Approximately six months ago I began to phase out social media. First, I deleted the Twitter app from my phone. Then in rapid succession Instagram and Facebook. Finally, two months ago I deleted Snapchat. I had at this point completely purged social media from my phone. My most convenient and omnipresent method of checking my social media was gone. I felt completely unanchored.
After I deleted Snapchat I felt symptoms similar to the cravings one would feel for nicotine. All I wanted was to log on to post a quick story; every event that I found myself at was overshadowed by a nagging feeling that I had to share it. This weight depressed me. Clearly I was suffering withdrawal symptoms. However, this passed over time, and I started to notice some significant changes.
Foremost, my desire to read books and learn was revitalized. I no longer suffered from a technology induced attention deficit disorder that prior, had not allowed me to focus on a book. I became more exposed to new ideas as I ventured outside my carefully cultivated media that appeared in my social media feeds. Then, after a while, the most significant change occurred. I was simply happier. I felt more contentment with my life and all the great things in it, rather than always comparing what I was doing to what other people were doing. This was by far and away the biggest benefit. All of those improvements were a direct result of removing social media and thereby removing its negative impact impact on me.
Social media makes us chase after the instant serotonin high and narrows our perspectives. It reduces our happiness and makes it easier for us to be manipulated and exploited. It is hampering our generation from achieving our self-potential. Social media is an insidious and destructive threat. It breeds and thrives on the propagation of insecurity. The more insecure you are, the better. Inducing this state of mind insures that you, the user, seek more and more approval from the online community. This engagement in the online community also exposes you to the idea that there are people significantly better than you. This “knowledge” makes you more insecure, and hooks you on the need for approval in the form of likes or favorites. This cycle quickly gets a user hooked onto social media.
Once a social media user is hooked then social media begins to dominate and insert itself into the user’s life. The user feels the need to compulsively share and overshare, check and recheck what their “friends” are up to. Then, out of convenience, (and this is especially true on apps like Snapchat) the user starts getting their news and information from social media.
This “news” is not the involved, multidimensional journalism that engages and challenges the reader to think in new ways, nor is it simple objective news. This social media news oscillates between click bait and superficial pseudo-journalism. None of it is meant to take up much time at all, it is simply a quick hit that requires no commitment from our minute attention spans. This type of news encourages people to think in simple terms and on an extremely superficial level. This superficiality is not just limited to our news however, it has oozed its way into our thought patterns and the very way we live our lives. Nowhere is this more obvious than politics. For example, the Republican nominee debates. These debates were not discussions about issues or critical examinations of the validity of arguments, they were contests to see who could create the best clickbaity sound bite.
Brevity necessities simplicity and the way to simplify the complex and nuanced nature of political discussion is to water it down to simple emotion. This truth is why a populist candidate like Donald Trump has succeeded. Trump is extremely gifted at two things: creating sound bites and appealing to the base emotion of the voter. He appeals to the anger, to the resentment, and to the fear. The average voter has lost the ability to think critically or to take the time to examine a complex issue. They want simple solutions and they want them yesterday. This trend is by and large due to the technology induced attention deficit syndrome that is rampant in our society. It makes us able to be easily manipulated by the media, the corporations, and various other vested interests. All they have to do is tap into this emotional wellspring and they can direct the flow wherever most benefits them. Clearly, this does not sound like a pleasant state of affairs. It is something that must be remedied promptly.
Now to say that there is one easy solution would be hypocritical. These issues do not simply boil down to the despotic power of likes and favorites, but the way social media and technology are changing our minds is extremely unhealthy, not only to our personal, but also our societal well being. While we might not individually be able to restructure our tech driven society we can start to catalyze this process in our own lives and minds. We have to reduce the presence of social media in our lives. To be clear, this is not a suggestion that social media should be eradicated entirely. It can have some key benefits when used properly and in moderation. For example, during crises, such as Hurricane Sandy, where it allowed victims of the storm to communicate even though the phone lines were down, social media can be an invaluable aid.
In a certain sense social media can be compared to a strong opiate. Morphine can be a drug with an amazing ability to alleviate pain when used properly. However, use it improperly and it can have grave consequences. We need to treat social media with similar if not the same gravitas. A healthy mind is just as important as a healthy body.
The key is moderation. In my personal experience I found it easiest to remove social media completely from my life for about 8 weeks before slowly reinstating it once my mind had readjusted and come to appreciate life again without social media. Currently, I have the Snapchat app on my phone but I stay logged out except for every few days to post a story and check Snapchats sent to me. Often I go weeks without logging in. The same is true of Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter which I rarely, if ever, check. The point is that this is not typical social media use and while it may sound difficult to implement the benefits are worth it.
Once you remove social media from your life, you will discover that when you do not engage in social media platforms, those platforms do not engage back. You end up “missing” nothing. You will still know what your friends are up to because they are your friends and you are involved and take an interest in their lives. The only people that you will be “missing out on” are people that actually have no impact on your life whatsoever outside of social media. Social media can not create friendships, or love, or happiness. The truth is that the vivid palette of life can not be viewed through a camera lens, in an app, or on a screen.
The beauty of experience still exists, the question is: will we take the time to see it?