By Erin Schultz, broadcast editor
Last night in my living room, my mom was sitting in a chair watching a video on her phone. My dad and sister were on the couch playing a game on their iPad. I was in another chair browsing Twitter on my laptop. My phone was in my lap. As I looked up, I saw the LCD glow illuminate each of their faces.
A few weeks ago in Australia, Essena O’Neill has just deleted all of her accounts because, in her words, “Social media is not real life.” The former social media “celebrity” had 590,000 Instagram followers and 260,000 YouTube subscribers at the time she deactivated both accounts. Since then, she’s created a website where she blogs about how rich and meaningful her life is now that she’s deleted her digital presence.
Because of this, I decided to abstain from all social media accounts for a week to see if my life improved like hers.
When I told my friends and family I was participating in this seemingly impossible task, their responses ranged from, “Good luck with that,” to, “I’ll believe it when I see it!”
On day one, I deleted Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter from my phone and iPad. I downloaded SelfControl, an app that completely blocks websites, on my computer to ensure that instagram.com and twitter.com were 100 percent unaccesible for me. I also titled a page in my notebook “My Week in Hell” to document my experience. I wasn’t looking forward to the rest of the week.
At first, it was terrible. I predictably hadn’t done any homework. Instead of mindlessly scrolling through Twitter to procrastinate, I had to occupy myself by watching the news and keeping my phone glued into my hand while waiting for CNN notifications. I kept opening the “social” folder on my iPhone, only to find the mail and PayPal apps. At this point, I could think about were the number of snaps I was receiving and the adorable selfies my friends were posting that I was missing.
However, I also use social media for serious purposes. On the third day of this challenge, I was supposed to meet my friend in the commons after school. Since we only communicate via Twitter’s direct messaging feature, I roamed the entirety of the first floor. Without Twitter, I never found her.
On day four, I wasn’t too interested in the concept of social media anymore. I kept adding to my “Tweet Ideas” page in my notebook (because happiness isn’t real unless shared), but I’d stopped looking for my phantom Instagram app and began other activities. I started listening to podcasts, watching an innane amount of TED Talks and even finished a whole book (read my review of “Yes Please” by Amy Poehler here). The only time I found myself to be mind numbingly bored was right before sleeping, a time I ordinarily dedicate to looking at Instagram and Twitter for about 45 minutes.
It didn’t stop at home. While my friends were scrolling through Instagram at lunch and during class, they’d ask, “Oh, sorry, should I stop? I know you’re not allowed to do this.” I never acknowledged FOMO, or fear of missing out, until last week. I felt like some big event would occur, and I’d be the last to know about it.
Fast forward to day five of the experiment: Friday, Nov. 13. After finding out about the attacks in Paris, I decided to break the rule I’d set for myself. I did an exchange in Paris this summer, and I had to make sure my friends and the family I stayed with were OK. I direct messaged and snapchatted each of them. Their safety ultimately trumped the validity of my experiment.
Just when I was beginning to think social media wasn’t beneficial to our lives, I was proved wrong.
On Twitter, Parisians were using the hashtag #PorteOuverte (which translates to “door open”) to welcome people seeking shelter into their homes. People in Paris were also tweeting pictures of their loved ones to see if anyone recognized them and knew their location. Facebook even activated the “safety check” feature, so people in Europe could easily update friends on their status.
O’Neill said that “social media is creating a brainwashed generation,” but that is absolutely not the case. Social media is creating a more aware and understanding generation. We are able to connect with people from all over the world, not just hear about them on the news.
When my social media hiatus was over and I redownloaded the apps, I posted a selfie on Instagram. Contrary to what O’Neill says she felt, I didn’t feel “fake” or like I was advertising an artificial version of my life; people are allowed to choose what they post online and don’t have to broadcast the imperfect aspects of their lives. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with posting a photo of you and your friends or tweeting about a funny experience you had. We all know life isn’t perfect, and just because you post a picture of yourself laughing at the beach does not mean that is a representation of your whole life.
Though I don’t use social media as frequently now that my hiatus is over, I still enjoy seeing what my friends are up to or what Justin Bieber had for breakfast, but I don’t feel lost without it.