Reading Length: 9 minutes
“How do you not have Instagram and Facebook?!” That was the shocked statement I received from a classmate. I often received this type of stunned reaction from my classmates and friends. Even from adults. They couldn’t believe a teenager didn’t have any of those social media platforms. They assumed I lived under a rock like Patrick Star. And maybe I did. Happily. I had already quit social media for a year.
Why did I start?
I chose to detox from social media because I felt like it was ruining my productivity and mental health. Just like most people, I spent hours scrolling through Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to find that I felt even more low in energy, insecure and that I didn’t get anything that I wanted done. I just felt empty inside. I questioned, “Is this all there is to life?” and “Why can’t I stop?” I scrolled through countless forums and comments to find many people shared the same struggle.
One moment that made me reevaluate my app use was when my mom was confiding to me about her problems but instead of listening, I was too busy scrolling away my Instagram feed. And then it occurred to me that I had never talked to her without looking at my device. I mean, imagine you’re trying to pour your heart out to someone and they’re too busy talking to their digital friend or playing Animal Crossing. It hurts. So that 5 second moment was what made me say: okay, enough is enough. Time to crush Animal Crossing.
How did I start?
Deleting. So of course, the first step was removing the apps that were just ruining my mental health and wasting my time. I said farewell to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. But not YouTube. I’m not a complete monk! Jokes aside, I still needed it for my YouTube channel.
Planning and Reflecting. The next thing I did was plan and reflect on what I actually wanted to do. I knew that endless social media browsing was not the life I truly wanted. I asked myself: What’s something I always wanted to do that I have been putting off? I concluded that it was guitar playing , learning Spanish and being out in nature more. You know, activities that excite you but bores others.
Time Blocking. I placed those activities on my calendar at a specific day and time. When it came time to do those activities, I couldn’t give myself any excuses or find distractions in social media. Those apps were gone!
One of the struggles for me was addressing the people around me about my detox. People gave me blank stares whenever I said I stopped using Instagram or Facebook. It was like I was speaking a non existent language or something. They couldn’t understand it. But I realized for the most part, people just eventually accept your goals. And some people even showed amazement at my ability to even keep up with a social media detox. I guess it’s mission impossible of the 21st century.
I also initially thought it was going to be insanely hard because of Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). I was afraid I would miss out on all the events and things going around me. But I realized there was nothing to miss. That latest post from a friend about their recent restaurant outing or the latest celebrity gossip were not things I felt the need to stay up to date with. The only thing I missed was just the cute dog videos. Regardless, I found peace in staying ignorant to useless content.
Even though I didn’t miss consuming garbage content, I still felt like a drug addict experiencing withdrawal symptoms. And it showed on my face. Not a pretty sight. The symptoms were intense. Within the first week of cutting of social media, I was bored and a little lost. It was strange not having my usual routine of waking up, grabbing my phone and starting my morning scroll. It took tremendous willpower to power through my days without giving into my desire to just reinstall those apps and just abandon this whole social media detox thing.
But what really helped me was establishing a plan on what activities I would do to replace all this time left for me. Staying busy was what kept me away from those apps. I thought by starting a schedule, I would practically be like a prisoner. Ironically, it turned out to be liberating. My schedule and routines were my savior. It was like my bible. I followed it religiously.
What I learned
You pay more attention to the real world.
It was so strange to actually spend more time looking at the real world instead of a screen. It was a freeing feeling. Not only were my eyes more well rested, but my mind felt more at peace. I felt like I was more present in each moment when I did the activities I actually enjoyed and spent time with people I loved. I also began to notice little things of nature which I had never noticed before. This meme pretty much sums up my ignorance to nature:
Real world and digital world are not the same. It’s all an illusion.
With Instagram, I often travelled a lot to many places. And I’ll be honest with you guys, one of the motivators for me was being able to show off and post my travel photos on social media. I was like a wannabe trendsetter and hipster who couldn’t even make the cut. It was just sad. My intense desire for more presence on social media even prompted me to start exploring scary abandoned places. I’m lucky my friend and I are even alive at this point.
