Step Away From The Display: 30 Days Sans Social Media
If you’re anything like me, you rely on your smart phone for nearly everything; it holds your schedule, your late night thoughts tucked away in "notes", and it’s your pocket subscription to US Weekly; granting insider access to all of your friends’ whereabouts and happenings via Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
You, however, may be too afraid to admit, that you’ve grown just a little too close with your iPhone. The two of you are basically inseparable, and not in a good way. You’ve become all too familiar with mindlessly tapping into a virtual reality and completely dismissing the one which lies beyond the screen resting in your hands. For me, this realization spiraled out of control after a Facebook photo appeared on my feed of a boy I used to like with some girl I’d never seen before (the worst). Because of this encounter, I came to the conclusion that I was addicted to social media, and had certainly made finger-printing into my iPhone’s home screen a habit.
So, I decided to download a popular parental control app to curb my social media addiction and it had done it’s job a little too well -my precious device was wiped of every app known to man, including Safari. Safari!
That is, until I disabled it through settings, something any tech-savvy, ten year-old could have figured out for themselves. Instead, I asked a close friend to change the passwords to my social media accounts, hid the social media demons deep within the folders on my iPhone, and removed the sites from my ‘favorites bar’ on my Macbook;
and thirty social-media free days later I was still alive.
Now you’re probably saying to yourself,
“Well jee— good for you— you gave up something millions have lived without their entire lives; you’re just like all the other narcissistic, apathetic twenty year-olds in the world: tech-obsessed and desensitized to the reality beyond your screen, why should I care?”
Or maybe you’re just like the former-social-media-addicted-Sienna and asking yourself, “Why would you ever willingly give up social media for thirty days?" That’s the equivalent to a day without binge-watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix, and or even hell.”
I’m not sure I have an answer for either of you, except to tell you that giving up social media for thirty days transformed how I live and interact with the world, and maybe most importantly how I value myself (in a totally healthy narcissistic sort of way that could probably also be referred to this thing no one teaches eighth grade girls about called self-love). If you listen really closely, you can almost hear the resounding cheers of my parents chanting, “we told you so!” in the background.
My addiction to social media crept up silently and without warning like I imagine it does for most; so innocently that I barely knew what was happening, until of course, I did.
I could recall the latest status update I had shared, but not what I ate for breakfast; I could Vscocam myself to near National Geographic-worthy standards, but could barely sit in silence without scrolling through Instagram while I waited for my friend to return from the bathroom. I was scared to sit with myself without anything to occupy my mind; without the tapping of my thumbs on a screen to fill the silent void of “boredom” that was myself— I had become fearful to bear witness to my own existence, so I turned towards distraction.
I opened Instagram to be met by the stunning smiles of supermodels and professional surfers jet-setting across the world and checked the number of likes my latest photo had received: 64. Delete.
I watched Snapchat stories of my friends’ getting plastered at college parties, and tapped ‘replay’ as I laid in bed, watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s on a Saturday night by myself for the one-thousandth time.
Without warning, I began to feel myself closing to the world beyond my screen. I became obsessed with the highlight reels that reloaded all day long at the tap of a finger, and I started to withdraw from my life as I soon realized I could never be as pretty, as famous, as successful, as happy as anyone I double-tapped on social media. It wasn’t until I was seven days into my social media “cleanse” and suffering from a severe bout of FOMO—fear of missing out— that I realized the nasty tricks social media was playing on me and undoubtedly so many others.
The first evil trick social media played was comparison. Sound like fun? Well it must be because most of us play comparison’s game all day every day; first thing when we wake up, and as we brush our teeth before bed. How do we win? No one knows. All we know is that winning looks “good,” whatever that means. It’s impossible for us to win the game because every one of us has a different idea of what “good” is, and what it should look and feel like, and even with that in mind, we continue to play. Then one day, somewhere in between the Snapchat story we didn’t post, and our unedited Instagram photo—we isolate ourselves. We stop feeling like we can live up to the timelines on our devices. When all we see are the highlights we start to believe that we’re less-than; that the lives we are leading are a little less worthy than the person with the epic Snapchat story, and the 25k Twitter followers. Society tricks us into believing that in order to feel fulfilled, to feel worthy, and to fully comprehend our own value— we have to seek it externally and in comparison to someone else that is not us, and that we’ll never be. Social media reinforces the idea that our validation must come in the form of numbers and from someone apart from ourselves; it shouts at us “you’ll never be whole without their likes, without so-and-so’s approval!” when in reality, the only person that can understand our value and feel our worth is ...
