Social media is as much a part of our lives as eating, sleeping and walking. There are, of course, the few who choose to not partake in it, but we can categorize them as the vegans of the internet world.
As part of a partially self-imposed challenge, I chose to go a week without it. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Snapchat, Messenger and YikYak were all inactivated, the apps deleted from my phone. I was confident that I could make it through the week. A few members of my staff were more skeptical.
Sitting in my room after having deleted everything was like turning the light off in my life. Suddenly, I knew nothing of what was going on. It was literally me, sitting in my room, alone. Unless I got a text message or a phone call, my cell phone was pretty much useless, which was a new feeling.
My social network went from hundreds of people that I was loosely connected to, to only the people that I physically saw. I did not know about events. I did not know about birthdays. The loss of Snapchat kept me out of the loop of the day-to-day activities of even my closest friends.
And then this shallow, creeping sense of fear set in. If I was not online, how was I going to validate my existence?
Here is a better question—who was going to? I mean, if I went to a party or, god-forbid, ate an extravagant meal without posting a picture of it somewhere online, did it even happen? This is the 21st century—I am a millennial. Without a life online, what was this week actually going to be like?
Yes, all of those questions sound a little dramatic, but like I said, I am a 21st century millennial. I do not know how to question anything without taking it to an extreme.
Social media caters to our egos. It shows us that we can be artistic through pre-programmed filters, funny through our 140 character tweets and attractive in the perfect lighting in selfies. Those likes, those little hearts, those retweets—it is like putting a gold star on your everyday activities.
All of your Facebook friends suddenly become Oprah, giving you a “like” for waking up on a Monday morning, giving you a “like” for drinking absurd amounts of coffee, giving you a “like” for capturing that perfect fall setting.
This week was a change in focus. I was the one validating my experience. I had to give myself gold stars. I spent the entire week in a “me, myself, and I” phase. I felt free.
Everything I did had a direct correlation to me and what I wanted. Sure, this could be done with social media still in my life, but the pull of doing something or taking a picture of an event you are apart of to impress everyone else in your life is too much. The rush of getting “liked” is the perfect dose of serotonin that you need to get through the long weeks of school (which is an idea that is scientifically supported).
I did not need to find the perfect lighting for my selfie or carefully construct the perfect status to ensure at least twenty likes.
Instead, I woke up, ate food, got ready, went to the gym and daydreamed in class without anyone knowing. Which was fine—none of these events deserved a gold star.
This was just me existing. Watching the sunrise as I scrambled to finish my lab was a scene that only I appreciated. Drinking my fourth cup of coffee that morning was a body-trembling experience that only I knew about. I was not trying to one-up anyone by showing them how difficult my day was or how busy I am or how tired I was. I catered only to myself. I did things only if it benefited me or affected me in some way.
I did not go out of my way to make a funny scene to capture on social media. I did not exaggerate something like falling down the stairs to get attention. I was not comparing my life to someone else’s in a non-existent, passive-aggressive competition.
And I did not feel disconnected. My large network of “friends” really shrunk, and sure, that was bound to happen. 500 friends became 20, if that. But I met with the people who mattered most to me on a regular basis this week. People who would I want to keep in touch with after graduation—people who I would make an active effort to keep a relationship with—I saw them, I hung out with them. They texted me, sent me pictures instead of Snapchats and even called me on the phone. That is love and appreciation. That is friendship.
On the other hand, everyone who I did not want to see, I did not. It was fantastic. Absolutely superb. We all go through Facebook “purges” where we delete a hundred people at a time, but there is nothing like really not knowing what is going on with that person you kind of hated back in high school, but you are still friends all over the internet because it might be weird if you deleted them now.
We all have those people, ex-best friends and ex-boyfriends that we are still friends with. Why? WHY? If we do not like them, why are we still caring? There were some downsides, of course. I could not readily get into contact with people from class if I did not know about a due date or homework assignment. If something was announced on Facebook, like a school event, I did not know about it until someone told me.
Even without social media, I could not pay attention in class, but that is more of a personal issue. If anything, this past week was peaceful.
I did my own thing all day, for seven days. I might be back on social media now, but I am now much more aware that it is something that adds to my life, not something that dictates my every move.
I am not obsessed with checking anything frivolously anymore. In fact, I have still gotten food and made my Starbucks trips without my phone. The friendships and people I truly care about are not defined by how much I interact with them on Facebook, or how many photos I tag of them on my Instagram.
And the best part? My phone actually survived the entire day, without dying.