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What Quitting Social Media Taught Me

I went off social media for a few months. This is what I learned.

Key points

  • I got off social media completely for a few months and it was life-altering.
  • I learned how social media pressurizes us into performing our lives for an audience.
  • There is often a very real disconnect between what we see on social media and the true lives that people live.
  • Being off social media made me not only stop constantly comparing my own life with those of others, but also use my time more productively.

As a '90s kid, I grew up in an era before smartphones and social media. I'm thankful for this for one simple reason—I remember a time before life became performative. I recall actually experiencing every moment I wanted to remember, rather than losing it in favor of recording the moment for posterity. I am also so thankful that I navigated the turbulent teenage years without the additional hurdle of social media and all the pressures that come with it. I am also, for this same reason, concerned about my daughter and other children growing up in this era in which appearances matter so much, and people are put on a pedestal simply based on the number of their social media followers.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels
Source: Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

It's been almost a year now since my last post on Instagram or Facebook, and almost as long since I even opened them to check posts (I've recently begun checking them occasionally, but not for more than 5 minutes at a time, and not compulsively). I got off the two sites for a simple reason: I was spending too much time on them, and gaining next to nothing in the process (except an unhealthy dose of FOMO, but more on that later).

Just a little caveat before I begin. I am not claiming that social media has no uses whatsoever. It has brought the world closer together and helps people keep in touch. It just ceased to work for me. I was increasingly beginning to feel like the people on my social media were less of friends and more of acquaintances. In fact, I cannot remember the last time I actually had a conversation with most of them. And knowing about each other’s lives simply through each other’s status updates didn’t feel much like a meaningful way of keeping in touch. I have a few friends I am close to, and I started feeling like I don’t really need Instagram or Facebook to keep in touch with them.

I do plan to write about the neuroscience behind social media addiction in future posts, but for now, here's what being off social media taught me:

1. It's terribly hard to get off social media for an extended period of time, but it can be worth it

I had tried before, on multiple occasions, to get off social media but always failed within a day or two. I would be staring at my computer screen, and my resolve would just crumble. This time around, however, something in me hardened. I decided to first delete the apps from my phone, and sign out of them on my laptop. Whenever I felt the temptation to open Instagram and bomb hours scrolling aimlessly, I would open Twitter instead (which has never been as much of an addiction for me, and a forum that has helped immensely, given that I follow people with similar interests and in the same field as myself).

I realized with time that it became easier and easier not to open the websites that I didn’t want to be spending my time on. Best of all, I was not missing it in the least! And after a few months of not opening Instagram, I felt my interest in random strangers' lives just fade away. This was good for several reasons, not least of which was that:

2. Being off social media made me experience lower amounts of FOMO, and an overall higher level of satisfaction and happiness with my own life

As a parent of an unvaccinated toddler in the midst of a pandemic, I found that we were traveling less than the people on my social media feed appeared to be doing. I would constantly compare my own life with that of others who seemed to be having so many more travel experiences, and, of course, end up being less than happy about my own. After all, research suggests that social comparison is one of the primary causes of dissatisfaction in people's lives.

3. I realized much of what people post on social media is performative and has little to nothing to do with how their lives really are.

It's not fair for me to complain that people get on to social media to make their lives look good because that is the nature of the medium. We post only the good parts and not the bad. What I think is really unfortunate, though, is how easy it seems to be for us to forget this fact when we look at other people's posts online. "Ooh, they just had a baby, and bought a new house a year ago, and look at their smiles in this post, they look so happy!" we tend to think. It baffles us when we realize that people's lives aren't as perfect as they make them out to be on Instagram or Facebook. How can there possibly be such a big disconnect between what we see and what actually is, we are led to wonder.

4. I learned the importance of boredom.

While I was on the social media platforms, they became my default go-to whenever I felt myself getting bored, or with extra time on my hands. This would inevitably cure me of my boredom. As soon as I stopped defaulting to scrolling on these, however, I realized that knowing when I am bored (and allowing myself to wallow in the boredom, if you will) is invaluable. It helped me realize that I need to be doing more meaningful things with my time.

5. The less time I spent on social media, the more time I had to do things that really mattered to me.

I have read more books in 2021 than during any other year in my life so far, and it is at least partly because I don’t default to scrolling through social media when I have the time.

6. I make memories less by recording every moment, and more by living it.

I recall when I was on social media the temptation to take one perfect picture wherever we went (even if it was just a trip to the park). "It could be my next display cover image on Facebook", I would think. Or, "This would look so good on Insta!" I’d say, while handing my husband the phone to take the perfect photograph. When I would sing (something I enjoy), I would always be tempted to make a recording of it to share on social media. This would inevitably suck much of the joy out of the experience, and cause me to question my own motivations. Am I doing this to garner appreciation from people who are practically strangers to me, or for my own enjoyment?

All this is not to say that I don’t take pictures or videos anymore, or that I don’t enjoy recording myself singing. I still do all these things, but I feel like I do it more for myself and less for other people. Other people only care so much about where I go, what I do, or what my talents are. I still take lots and lots of pictures and videos of my toddler to share with family, and for my husband and I to look back at years down the line and relive the memories. The removal of social media from the equation makes things much simpler and more meaningful.

As someone who goes and looks at all our old photo albums whenever I visit my parents' home, making and recording memories does matter a lot to me. I'm just glad that I am now making and storing all these memories for myself and my family rather than for my imagined audience online.