I Took a Month Off of Social Media and Here’s What Happened

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I Took a Month Off of Social Media and Here’s What Happened

My month off of social media changed the way I view social media.

My month off of social media changed the way I view social media.

Reilly Smith

My month off of social media changed the way I view social media.

Reilly Smith

Reilly Smith

My month off of social media changed the way I view social media.

Nehemiah Jackson, Assistant Editor

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Week 1

On March 25, the first dream happened. In the midst of the dream, I was sitting on my bed checking Instagram. I refreshed and a new story popped up, so without thinking, I clicked on it. A party invite popped up: the date was March 26.

When I woke up, slowly returning to reality from the dream, I felt disappointed because I realized I wasn’t going to the party. It took a few minutes, but eventually, I was able to differentiate the dream from the reality; there was no party, but still the disappointment lingered, following me through my morning routine. This was the most memorable of the three social media dreams I had during my month of abstinence.

In the real world, I forced myself to delete social media, but the effects of this decision had gone far deeper than my conscious mind (because of the dreams). I think the dream represented an unconscious fear that came with deleting social media, a fear of being left out, a fear we all have, so I thought little of it.

However, as I connected the dots, I realized that that fear wouldn’t exist (in a dream form) if I didn’t have social media. In other words, if I never had social media, then the fear of being left out wouldn’t have manifested itself in a dream form, subsequently meaning, the fear of being left out had, essentially, been amplified as a direct result of using social media.

This realization disturbed me, making me wonder what the point of social media was if it was just amplifying my fear; this reminded me of an article I read in Mr. Larson’s English class, which detailed the idealistic rise of the internet, “The Internet Apologizes …”.

According to the article, social media platforms (and the internet) started as a way to make the world more open and connected. Can Duruk, a tech writer who served as a project lead at Uber, said, “You were going to Facebook not to work but to make the world more open and connected… A lot of people really bought into those ideals.”

This was an idealistic view that I could buy into, that the internet made the world more connected, but it was something that, in the fog of the first week, I only saw once: Logic, one of my favorite artists, released an album on March 26, and because I didn’t have social media, I didn’t hear about the album until March 29.

While I was disappointed I heard about the album late (by my standards), in that first week, social media was still the enemy. But despite the dreams, I was still winning, because I hadn’t re-downloaded social media.

Week 2

While the dreams disturbed me, they only occurred in the first week, and as I entered the second week, I found myself mindlessly scrolling to where my social media icons used to be, and then tapping. This, along with the dreams, reinforced the idea that, despite the fact I had deleted social media, I was still attached to these deleted apps.

A recent article by The Guardian details the process social media (and other technology) companies use to hook us on social media, and unfortunately, in order to addict you, social media sites use some of the same tactics many gambling games do.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, a professor of behavioral addiction and director of Nottingham Trent University’s International Gaming Research Unit, elaborated on this: “Social media sites are chock-a-block [filled] with unpredictable rewards. They are trying to grab users’ attentions… to make social media users create a routine and habitually check their screens.”

“Once a habit is formed something previously prompted by an external trigger, like a notification, email, or any sort of ring or ding, is no longer needed,” Eyal, a behavioural psychologist who authored a book about habits, remarked.It is replaced or supplemented with an internal trigger meaning that we form a mental association between wanting to use this product and seeking to serve an emotional need.”

When social media is used to serve an emotional need, problems arise because there’s a reliance on it. And if there’s a reliance on something like social media, then when you delete it, there are cravings, cravings that I experienced the last month I tried this.

However, this month I didn’t experience those cravings; instead, I experienced the unconscious tapping of the screen, and I think this is worse than the cravings because although I am not consciously aware of the cravings, they are still there (I wouldn’t be tapping the screen if they weren’t).

During week two, as I discovered the ways social media sites hook you, I fought fire with fire. I combated the craving social media’s addictive nature brought forth by creating new habits, and filling my time with other things that aren’t deliberately engineered to be addictive, like reading.

With the dreams a distant memory and the unconscious tapping slowing, the week came to a close, and I found the grip social media had on my mind loosening.

Week 3

In the third week, I was feeling free of social media. However, when I flew out to New York to visit Skidmore, the college I’m attending in the fall, for their discovery tour, things began to change.

