For a platform that is designed to connect people, social media seems to take away the magic of a physical conversation. This includes reading someone’s body language as they tell you a story that they are excited to share, hearing the tonal shifts in their voice, and feeling the touch of their skin as you greet them with a handshake or hug them goodbye. These beautiful moments get lost through online conversations. Nowadays, there are two main types of connections that we make with people: virtual and physical.
Advancements in technology during the last few decades have pushed our society to use our devices to contact people, taking away the physicality of conversations. We have FaceTime to talk to our friends and family. We have Zoom for work meetings and for school sessions. While these technologies add convenience to our lives, like not having to spend extra time getting dressed or driving to far destinations, the distance that has been created between individuals through these devices and social media can often leave us feeling isolated from the physical world and more attached to the devices in our hands.
If you haven’t seen the documentary The Social Dilemma, I recommend giving it a watch. Leaders and creators of big media platforms such as Instagram, Google, Twitter, etc. come together in this film to talk about the origins of online platforms, originally designed to make connecting people easier and fun. With time, we have seen how these platforms have become successful marketing centers, and have evolved to become addicting to consumers by focusing on ways to keep people engaged with content for longer periods of time. These leaders share why they choose to limit their time spent on these applications and they provide insight into how these platforms affect you without you even realizing it.
But the reality is that there is no escaping social media.
I used to be anti social media for a long time. I resisted the societal urge to put myself out there, fearful that I would regret it. I second guessed myself constantly, believing that my life wasn’t good enough to share, comparing myself to others, and becoming anxious every time I logged on. Eventually, this led me to decide to quit social media for good. In 2017, I deleted all my social apps, like Instagram and Facebook, and continued to live my life away from those platforms until the fall of 2021.
During this time, I reflected inward and discovered a lot about myself without the influence of social media. However, being absent from it did not take away my anxiety. I soon realized that I struggled with social anxiety in general, and because I was not online, I often felt excluded within groups of people because I didn’t have social media like them. This made me feel isolated once again, and afraid that I was not good enough for people. Still, I was too anxious to reenter the online world, so I continued keeping moments of my life—pictures, videos, poems—to myself.
With years passing by, I became content with not sharing every aspect of my life as I no longer felt that I had to prove myself.
But I felt alone.
Looking back, I realize that I was suppressing a part of myself that needed to be expressed. As a creative person, I was lacking an outlet to release myself and my work. We connect to other people when we open up and share our experiences and the things we create. I was preventing myself from connecting to the world that I wanted so badly to be a part of because I was afraid to be vulnerable.
Side note—if you struggle with this too, I recommend reading this piece by Mei-Mei. She’ll remind you that it's normal to be afraid and it’s okay to not be ready to share your life story. With examples of her own life and material to inspire you, she shows you just how much strength it takes to show your weaknesses to the world.
When I reactivated my accounts just a couple months ago, it was because I was ready to. Initially, I hesitated because I knew that this time I was going to be more expressive than I had ever been in my life. But I was ready—to be raw, to be honest, to be genuine. I learned during my hiatus that that’s all I know how to be. In a way, reentering the social media world was like reconnecting with myself.
The best part was being flooded with so much love from the people I had left behind. An old friend of mine from high school reached out to me. She was a foreign exchange student when I met her, and I found out that she was going to be visiting the United States soon. Another long-distance friend that I had met on Instagram reached out to me as well. We connected many years ago because we shared a similar interest in our favorite band. When I logged back on, she commented on my picture saying how she couldn’t wait until the band toured again so that we could go see them together.
When I thought that people were going to be annoyed that I left and came back out of nowhere like I was seeking attention, people welcomed me with open arms. While this may sound a little dramatic, it was a really big deal for me because the years I spent in the dark were also some of the darkest moments of my life. It felt good to be wanted and accepted back into social media society.
So, is social media good or bad?
That is a loaded question that I don’t think has a perfect answer. I think it becomes what we make of it, and in my experience, I learned how to have a healthy relationship with it by establishing a good relationship with myself first.
We can consume too much of anything. I believe that a healthy way to go about being online is through balance. Social media is a wonderful place to stay in touch with distant friends and family, meet like-minded people, and to express ourselves. But when we start comparing ourselves to others and that insecurity starts to take up a big part of our mental space, that is a good indication that it’s time to take a step back and reevaluate how we are spending our time online.
The most important connection we can have is the connection to ourselves. When we feel aligned to who we are, we can better connect with others and with the planet.
If you ever find yourself falling out of place, here are some reminders that you are in control of what you consume and you have the strength to reject anything that does not benefit you:
Unfollow, Block, Delete - These are all buttons that we have the power to press online. If there is media on your feed that does not serve you any longer, don’t be afraid to hit any of these. When we engage with content that inspires us and makes us feel seen and heard, we are more likely to enjoy our experience online and get something beneficial from it.
Turn Off Notifications - This one I took from The Social Dilemma (seriously, you should watch it). I know we all get that nice little rush of dopamine when our phone lights up and vibrates because someone liked our post or we got a new follower, but these are intended to keep us distracted and keep us on our phones. If we establish boundaries with these apps, we allow ourselves to be the ones in control. You don’t even have to turn off all notifications completely, because you can control what type of notifications your phone alerts you to.
Take A Break - Check in with yourself every so often. If you believe that your recent activity online has caused an increase in anxiety or it has become a distraction that is preventing you from finishing important tasks, then don't be afraid to delete the app and not engage with it for a few days or however long you need. It can be very rewarding to connect to the world around without the distraction of social media. With time away from the online world, we become grounded to the present moment.
Reflecting back, I don’t regret my long term social media hiatus. Though I may have missed some opportunities and am now left out of some cultural moments, I know that I wasn’t ready to be online. A strong value of mine is being authentic and I knew at the time that I couldn’t provide that for myself.
Ultimately, do what is best for you. You know yourself better than anyone else.
About the Author:
Born and raised in Las Vegas, Alex is currently studying English at UNLV with a concentration in creative writing. When she isn’t studying, she enjoys music, traveling, vegan/vegetarian food, and spending time with her rottweiler. She is passionate about mental health and hopes to spread awareness through her writing.