I’m sure many of us have heard “social media is bad” and “it’s ruining millennials’ lives” enough. I won’t add insult to injury, but as someone who quit social media almost two years ago, I can safely say I have felt winds of change, and I am better off because of it.
I was a social media “enthusiast.” When I was in 7th grade, some of us didn’t have cell phones yet. So, when AOL Instant Messager became popular, almost everyone had an account. I spent my entire summer glued to the computer screen. The sense of privacy and direct messaging was precious throughout my angsty teen years.
About this time, people were moving away from MySpace to Facebook. While MySpace allowed us to customize our home pages, Facebook had new features such as photo albums, status posting and “like” buttons. These new features were highly attractive; I was constantly told to be “photogenic” and “funny,” and I found myself craving more of these accolades. I posted statuses that would draw in attention and edited selfies to invite more compliments. I knew I spent a lot of time on Facebook, but my excuse was the classic fat talk: “If everyone else is doing it, why can’t I?”
Shortly after Facebook grew popular, Instagram was launched, and it was better than Facebook in many ways. Instagram specifically targeted the younger generation, and it was a photo-based social network, so aesthetics became relevant. People posted pictures of food, outfits, traveling and perfectly-edited shots of themselves that fit the theme of their page. One would cut another’s throat to have a more “artsy” Instagram page.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was my Instagram profile. I arranged plates at restaurants to take the perfect shot of the foods I ate. I made people stop to take “celeb” shots of me as if I were a fashion model. I became obsessed with things that were aesthetically pleasing, colorful and spatially organized.
Having perfect profiles at the touch of my fingers made Instagram a comparing machine. Do I have more “likes” than other people? Is my profile better-looking than theirs? Do I consistently have more followers than them? Though taking pictures and editing in moderation can be a fun and a creative process, Instagram was something else — it was a competition. Small actions, like what restaurant to go to, and important life decisions, like which friends to keep around, were all influenced by how I wanted to portray myself to others on social media.
I became sick of it. I couldn’t enjoy being in the moment because I lived life through the lens. The time, energy and attention I put into Instagram was so damaging that I wanted to quit social media entirely.
The transition to quitting social media did not happen in a day. It began with telling myself to go on it every few hours and then every few days. It began with deleting apps off my phone and re-downloading them several times over the months. There were urges I couldn’t resist. There were fears I would miss out on opportunities. There was anxiety without my social media presence. There were thoughts that deleting social media would mean losing my voice. But it was quite the opposite — I regained my voice and my life.
Looking down at my phone in elevators turned into chats with strangers. Taking pictures before eating turned into a time to express gratitude for a wonderful meal. Scrolling through Instagram before class turned into reading the news. Taking pictures of the Law Library turned into efficient study time. Bingeing on social media after a long day turned into playtime with my dog. And with all the extra time that I gained from quitting social media, I learned to cook, work on small art projects and become more involved in my own life.
My case of social media dependency is actually not that special. I personally know people who are far worse than I was, and I see similar cases of dependency everywhere — people just can’t stay off social media. I hope that my transition to a happier and healthier lifestyle can be a small reminder to focus on important things in your life and make experiences your very own. Pictures I take from trips, refined focus toward school, time I spend with friends and family and all the conversations I have with people are now my own memory, excitement and wisdom. They all became things that I want to share with others, offline.
Gina Choe can be reached at email@example.com.