After I got off of my flight, I boarded the bus they had reserved for us. Despite the fact that the tour was designed for new and prospective students to meet other new and prospective students, the bus was silent; everyone on the bus was glued to their screens, so I walked down the aisle, looking for an open seat.

I eventually settled on a seat near the middle of the bus, eager to meet someone new. I introduced myself, he introduced himself, and then he proceeded to put his earbuds on. As we drove to the college campus in silence, I wished I had social media, so I could at least pretend like I was doing something with my time instead of staring blankly into space.

After arriving on campus, that wish disappeared, and I began integrating myself into Skidmore’s community, learning as much as I could in the short amount of time I had on the campus. During the tour, Skidmore gave me the opportunity to shadow one of the classes; only one person from the discovery tour chose the class I had chosen to shadow.

We introduced ourselves, and the first question she asked me was, “Do you have Snapchat?” I felt incredibly stupid, saying, “No, I’m doing this one month off social media challenge for a journalism article.” She asked for my Snapchat anyways, and I gave it to her.

After the class, she introduced me to her friend group, and we went to my host’s apartment to relax. Once we got there, everyone pulled out their phone. So I pulled out my phone, but with no social media, all I could do was watch soccer highlights, look at the news, and refresh soccer scores. I grew bored, and began thinking of re-downloading social media; however, the girl in the class had sparked a conversation.

The people in her friend group turned out to be incredibly interesting, and they were from all around the country, including New Jersey, California, Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut, but as the conversation ebbed and flowed, we realized we had to go to a dinner where there was assigned seating.

Throughout the dinner, no one at my table used social media, and later that night, I caught up with the friend group I had met earlier. We decided to go tour the downtown area of Saratoga Springs, and we had to order an Uber. Since only one of us had the app, we could only order one Uber, and because we were in the Saratoga area, there weren’t any UberXLs, so we ordered a normal sized Uber, squeezing all six of us into the Uber. Their first reaction was to post about it on Snapchat, and I probably would have felt pressure to re-download Snapchat, had I been able to reach my phone.

For the rest of my time at Skidmore, I didn’t really notice the use of social media, but while my friend group said our goodbyes, I realized only half of them planned on going to Skidmore. Odds were that I would only be in contact with them for the next few minutes.

With that in mind, my month off social media challenge didn’t seem that important, especially considering, if I didn’t take the chance then, I probably would never connect with these people again. I re-downloaded Instagram, followed all of the people I had met, then deleted Instagram.

Week 4 + Takeaways

After Skidmore, I had no problems finishing my month off of social media. This ability to delete the app with no concern, along with seeing social media’s intended use, was the beginning of my new beliefs regarding social media.

At the beginning of the month, I was obsessed with the challenge, and social media undeniably had a grip on my mind. It had been drilled into me that social media was the problem, to the point where the only thing I was focused on was the negative effects of social media. It was me vs. social media.

This belief was enhanced when I had the dreams, and after I had them, I couldn’t see a world where anyone would want to have social media.

But the month continued, and by the halfway point of the month, the dreams were gone, the subconscious tapping was gone, and most importantly, the urge was gone. I was living my life like social media didn’t exist, and I was thriving, but still not understanding the point of social media.

When I went to Skidmore, however, I began feeling the pressure of social media again, and immediately I attributed that pressure to social media’s addictive nature. I, at first, didn’t consider that perhaps I felt pressure to re-download social media because I had met some incredible people who I wanted to stay in touch with.

Once I realized this, the progression of my beliefs was nearing its conclusion. Frankly, the dreams made me feel violated, but now, after doing research, I understand why social media is addicting, but more importantly, how social media ensnares its users. And with that knowledge, I was able to negate social media’s grip on my mind.

So with my newfound understanding of social media not as an enemy but as a tool, I was able to look at social media with objectivity. It allows you to connect, and to meet new people, but it is also incredibly addicting.

For me, if I understand social media’s problems, and how social media addicts people, then I can counter these issues. And if I can get rid of the negativities social media brings forth, then the only things social media offers me are positive.

Since the conclusion of the month, I have re-downloaded my favorite social media apps, but unlike at the beginning of the month, I no longer see them as the enemy: I see them as a way to meet new people, a way to connect. And with my newfound knowledge, I am assured that I will not become addicted, at least to the extent that I was, again.