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Five Things This College Student Learned When She Quit Social Media
By Emily Washburn
My name is Emily Washburn and I’m 11 months social media sober. I’ve been without Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and all other name-brand social media sites since last September. I took the plunge and deleted my accounts and the apps from my phone.
When people find out that I’m the 21st century equivalent of a Luddite, they have lots of questions: How am I doing? Don’t I feel disconnected? What about all the friends I left online? Don’t I miss knowing what’s going on? I’m only too happy to share the top five things I’ve noticed since I quit social media.
60% Less Angry
Social media turned me into a less charitable version of myself—that’s the diplomatic way to put it. More truthfully, social media turned me into a simmering volcano of rage, liable to explode at any time.
My disposition grew angrier in proportion to the amount of time I spent online, a trend that became particularly obvious during the pandemic. It’s no wonder—I spent hours each day feeding myself the extreme, the profane, the thoughtless and the insensitive.
Maintaining that level of anger corrodes the spirit—I was restless, on edge, itching for a fight. My speech became more combative. I had trouble maintaining friendships with people I disagreed with because I couldn’t separate them from their online accounts.
In hindsight, I can see that social media both fueled and sustained my anger. It allowed me to be angry at people I had never met and about events that I never attended. It contributed to feelings of impotence and despair.
Quitting social media felt like removing an IV drip of poison. Within the first couple of days, I felt calmer than I had in months. In the following weeks, it became easier to let go of anger and invest in peace. I started to see people for more than their online comments.
Eleven months in, I’m more hopeful than I’ve been in years. I’m no longer on a hair trigger, and I’ve been told by credible sources that I’m much nicer to be around. Feeling #zen.
The phrase “social media addiction” conjures up images of lazy teenagers scrolling mindlessly in their beds. I never considered myself part of that number. I’m an overloaded college student with a full schedule and a job. I don’t have hours to spend online!
Then I quit, and my iPhone informed me that my screen time had dropped by three to six hours a day. Every day. Those are hours I could have spent napping, studying, eating, sunbathing, socializing, exercising, working and movie-watching that I spent scrolling through content that annoyed me.
But I quickly realized that living without my favorite time-suck was an uncomfortable proposition. Every time I had a break in my day, I would try to get on Instagram. Without conscious thought, I would pull out my phone, unlock it and click on the place where my app used to be. I wouldn’t realize I had my phone out until I remembered I didn’t have social media anymore.
It took two or three months to fully break that habit. Sometimes, when I’m tired or stressed, it will still crop up. I’m amazed that I formed such a deep attachment to my online presence without noticing it. Social media had stolen a fourth of my day, and I didn’t realize it was gone!
At 11 months sober, I am past the withdrawal stage and making the most of my free time. I’ve taken up painting and rekindled my love of the piano—#artsy.
I’m not a fan of the phrase “being more present” because it sounds as though I’m writing a self-help book. Instead, I’m going to say leaving social media has helped me become more engaged. For one thing, I have my phone out less—up to six hours less each day. For another, I’ve stopped looking at life through a camera lens.
Social media trains us to curate online lives by posting interesting things. “Likes” and “views” are ironclad feedback mechanisms that teach us to post certain kinds of content. When you spend enough time in that world, it bleeds into real life. You start choosing things to do, who to hang out with and even what to wear based on how you will look in a post. Eventually, Instagram dictates which color you’ll paint your walls.
I didn’t realize how powerful the camera lens was until eight months after I quit social media. I decided to go skydiving for my 21st birthday, and my first thought was that I needed to post about it. As though, somehow, posting about it made it a more real or valuable experience.
I don’t want photographs or the approval of others to dictate my life. It speaks to the power of social media that, months after leaving, I’m still conditioned to share my experiences with others for validation. Today, I’m committed to leaving my phone at home sometimes, so I won't be able to take pictures, and living my life with #nofilter.
A lot of social media’s power lies in the way it redefines social interactions. When I was online, it was easy to think I had lots of friends, or that scrolling through other people’s photos equated to maintaining a friendship. The pull of these pseudo-relationships made it difficult to quit. I feared that I would feel disconnected or out-of-touch.
Only when I removed myself from the social media bubble did I realize how little my social media “friends” contributed to my life. We didn’t talk or spend time together—I remembered they existed only when I came across their photos and posts every now and again. Quitting social media put my relationships back in perspective. I value my true friendships more and have more time to devote to them. More importantly, I realized that not knowing about my friend’s cousin’s fiancé’s latest mall haul… wasn’t the travesty I predicted. #themoreyouknow
As a communications student, I’ve been aware of social media’s negative effects for a long time. I came to the early conclusion that social media was a horrible influence on the emotional and physiological lives of young people, but I didn’t have any leg to stand on. How could I criticize the effects of social media on young people as a young person on social media?
After I deleted my accounts, I could express my concerns about social media without feeling like a hypocrite. More importantly, I had a firsthand perspective on what it took to quit.
Choosing to live out something that I believed in contributed to my overall sense of peace and well-being. Taking the time to test and confirm what I believe has given me a renewed sense of confidence. I am happy to talk about my opinions because I know I’m #walkingthewalk.
Social media is impossible to escape entirely—I engage with it for work and classes every week. I also don’t deny that social media can be a useful tool for crowdsourcing, networking and organizing. But choosing to quit the social media lifestyle is the best decision I ever made. By removing myself from that world, I’ve gained new friends, pursued new hobbies, gone places and done things without whipping out my camera, and regained my peace.
That, my friends, is #priceless.