By Abby Foster
As editor of the adventure section, I have to figure out which cool and exciting experiences I am going to have each month so that I can write tantalizing stories about them for my dedicated readership. This month, I’ll admit I was struggling to come up with ideas. Then one night, after spending more than two hours curled up on my couch with my blank expression illuminated by the screen of a phone held up two inches from my face, I was scrolling, liking, retweeting and repeating when I had an epiphany. I should subject myself to a week without any social media, and document my suffering for content. Braving the wilderness of everyday life without any connection to the digital world sounded like a modern day adventure to me. It’s basically the premise of Man Vs. Wild, but without a resourceful British man who is always a little too willing to drink his own urine.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, social media is defined as, “websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking.” On my phone, I have at least nine apps that fit this description. Some apps I use for messaging and others for sharing images. One app I recently downloaded, that is dedicated to short videos that are only sometimes funny, that I swore to myself that I would avoid like the plague, I have since found myself completely consumed by.
So, I deleted all of it.
From Instagram all the way down to Pinterest, I removed any application that would allow me to connect with anyone that was not directly in front of me. Except for Gmail. I felt like deleting my email could be professionally problematic.
For a week, I barely looked at my phone, and it was hard, but I learned a lot about myself and how social media influences my everyday life. Turns out, it does more harm than good.
The first day of my one week without social media challenge was a Monday. I woke up and, as I do every morning, immediately checked my phone for notifications. To my horror, there was only one: an email from Sallie Mae asking me if I’ve considered going into more debt lately. Throughout the rest of the day, I continued checking my phone, hoping to see a notification from applications that I no longer had. It was a weird feeling at first, knowing that there was an entire social network that I had expelled myself from. I couldn’t stop wondering if I missed a message from someone, or if my friends were wondering why the Snapchat they had sent me was going unopened for hours. It was making me anxious, and I was itching to quit the challenge early, but for those reasons exactly, I decided to continue on.
By the time Wednesday rolled around, I had been without social media for three days, and it was getting a little easier. I didn’t check my phone for phantom notifications nearly as much as I did the day before, and for a little while, I forgot that I even had my phone in my back pocket. Later in the day, I was looking at the sun setting over the Catskill Mountains and I started to reach for my phone to share a picture of the amazing view. I stopped myself, mostly because I remembered that I had no way of sending photos anymore, but also because I was surprised by my reflex to share such a relatively insignificant thing with other people who probably wouldn’t care that much. I realized that I had a habit of validating my experiences by sharing them with other people, and in doing so, I was measuring the significance of those experiences by the reactions that I was getting from other people. Very little in my life felt personal to me, and an overattachment to social media was the reason why.
When I reached the week mark, my life was different from when I began the challenge. Nothing too dramatic, but I was getting more sleep at night instead of scrolling through my Twitter feed until the early hours of the morning. I was able to focus more in school and at work without being distracted by constant notifications lighting up my phone screen, and I picked up a book for the first time in four years.
Don’t get me wrong, this experiment didn’t turn me into a social media saint. I still spend way too much time scrolling through my Twitter feed, and for whatever reason, I still have TikTok. At least now, I feel like I have more control over the urge to overshare moments of my life that should stay personal to me. I no longer feel like I have to share every significant moment of my life with other people, and that is freeing in ways I wouldn’t have even imagined before.