For all the years I’ve had social media, I’ve never taken a proper break from it. It’s been a constant, incessant presence in my life since I was a fledgling teen posting blurry selfies on Myspace. Yet as I’ve grown older, I’ve begun to notice how much space social media has been taking up in my life, especially living in Los Angeles. It operates as an ever present, consistently running motor that tinges each of my actions with the question of, “Should I post this?” Ultimately asking: are the things in my life worthy of sharing?
That is a question, that without the right intention or foundation, can seriously lead you astray. I noticed that was happening to me. The voice of the internet became too ear-splitting and tumultuous in my tender mind. I needed a break. I needed the salvation of fresh air. So I decided I would delete all of my social media apps for one week. I would evaporate my virtual form and commit to existing only in my real, tangible life. Now, I know a week isn’t that long. But for someone who has never, ever taken more than a day off of social media — this was definitely a new challenge.
And challenging it was. Without the crutch of Instagram or Twitter, I found myself without any distractions. I was met with all of my usually suppressed thoughts and no room to escape them. I observed how whenever I’d feel an uncomfortable emotion arise, my hand would instinctively hover over my phone. I noticed how if I picked up a book to read, I immediately started thinking of what part of the page would be interesting to take a photo of and post. I saw how everything I was doing offline was done without full depth or immersion, because my head was still trying to operate with the mindset of “sharing” in mind. Needless to say, it was a difficult and eye-opening first few days. But I made sure to be gentle with myself, and kindly re-routed each of my thoughts to center back to each activity at hand. That is where I noticed a truth beginning to reveal itself.
Before, I felt like it was so hard for me to focus. I had so many interests but I didn’t feel a strong enough drive to plunge fully into them. I never understood why I was like this. Why would my attention span only last so long? As the week continued and as my desire to engage on the internet waned, I took in how much easier it was for me to settle into a book. To research an interesting subject. To take a walk and fully immerse myself in nature. To talk to my friends and family and really observe how they were feeling. To be in my own body and notice the places I was avoiding feeling hurt. I began to really pay attention to all of the life surrounding me.
“It’s not something I can use absentmindedly each day — I have to be conscious of what I ingest and conscious of what I share.”
We have to remember, social media emerged for some of us during our most developmental years. Opting into it meant that anything you dip your hands into now came with the option of being watched. What hobbies or interests should you assign to your online personality? What confirms your most favored performance? I would take my interests and put them through the lens of being seen through the eyes of an audience. If I posted what I was doing online and it garnered audience approval, I didn’t have as much incentive to delve deeper into the action I was doing. If I display the performance of reading a book, of learning an instrument, of having fun at a party, etc. — and it is being validated with likes, am I still as invested as before?
I realized my intentions were severely off. They were not centered on what would make me feel the most fulfilled. After my week was over, I realized I need rules and limits to my social media usage. It’s not something I can use absentmindedly each day — I have to be conscious of what I ingest and conscious of what I share. It doesn’t make me happy to post a performance that is solely for validation. I need to be more invested in what is real in my life and not just what lives as an internet projection. I am now understanding and differentiating where I am not following through with myself, and where I am settling for the edited image.
I’ve come to understand there are two worlds we live in, the physical present and the digital realm. It is up to us to decide how much we want to participate in each, and how much we want them to relate to one another. But with this balance we must be cautious. The more you participate in one, the more absent you will be in another. This is a truth I have observed and witnessed within myself and the people around me. It is up to you to find your equilibrium. I am not against social media, but it is a wise action to remove it from your life and see what then takes its place — it might be a worthy thing to include more of.