Eighteen months ago, I quit all social media. I was a heavy user for five years, spending six or more hours a day on social media platforms such as Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram. I would rudely scroll through timelines and news feeds during meals, ignoring people I was around and letting my food get cold. I would dangerously pull my phone out at red lights to instantly reply to a tweet or send a Snapchat message. At night I would scroll through Twitter for “just five more minutes,” repeating this over and over until my scrolling was finally interrupted by my morning alarm clock.
Making the change to a lifestyle devoid of social media was difficult, to say the least, but it has helped my life tremendously. Sparked by a breakup, a need to refocus my life, as well as the growing political polarization and issues like “fake news,” I realized social media’s stranglehold on my life. In September 2017, I left behind my 1,300 followers and 48,000 tweets to figure out if I was living life the way I wanted to.
I began by turning off notifications for social media apps to avoid having a “reason” to open them. Eventually, I ignored the apps on my home screen completely. Still, I immediately began to feel the pull back to social media. That is when I realized I was addicted.
I never considered the effect that technology and social media could have on me or anyone else. I was a fiend for a like, tweet or comment. It took me months of “rehab” to fully understand the ways social media had altered my mind and mental health. I was focused on the impressions that my posts were receiving and developed an ever-present feeling of FOMO (fear of missing out). I felt empty without social media and its constant barrage of notices.
As time passed, I became more comfortable in the silence. In the 18 months since logging out, I’ve reinvented myself. I’ve relearned interpersonal skills, built myself up as a young professional and grown my faith to a greater degree than I could while on social media. I’ve also developed deeper and more complex relationships with my friends and family outside of an app.
I was tempted numerous times to get back on social media, but I always reminded myself that I wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to fall back into the same trap. For my internships, I’ve had to use Twitter and Facebook, but I forced myself to abstain from using them on my personal devices to avoid a “relapse.” By using social media only at a work computer or by borrowing a friend’s phone to make a post, I have been able to curb those temptations.
Without social media, I found different ways to keep up with news. I use news aggregator apps like Flipboard and Apple News, as well as news apps such as The Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal. I started paying more attention to live news and would check news websites daily. While I sacrificed the immediacy of social media news, I’ve been able to avoid potentially politically and socially polarized takes on events in favor of more objective coverage.
It may come as a surprise, but I miss social media. It’s difficult hearing my friends joking about the latest meme or trend and feeling left out, or just being able to keep in touch with friends I don’t see often. And considering the fact that I’m pursuing a communications profession like public relations, which relies on social media, I always feel guilty, or at the very least, that I am not giving myself the opportunity for professional growth.
Looking at social media now, I feel that it requires balance. Spending every waking moment looking at your phone is unhealthy. But being completely unplugged from social media can lead to little exposure to new information, ideas and experiences. It seems that most people on social media have become too consumed with their digital lives and forget to live their real ones. I think most people would benefit tremendously from a social media detox. It doesn’t have to be for a year and a half, but it should be long enough to let them reconnect with the world in front of them.
As I approach a return to social media, I know that I must set some ground rules. I plan to limit my social media use, whether by simply checking a clock to make sure I’m not spending hours scrolling, or by using a timer whenever I open an app. I also intend to make sure that the majority of the content I am consuming has a positive impact on my life. With these guardrails and my newfound respect for the power of social media, I’m sure I’ll be able to find that healthy balance between my digital and real life.
John Gullo Long is a junior at LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication studying public relations.