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Doing the unthinkable: My week without social media

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What’s the first thing you do when you wake up? The very last thing you do before going to sleep? What about when you’re at the dining hall, on the bus, in an elevator, on the toilet? I’m going to guess most answers involved checking your phone.

The sad truth is that many of us cannot go a few hours without scrolling through social media. Sure, it’s important to stay connected to the world around us, whether it be keeping in touch with friends or following the latest news stories, and we’re fortunate to live in a time when that’s made easy with more applications available than one knows what to do with. But when does it become too much?

Lately, I’ve been wasting more and more time away on my phone, recreating my ‘look’ on Pinterest, taking ridiculous BuzzFeed quizzes and obsessing over photoshopped Instagram models. And at the end of the day, all I get from it is dissatisfaction, partly because of how unproductive I’ve been, and partly because I constantly judge and compare myself to what I see on social media.

It started to feel like I was putting more energy into exploring this virtual world on the web than I was taking action to better myself in real life. For that reason, I decided that taking a break from it all was necessary, in the hopes that some space will allow social media and me to redefine our relationship in a healthier way. My week went as follows:

Monday

I was tempted to check my phone from the moment I opened my eyes. Usually, the glaring bright light from my phone screen would wake me up and I’d lay there for a while checking it, but since I couldn’t this week, I got right up. Throughout the day, there were many times I found myself mindlessly picking up my phone and unlocking it with the intentions of checking social media, only to remember that wasn’t an option. I realized each time just how much of a mindless, automatic habit it had become. Besides that though, day one went very quickly and smoothly. Visions of funny Twitter memes and videos from days past lingered in my head like a drug that hasn’t yet left the system, and that was enough to keep me going.

Tuesday

I woke up with the confidence that I don’t even need social media anymore. Every time I unconsciously went to check my phone, I got a strange sense of enjoyment from denying myself the privilege because I have faith this experiment will be good for me. I’m becoming more aware of the certain situations that usually bring me to go on social media and why that might be. For example, when I’m alone in a crowd of strangers, I check it to avoid social interactions. When I get home after a long day of classes, I check it to procrastinate doing homework or going to the gym. Mostly, I check it out of boredom, using it as a way to preoccupy my mind. I’m curious to see what happens when I’m not constantly distracting myself at every lull in the day.

Wednesday

Well, I should have known yesterday was too good to be true. The urge to cave was bad. The little red notification bubbles on my apps were staring me in the eye. My lecture was absolute torture because I’m used to wasting at least a third of the class away on social media. I wish I could say I ended up paying more attention to the professor, but instead I found myself creeping on other people’s screens, trying to get some entertainment from the little bit I could see. My optimism was fading.

Thursday

Today was another rough day. I went to get lunch alone and it was painful, to say the least. I was suddenly so conscious of every bite I was taking, thinking everyone was staring at me eating. Besides that, there were multiple times I saw something I wanted to share with my friends and then decided not to because I couldn’t Snapchat or tweet it to them. Some things just aren’t worth the text, you know? I felt pretty disconnected from everyone. Also, today was my best friend’s birthday… Am I still her friend if I didn’t post a picture of her on my Instagram?

The weekend

Having no Friday classes is a blessing, but sitting around all day with nothing to do and not being able to check social media was nearly unbearable. Somehow I found the strength to keep my mind off it with productive tasks like cleaning, doing homework, working out, etc. However, once it got dark and I got together with friends, the desire to look only got worse.

When everyone else is posing for pictures to upload to Facebook and snapchats to document the fun night out, it’s hard to refrain from doing the same. I made it through the night, but by Saturday morning, I completely caved. I was dying to see what everyone had been up to and I hate to admit it, but I spent hours scrolling through what I missed the entire week. I was ashamed of being a quitter, but I also recognized that the results of the experiment weren’t quite what I expected.

Going into this, I had hoped I would discover I was better off without social media and there was a world much more interesting beyond my tiny screen. Now I realize that the problem isn’t social media, it’s how we let it affect us.

It’s all about moderation and control, as cutting myself off from it cold turkey was just as bad for me as indulging in too much. My new goal is finding a happy medium, partly by setting limits on how often I’m on it and partly by changing my mindset regarding what I see on it. From now on, I’ll focus on the enjoyable aspects of it and keep away from the types of things that make me feel inferior about myself or my life. Bottom line: social media can be a wonderful thing if used in a positive way, so find what works for you and enjoy it.

Alex can be reached [email protected]

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The digital-first, student-run magazine of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Journalism Department
Doing the unthinkable: My week without social media