I deactivated my Instagram account: a social experiment.
A little over a year ago, I deactivated my Instagram account after using it for six years. I made and executed the decision the night before my first day back to university as a second-year student. At the time, the pandemic was still going on, the world had not yet recovered and life was far from normal. As we all know from personal experience, the gift of social media was appreciated and praised in aiding us to endure a difficult period. Despite the circumstances and the benefits gained from social media, it was a decision I persisted in following through with. I wasn’t in a great mental state, and with the way I utilized social media, it was only getting worse. I deactivated my account feeling happy and empowered in the following hours. The next week I thought about what I had done frequently. Like most people that go about a day or even hours without checking their accounts, I thought to myself: “What am I missing out on?” “What is going on that I am not aware of?” A classic case of FOMO, fear of missing out. I was aware of and prepared for the repercussions to come experiencing FOMO, making fewer ‘social’ interactions, and living in the unknown of my family and friends’ lives.
People’s reactions, as expected, were of bewilderment: “Why would you do that?” “What happened?” “I could never!” I will admit I loved people’s reactions and the looks of confusion on their faces. Indeed, the first few months felt quite strange. I had omitted an integral part of my routine, now I was left with additional hours (yes hours) for myself to do as I pleased. So what did I do might you ask? I spent those additional hours watching Netflix. I’m kidding... kind of. In all seriousness, I did have more time on my hands to dedicate to more meaningful matters, such as my studies. After all, I am a university student. That’s not to say that suddenly I had no social life. Considering the limits already set on social life by the pandemic, I did not lose anything. I still met up and hung out with friends (of course complying with health and safety regulations). Not so surprisingly, real-life social interactions were enhanced. I would listen intently with all my attention to what others said and shared (not that I wasn’t before, but I was much more present and attentive). I no longer had much reason to reach for my phone, so it was incredibly noticeable when other people would reach for their phone mid-conversation. Not to answer incoming phone calls or text messages, but to check for new posts and messages. We are all at fault for this, myself included, and I still catch myself behaving this way at times. Perhaps this is a habit that I won’t ever break but I certainly have reduced the frequency in which I do so.
The greatest takeaway from this decision was the relief I gained from no longer caring to prove myself, no longer longing for others’ approval or opinion, and no longer tolerating self-comparison. The endless reoccurrence of such feelings and habits is detrimental to any human being, especially to those of a young age who tend to be more easily influenced. Without noticing, we can sometimes overly invest in other people’s lives, in turn neglecting our own. Many of us do not recognize the value of taking time for ourselves to recuperate. In this fast-paced world, it is tenfold more difficult to take a step back. It is critical to establish a strong sense of self and worth when one plans to indulge in these platforms that can bring about self-doubt. Nonetheless, it is necessary to mention that for some, and to a certain degree, social media can be the tool that aids in personal growth.
I became much more present and conscious in my day-to-day life. No longer did I find myself stressing out about capturing the perfect photo for my feed or contemplating the caption to a post. Even in minor instances as these, we bring upon ourselves unnecessary stress and take away from completely enjoying the moment and our surroundings in real life.
Similar to most things in life, it’s all about finding balance and being mindful. Deleting your social media accounts does not mean your problems will completely vanish. It is the change in mindset and perspective that you experience that makes the difference. Establishing your expectations and recognizing the possible negative effects to be faced can be enough to diminish the extent of the unfavorable experience you endure. There is no change in the functions and features of the apps to fix the problem, rather it is the intentions and the way we utilize these apps that must be changed. This type of change that we as individuals must make, and that is precisely why it is so challenging. Because we have to think of how we can manage and create a better experience for ourselves using these platforms. There is no media developer that will solve this issue for us because the issue is not necessarily the platform itself, rather how we perceive and use it and our expectations. It is in your hands to reconsider for yourself what your intention is in using social media and what you hope to gain, and setting limits and guidelines to help you get the most out of these platforms without affecting your mental state.
With that being said, I have no intention of villainizing social media because it truly is a privilege to have access to people and information with the click of a button. It is one of the greatest developments of the past two decades, and when used correctly, social media can open people up to an abundance of grand opportunities and bring the simplest happiness of interacting with friends and family. In fact, I do consider one day reactivating my account. Equipped with my new insight, I want to reconnect with those who matter most to me and exchange experiences and events. I am confident that with the newly transformed outlook that I have, I can maximize the positives and minimize the negatives of social media. Social platforms have propelled us to a better quality of life, and fully dismissing that would be quite foolish. So be mindful, be aware, and remember that most of what you see is simply a facade not reflecting reality.
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