We care way too much about followers, likes and comments on our posts. We associate more followers with more popularity and even happiness. Within the first 24 hours of posting something, we secretly wait for those likes and comments to come. It’s even almost a silent agreement between your friends and you that you both need to like each other’s posts to maintain that “connection” and “respect.” Because if you don’t like their post, then they’ll probably hunt you down like Chuckie the Doll. But it’s all an illusion. It gives you the false illusion of happiness and popularity. When in reality, all those numbers are meaningless. I’ve learned to reflect on my life not by the amount of followers or likes I gathered, but by how well I truly lived. I’ll ask myself: How many deep relationships did I establish? Did I live a life I truly wanted?
You have the power to fight the algorithms.
I understand how tempting it is to continue to scroll and refresh your feed. Trust me, every single day and night, I was trapped in this endless scrolling void too. The algorithms are meant to lure you into scrolling. They bombard you with recommended videos that spark your curiosity. But we don’t have to give into this. It’s not like some algorithm spirit suddenly possessed your body and controlled your thumb. Although, it does feel like that sometimes. But we have the power to control our actions to stop the powers of the algorithms. There’s plenty of tips to not allow the algorithms to control us. It could be installing a productivity app, a chrome extension or just committing to this detox with the methods that I mentioned before.
You get more time for what really matters.
This scary statistic really resonated with me:
Honestly, with how much time I spent looking at memes, it was probably more than 5.4 hours. But think about how much we check our phones in a day. When we wake up, when we’re bored in classes, when we’re with friends and family and when we’re having an existential crisis. It’s scary. Think about each time you “harmlessly” check your phone turns into a whole 1-2 hours of scrolling again. I thought to myself, within those hours wasted on social media, what skills could I have learned? What work could I have done? What family member or friend could I have talked to?
Passive to active control.
When we use social media, we’re so used to being reactionary and passive. We’re practically on autopilot mode, not being fully in control of our current state of mind. We react to what is given to us. The truth is: Social media can easily control our emotions if we allow them to. That’s such a frightening way to live. Imagine the Facebook Gods just saying “Hm, I want this person to feel mad today! Let’s feed him with propaganda.” That’s why after distancing from social media, I felt more in control of my life. I was able to control the activities I wanted to do, the people I wanted to reach out to, and the content I wanted to see for myself.
Comparison is a killer of self love.
I’m sure many of you guys could also relate to this. What made me feel insecure was the fact that there were plenty of people who seemed to have perfect lives and have their life all together unlike me. It was even worse when I felt more down about my life and out of habit, I opened social media as a quick way of distraction from life’s problems. Little did I know that this only made things worse.
I felt so incompetent when I saw the many success stories of young people on social media. There was always that young billionaire, musical prodigy or beautiful influencer that made me feel worthless about my average life and average appearance. But once I deleted those apps, I started to pay more attention to the beauties of my own life. I had so much to appreciate and love about myself and my life. Rather than being overwhelmed with information about other people’s lives, I acquired more time to discover more about myself. With more self awareness, I accepted my own flaws, embraced my strengths and my weirdness.
At some point in college, I was so curious and interested about the effects of social media to the point I made an entire speech PowerPoint about this topic. I think only the professor and I appreciated the PowerPoint. My classmates probably were thinking: we need memes! Relatable, though.
I’m not suggesting to completely cut off all technology and social media forever. That would be extreme in a world that is constantly changing and growing beyond us. But I would be interested to know what you learn once you do a detox. Whether it’s for 1 week, 30 days, 1 year or more. And I would suggest to be more aware of your everyday usage, limit the usage and continue to prioritize what really matters to you. Could those hours of Instagram scrolling be replaced with a cup of coffee with a friend, a dinner with a loved one or a video to learn a new skill?
If it weren’t for this detox, I wouldn’t have been able to figure out what truly mattered to me. In a nutshell, I experienced continuous self growth, self reflection and time spent with loved ones.
If you’re considering on doing a social media detox yourself, I would highly recommend it. You can check out another blog post I made about doing a social media detox here. You’ll truly be amazed by how much you learn and discover about yourself and your life within that time. It won’t be easy. You’ll probably face lots of struggles such as the ones I faced. But everything meaningful in life is worth the hard work.
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