To Delete or Not to Delete? A Reflection on my Toxic Relationship with Social Media

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I remember taking my first social media hiatus back in the summer of 2014. I distinctly recall looking up at the sky on the fourth day in. It was a warm summer evening and my head felt clear like the cloudless sky which I was staring into. It was the fourth day devoid of the incessant scrolling, liking, and commenting which had created a deafening buzz in my mind. It was in this moment, on day four, that I realized the buzz was gone. I had been re-introduced to tranquility. My thoughts were decolonized, free of their chains, free to wander aimlessly without being dragged back into the dark hole that was my iPhone screen! I remember thinking I would never return to my old habits.

My hiatus lasted almost the entire summer. I would text friends and consume other forms of media online, but I felt like I had finally kicked my bad habits to the curb once and for all.

Then fall rolled around, school began, and the stress that was junior year became palpable. Without any social media platforms, I wasn’t able to share in the pain of junior year in the same way that my peers could. I did, however, have a ‘fake’ Facebook profile so I communicate with my AP US History class about assignments. The more important purpose of the page, though, was to be able to log on the night before a big test and see that you weren’t the only one freaking out: those “RIP I just started studying. anyone else? lol” posts made me, and the rest of my class, feel a little less guilty about our own procrastination or general confusion or failure on an exam. The Facebook page gave us a sense that we were all in this together.

The beginning of the school season also quickly led me to re-download my Instagram and Snapchat. The independent nature of summer kept my urge to log-on at bay, but the advent of the school year magnified my offline isolation. I wanted to be able to share in the goings-on of the school day. When someone said at lunch, “did you see that crazy Snapchat she sent?,” I had seen it and was equally as surprised.  

I caved again when I reactivated my ‘real’ Facebook in my senior year. The pressure to join all of the Facebook groups accumulated and became too much. I felt left out and wanted participate in the collective celebration of senior year. A sufficient amount of communication, action, and drama occurred on my senior class’ Facebook page -- posts ranged from Facebook live streams in math class or screenshots of a heated e-mail exchange between students and administrators regarding the annual senior prank. My senior year experience, bizarrely enough, didn’t feel complete without having full access to Facebook. Plus, I justified my choice to reactive by convincing myself that I would need it to keep in touch with friends and teachers from high school after graduation. And now that I’m in college, I’ve found that Facebook is almost essential. Sure, I could get by without it, but I would be in the dark about a lot of information. I use Facebook to communicate with my housemates on a group page, to find cool events happening at school and in the local area, to remember birthdays, and to keep up on the famous meme page (trivial, but fun).

Some of you non-social media-users, flip-phone owners, gone-roguers are probably reading this with your noses in the air, thinking your condescending thoughts: “This girl is weak. She’s fallen prey to the constant thirst for stimulation and the traps of superficiality, unlike us, the strong ones.” You’re without the eye pain, the headaches, the recurring urge to check your notifications. Maybe it was difficult for you to log off, or maybe it was super easy and you don’t even have an interest in engaging with social media in the first place. For that, I applaud you. Truly, I do. Maybe I am weak, but of course I’m not the only one. And unless you’ve embarked on a revolution and are living in the mountains bereft of all technology and technological communication, (which you’re not because you’re reading this article!) we’re all reliant on technology in one way or another. It’s just a matter of how much. And social media usage definitely hikes up the amount of time we spend logged-on to our laptops and phones, which can take time away from experiencing the world right in front of us.

Some days I feel like I need to delete everything. I get into an all or nothing mindset. I start thinking extreme thoughts, like, ‘I’ve got to get off the grid.’ I can’t do any of this anymore. I can feel my brain disintegrating. My God, I could be reading a book! FOR FUN! But instead, I’m giving my brain the drug it’s craving!’ I want to be that person, devoid of the superficial modes of contact which rule our lives like little autocratic, brainwashing dictators in our pockets.

