so, and then end up feeling worse.
Facebook was the first platform I axed. Every time I opened up my feed I was frustrated by the intentionally incendiary and divisive political content flooding my feed. Many of the jokes and memes shared had sexist or racist undertones, the bulk of this content came not from the pages I’d chosen to follow but from the people I friended.
The original reason I made my Facebook account was because all the student orgs at my high school used Facebook groups to manage themselves. Once I left and went to university, Facebook no longer had a utilitarian purpose for me and was only a source of frustration, so I quit Facebook.
Instagram was a different story, the content didn’t frustrate me, just the opposite in fact, it mesmerized me. The discovery page was full of oddly satisfying content, tasty videos, and beauty guru tutorials. It all looked perfect and amazing and I struggled to pull away from Instagram’s polished and beautiful videos.
Snapchat was a bit more complicated. Because I’m a slightly obsessive compulsive type of person, I felt obligated to watch the stories of everyone I was friends with or at least click through them. I don’t know about your Snapchat friends, but mine aren’t exactly videographers. It was often hard to tell what was happening in the videos because the audio was so bad, or people would post just completely random and uninteresting things.
Maybe that sounds harsh, it’s not that I’m not interested in my friends lives but I think we all know what I mean when I say Snapchat stories are not the most polished and thought out content on social media. Plus we all often end up with people who are not important to us on our friends list and I didn’t really need to know about the parties the one kid from my math lecture was going to.
I also got sucked into Snapchat’s explore page, the content didn’t actively upset me like Facebook and I wasn’t mesmerized as with Instagram. It was the content equivalent of white noise to me, not good, not bad, just filler.
I hated the idea that a huge part of my day was just filler.
So, how has life been since quitting social media?
I will start with the pros.
My main goal of being more mindful of my time was accomplished. I was less distracted by the notifications and content on all these applications so I generally had less reason to unlock my phone in the first place. When I do consume web content on my phone it’s now tailored to my interests, instead of random and potentially upsetting things shared by friends.
However, I will say quitting social media didn’t magically get me my time back and make me a super efficient wizard.
Youtube and Netflix still sing their siren songs to me and it has been a separate effort to cut back on my online video watching off of social media. Social media makes it easier to waste time, but I realized it wasn’t by far the main reason I wasted time.
Boredom, apathy, anxiety, and depression are the real reasons I personally waste time. But with social media out of the way I could attack those issues more clearly with a bit less distraction.
The other massive pro for me is just an overall decrease in screen time. For myself I’ve realized that the act of simply looking at a screen for too long, no matter the activity, even if I’m just watching movies with friends, has negative mental side effects for me. Including headaches, anxiety, sadness, boredom, eye strain, depersonalization, and derealization. If that sounds like a surprisingly long list of symptoms from just looking at screens (even if the content itself is pleasant and I’m with people) you’d be right. I was rather shocked when I realized just how much simply looking at a screen affected me. I never would have been able to realize if I hadn’t stopped using social media and decreased my screen time overall.
There are two main cons for me. One applies specifically to Facebook, one to Snapchat.
For Facebook, I miss that it helps me learn names. Unlike most people who say they’re bad with names but good with faces, I am bad with both names and faces. Facebook has been very helpful to me in the past by providing me an easy way to study names without worrying about getting them wrong.
For Snapchat, I miss out on what seems to be a vital step in relationship building for some people in my age demographic. I don’t know that this is true in other places, but is has been true for me in both Massachusetts and Ohio with other college students. There is a social convention to how intimate certain methods of contact are. Facebook is the least intimate, Snapchat is the next step up, and then direct texting is most intimate. I’ve realized that for many people, if you don’t have a Snapchat they will just never text you. The convention is that you should message on Snapchat for a bit before graduating to texting, so if you have no Snapchat some people will never feel comfortable to start texting you, or in some social circles snapchat has replaced texting.
It sounds silly but it’s true, quitting Snapchat had a significant impact on my ability to make new friends. I felt quite awkward about it at first and unsure how to handle it. That is why Snapchat is the app I quit most recently, I’ve re downloaded it a few times over the years when I felt like I needed to in order to break into a social group. Over time I’ve realized that if I break the texting ice myself it will put the other person at ease and not be much of a problem. But there really is no way to make up for missing inside jokes that are born and circulated within Snapchat group messages.
The TLDR Version
At the end of the day, the pros of quitting social media have more than outweighed the cons in my personal life.
Quitting social media has enabled me to learn a lot about myself ,my relationship with technology, and time management. I have fewer notifications and exposure to frustrating content meaning I’m less stressed out and a bit happier.
There are drawbacks, but they are minor when compared with the negative aspects of being on social media.
What do you think? Have you ever done, or considered doing a social media detox, if so, for how long? What did you learn?
Let me know in the comments below!