Heading into 2021 I figured I could use a little time to myself, away from the internet and social media. While I personally really enjoy social media and the way it can connect me to my friends, family and interests, I have to admit, at times it is very consuming. I try to be conscious of how much time I spend on social media, and eliminate the times when I’m impersonating a zombie, mindlessly scrolling through my Instagram explore page. But when you feel disconnected from many aspects of your life, it is incredibly easy to find a constant connection through social media. Sometimes, however, those connections are quite negative and can consume you in an unhealthy manner. As social media grows, we begin to build those connections through photos, and less through facial expressions and reactions. Connections to people easily become comparisons as you see friends, family members, and celebrities all returning to their normal life while you might still be stuck at home. It’s easy to compare how your body or mindset has changed while a global pandemic has occurred, and those comparisons, seemingly small in the beginning, can become incredibly detrimental to your mental health. Now, more than ever, social media has become an emotional and time consuming endeavor that has continued to shape the way our society is functioning. So I thought: why not try a social media cleanse?
In October of 2020, I stopped using Snapchat every day, instead checking it every couple of days, and removed Instagram from my homepage. Instead I kept it in my App Library, hoping out of sight, out of mind would help to focus my attention away from it. But I quickly found that even though I was so determined to delete Instagram, having it in my App Library was very accessible and kept it very present in my mind; so if you’re going to try this, you really have to go cold turkey and not give into the easy temptations. Having decided to go cold turkey, I had to decide the right time of the year to do it. I love the holidays so I was very hesitant to do it before Christmas and risk missing out on all the cute decorations, baked goods and outfits that come with the festive time. So on Christmas Day, I deleted all my social media and tried to distract myself with other activities. I started drawing again and realized when I don’t get on my phone every 5 seconds, I kind of have a knack for shading, who knew? I also started reading Paper Towns again by John Green, remembering how much I liked reading it for the first time and thinking it would be a good way to kill time with my family. It definitely passed the time, but it kind of had the opposite effect of the mood I was going for during my social media cleanse. So I stopped reading it, but not because I was distracted by the phone and that was a win for me. I also played about a million card and board games with my family, which was fun but those “Escape Room” games are really not my cup of tea and made me regret ever deleting Twitter.
I can’t lie: there were definitely times I slipped up and would check my Instagram on my computer or log into Snapchat for a couple of minutes. I didn’t tell my family I was doing this cleanse so I’m not sure why I felt I needed to hide my social media use, but I felt the same guilt stealing Santa’s cookies on Christmas Eve as I did when I would shame-like a post about the best outfit hacks. Overall, however, I loved taking a break from social media. There were times when I would honestly open my phone and find myself trying to tap the blank space where my Instagram app would be. Other than that, however, not wasting my morning reading Snapchat articles about Tik Tokers (an app I deleted weeks ago) who were feuding or how the Kardashians had bought some outlandish new purse, was very freeing. I also started noticing the comparisons to my life and those of others begin to lessen, which in all honesty was probably the biggest thing I noticed during my social media cleanse. There can be a lot of love and support on some apps, but there can also be a lot of negativity, which can put a lot of pressure on oneself to try and keep up with completely unrealistic beauty or life standards. Not having those standards on my mind all day was the best feeling. Spending time with my sister and taking photos with her for our enjoyment and not having to feel pressure to post them or share them (I obviously will eventually, she is a stylish beauty queen who I love bragging about) was a relief. So if you’re looking for an emotional vacation heading into 2021, I highly recommend trying a cleanse.
Very soon, arguably way too soon, after I returned to social media, I was reminded of the role social media plays in the news narrative currently. After the white insurgents’ breach of the capital in an attempted coup, I realized that each social media app plays a vital role in the telling of the story. Twitter, an app that used to have a much larger voice, is more often used by politicians or group leaders to communicate their opinions directly to the public. We’ve seen it with Trump and media outlets who can openly and honestly voice their opinions (often harmful, biased and false) to any Twitter user as real time events are occurring with very little restrictions. On Instagram, my stories and explore feed posts are mostly positive posts that are encouraging and informative. But that’s because of how I have shaped my followings and explore page. Instagram is a very direct way for people to post their opinions, either on their page or stories, and oftentimes, because of who I follow, the posts are driven as an accurate, informative source of news. Many of the people I follow are also advocates for many social movements, so I see many posts that are body-positive, encouraging, and socially aware of the changes happening around the world. It would be naive to assume that everyone’s feeds are like this; instead, anyone can curate their feed any way they please, so for as many positive people there are, there are just as many negative people bringing down others and spreading false information.
Snapchat is different from both Twitter and Instagram in a very interesting and unique way. There are still stories and ways of private communication, but the Discover section of Snapchat is usually filled with news outlets that focus on more social news. There’s a range of outlets that focus on celebrity news, food shows, quizzes, episodes about military stories, dating shows… but very rarely does this app focus on political news. Even on the days following the events in Washington D.C., I logged into Snapchat and saw none of my subscriptions or Discover pages had covered the events. Although Snapchat might be the exception to using social media as a political platform, it still maintains a prominent place in youth’s social media presence. While each app has ebbed and flowed in its popularity and importance in society, to say that social media has a small role in political events is to deny one of the main sources of information for many people.
My generation, and likely all the ones after me, rely on social media heavily as a means for communication and news, and this reliance will only increase as everyone from celebrities, content creators, politicians, students and kids continue to use it. I do recommend taking a break from social media, but I have to admit, even taking a day or two away from it can feel like you’re missing a lot. And not even in the sense of missing out on what your friends or celebrities are posting or doing, but there is also a lot of news and social movements that rely on social media to spread their message. So not seeing it or keeping up with it feels like you do live in your own little bubble. That might be a great thing for you, or it might make you feel totally isolated (even more so if you’re quarantining), so if you do choose to take a break, keep that in mind. All in all, I would rate my experience a 7/10, noting that the withdrawals are real, but living in the moment is so worth it. So maybe during finals week or other stressful weeks, you can try to take a cleanse yourself, even for a couple of days, to discover new interests or hobbies that you otherwise would have missed by double tapping that cute picture of a baby hippo.