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It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing game, though. On the days when I’m not freaking out about how I’ve handed my soul over to the social media apps on my phone, I surely can appreciate various platforms for what they uniquely offer us.

Sending Snapchats to friends throughout the day makes it much easier to keep up with my friends’ lives than to have a phone call or even a text conversation each day. And, sure, I can acknowledge that the online version of myself -- the Snapchats that I send to my friends, the posts that I make on my Instagram -- represents a carefully crafted edition of myself. The platforms are superficial, but I wouldn’t say that they necessarily represent superficial versions of myself.

As one can do with art, Instagram is another medium by which I can express myself. I can display a certain version of myself -- a certain sense of humour, a certain perspective that I hold -- that I want to show but can’t always conjure up in personal interactions with friends or new acquaintances. Sending Snapchats of an event with a clever caption is often funnier than describing the event later on. On my Instagram, the way I choose to pick, edit, and curate my photos can be a fun and creative undertaking. On a private Instagram I share with friends (affectionately known as a finsta), I can share memes and moments from my day when I royally fucked up, and each of my friends can comment and can console me, or roast me. And I enjoy seeing the way others express themselves, too. I use Instagram to follow art accounts, food recipe accounts, and a handful of weird accounts (cool 3D world, anyone??).  

There’s an entire slew of problems to be discussed about social media platforms. It’s great in a million ways, but it’s horrible in a million other ways. And most of us can acknowledge the negative aspects of social media, but then we fail to do anything to change our habits; plus, such conversations often fail to acknowledge some of the deeper, quite disturbing implications of such an omnipresent force. For example, the instagram feed for my finsta (my private instagram) is littered with friends’ photos with captions making jokes about one’s own mental state. It can be comforting to scroll through and see that my friends are having similar experiences to my own -- loneliness, bouts of depression, etc. -- but the conversation stops there, at the caption, as the but of a joke, and rarely are any deeper conversations ever had. Poor mental health becomes lighthearted and, arguably, trendy, a testament to the problematic way our generation understands ourselves and each other. Such ideas makes the battle I have with it -- to delete, or not to delete? -- that much more difficult.

We could probably get into even more serious topics in regards to social media -- the postmodern implications of social media use in the way that a fake self is replacing the real self; how sharing our depression online but not in real life is a problematic way our generation addresses mental health and makes it more lighthearted and trendy than it is; the fact that memes can represent/express emotions better than we ourselves can is kind of fucked up because it replaces more authentic modes of human connection? How social media is as a vehicle for our own narcissism and self-indulgence; the way that the infiltration of advertisements and celebrities on snapchat is probably subconsciously embedding the values of capitalism and narcissism deep inside us; how having a constant source of entertainment at our fingertips disturbs our dopamine and serotonin levels. There are many problematic things to get into (that maybe one day I will write about more deeply).

There’s no right answer to the “delete or not” question. How you use social media depends on you. Each of us is affected by it in differently negative and positive ways, and why some of us are more or less affected by it depends on our interests, our levels of addiction, our personalities, our brain chemistry, etc.

My biggest concern is that I’m wasting my time and forming bad habits in my brain. In the moments that I have to myself, my default is to pick up my phone and consume. All those minutes of consuming and consuming adds up. I know that it’s more healthy for my mental health to breathe, watch the people around me, be  mindful and present and take a break from the demands of everyday life. Yet I continue to train my brain to dislike boredom, which I’m sure is somehow destroying my attention span and any ability I may have to foster imagination and creativity. I can feel the synapses in my brain making the wrong connections. I feel guilty. And gross.

What I must remember is that I’m in control. I can be purposeful with social media. And I need to remind myself that it’s okay to go through waves and phases with how I use it. Delete it all for a week. Post a million things the next if I’m feeling inspired to express myself. Instead of seeing it as a battle I must continue to fight, I will try to see it as a relationship I can continue to explore with a healthy dose of mindfulness, awareness, and balance.

OpinionLeandra Ramlo