This story is a long time coming. It follows my love-hate relationship with social media and how I came to managing it the way I do today: contrived for sure, but still minimal at the same time. What started as a fun way to engage with my friends quickly became an obsession with self-awareness, followed by an episode in which I went into complete shutdown mode (*cough cough* 2016 presidential election). It finally ended with a humble return to being myself and not caring about getting likes, but about getting valuable engagement. To begin we have to venture back to the year 2010…when I was a young college freshman.
How It All Started
I would send out a joke and then watch my followers count as if magically I would become a viral sensation like Rob Delaney or Megan Amram.
When I joined Twitter for the first time back in 2010, I was finally beginning to find my voice. I had just gotten over high school, where I was known to be particularly quiet. At the time Twitter seemed like the funnest thing to me: 140 characters to be witty, self-deprecating, and share my opinions about matters that I knew next to nothing about.
I wanted to be funny and I wanted it so badly. I also wanted to be famous. So everyday I would send out a joke and then watch my followers count as if magically I would become a viral sensation like Rob Delaney or Megan Amram. Nothing ever happened, but at least my friends showed support through hearts or likes or whatever it was at the time they could do to show that my tweets made an impression on them.
I remember my friends and I confronting each other about forgetting to like each others pictures.
After college I went through the Instagram phase where I shared pictures of food and travel, thinking I would become a viral sensation like any number of fashion bloggers or “influencers” as they are called now. I remember my friends and I confronting each other about forgetting to like each others pictures. I remember scowling at people that accepted my follower requests but never followed me back.
I did all the pensive faces and artistic photos. I used to direct people to my Twitter for a better picture of who I am, now I was directing them to my Instagram, like check out this cool picture I took with a fisheye lens. It was the height of superficiality.
Then one day my cell phone camera broke and that was a pretty sad day for me because at that point my Instagram profile had become something that defined me. Now I had nothing. And since I’m stubborn and refuse to abandon my devices, I didn’t get a new phone because it could still fulfill its primary purpose.
Who Are You People
…trolls, depraved misogynists, or pretentious a**holes.
Numerous studies and articles talk about how social media gives you a singular lens into the lives of its users. You only see the good, but not the bad and I was guilty of perpetuating this by only sharing photos of my “beautiful” life on Instagram. On Twitter, however, I noticed the opposite start happening among people that I knew personally. I could only see the bad and not the good anymore.
By creating anonymous accounts, people I knew used Twitter to reveal their inner monsters. They became trolls, depraved misogynists, or pretentious assholes. I was surprised to see people that I conversed with in a totally normal and mild manner in person were on the Internet and writing the most offensive and obnoxious things under the freedom of anonymity. I was disgusted and forced to reconsider the people I chose to socialize with from there on.
I used a combination of really bad editing techniques and filters to make the pictures look as awful as possible.
With the 2016 presidential election, it became clear that Twitter was a hot mess of half-baked and incomplete ideas and opinions. It just became so much inconsequential shouting that for sanity’s sake I had to disconnect from the sickness, so I deactivated my account (and eventually deleted it too).
While my rear cell phone camera didn’t work, my front-facing camera still did so I would still share photos to Instagram. The photos came out grainy and I would do some careful cropping so you couldn’t see my head in the corner. One day I was trying really hard to get a nice shot of Culver City station in Los Angeles with no success and I just got fed up.
I posted a bad photo of the station…three times in a row and each time I posted it, I used a combination of really bad editing techniques and filters to make the pictures look as awful as possible (I’ve since removed them from account). I made it all worse by captioning each photo with painfully self-aware or ironic phrases. It was my final f**k you to every single Fyre Festival influencer out there. I was done.
In the time I spent away from social media I noticed an improvement in my mental health as well. Instead of thinking about some annoying thing somebody tweeted or wondering how my latest Instagram or Snapchat post was doing, I was thinking about things that actually mattered like real people and real potential.
Spending a month off of Twitter along with my reduced Instagram/Snapchat activity and my already minimal Facebook use was remarkable for one reason: I didn’t miss any of it. There was no gaping hole in my life left by minimal social media use and I had no trouble finding things to fill my time with. In fact, it was nice to explore the Internet (and contribute to it) without using social media as a guide or a filter anymore.
In the time I spent away from social media I noticed an improvement in my mental wellbeing as well. Instead of thinking about some annoying thing somebody tweeted or wondering how my latest Instagram or Snapchat post was doing, I was thinking about things that actually mattered like real people and real potential. I became a more active listener and engaged my friends in ways that weren’t superficial for the first time.
Eventually, I did make a new Twitter account, but it’s different this time. I don’t care anymore about how many followers I have. I don’t care about how many impressions each tweet receives. I’m not trying to be funny (intentionally) anymore. I’m just trying to be myself. I’m engaging with people in a way that is productive to my growth and keeping important conversations going. I’m tweeting about topics that I was too ashamed of talking about before because I have realized the importance of honesty. Overall, I am feeling more wholesome than before.
So there you have it: my long and tumultuous affair with social media. I can say that this time around I am actively using Twitter while maintaining my mental wellbeing. I’m still mostly off Instagram and Snapchat because I am too busy to scroll or snap these days. Being present IRL…what a curious thing.