Drum roll please!
The next cruel trick social media divvied up was a false sense of connectedness which it has manipulated us into believing as real. In a world where everyone chooses what they want to share— where photos and captions are edited to perfection, teeth whitened, and captions are carefully crafted— social media has cultivated a perfect virtual utopia wherein cover up guises are always “in” and showing up as you are? That’s so last year.
The problem lies in our unwillingness to take our masks off. We convince ourselves that the edited and the staged versions of ourselves are who we really are— we allow ourselves to become consumed by this person, we tell ourselves that this falsified version of ourselves is our best self, that people like him or her better; we grow to accept and love a person that is not who we are and hope that no one notices. We share a rolling highlight reel of our life—glimpses into a life so far apart from our own— rarely stopping to ask if those highlights are a reflection of who we are, what we dream about, aspire to, or care for. We seek validation and approval of a person so far from ourselves, and wonder why we end up feeling lonely, isolated and empty.
Connection happens when the mask comes off. It looks like a crying mess curled on up on the bathroom floor after a breakup or like laughter pouring from our mouth when surrounded by people who care about us and who we love deeply; whatever the case may be, we all know connection when we feel it.
Connection happens not in numbers, likes, or followers— but through conversations, moments, and experiences that reveal something about us or the world that we never knew was there before. Connection happens when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, to open, to feel in the presence of one another. Connection is the permission to be the truest, most real you there is; it is the permission to remove the mask, and to show up in the world as you are.
And it is this connection that is robbed by the realm of social media, but only if we grant it entrance.
Because here’s the thing:
When we spend less time scrolling through social media feeds, comparing ourselves to someone and something that happened on a screen far-far away, we have more time to be; with ourselves and with others. We get back to connecting with real people, real moments, and the reality that is our lives. We have more time to spend appreciating what is around us, create more space for awareness of who we are and the disguises we have worn far too long, and then we start to learn how to take them off; and with newfound courage, we learn how to exist without any fear of being with ourselves—as ourselves—in the world. We allow precious time back into our lives to discover what and who matters, to see our own worth and validity, relying on no one but ourselves.
And that, ladies and gentleman is where self-love begins and ends;
in recognizing that our lives are not, and will never be, running highlights,
that our lives will never be the same as the strangers’ at the bus stop, or the supermodel’s on Instagram,
and that our lives shouldn’t be carefully selected moments edited to our idea of the “perfect normal” and posted in an order that is aesthetically pleasing, choosing to share only the moments that we deem worthy enough for others to see.
Because the truth is, our lives aren’t like that and we shouldn’t wish for them to be.
The real and the raw, the parts of our hearts and our minds that we never allow anyone to visit, let alone see, the parts we fail to put on display for fear of judgement or disapproval, they are the parts that make us who we are, the parts which make our presence here such a unique gift.
Maybe if we removed our masks, and put it all on display, we’d laugh at the sudden realization that we’re thinking and feeling the same things, struggling in the same ways, trying to work through the same confusions, reaching the same conclusions, and that we’re all just humans trying our hardest to convince everyone we have it all figured out.
And maybe then, we would understand how it feels to experience life in the company of one another, to let ourselves be felt, to be heard, and to be embraced, and to do the same for someone else.
To the person who believes I’m just another narcissistic, tech-obsessed millennial, I can now say you’ve got it all wrong. I’m a millennial inundated with choices and overwhelmed with information — I’m attempting, same as you, to figure out how to love myself, to step back from the virtual reality and to leap into the lives of those who surround me, to connect, empathize and hopefully one day contribute something of value to the world.
To the current social media addict, I can now promise you that there is a world awaiting past that last episode of Gilmore Girls, and it really needs you, just as you are. Please have the courage to love yourself in a world that tells you that you are only as worthy as the number of likes you have, the places you’ve traveled, the trimness of your waist, and the boys you’ve dated and learn to value yourself without having to compare yourself to another. Please learn about what you have to offer and take time to discover what it is that wakes you up early in the morning, and keeps you up at night and give of yourself fully to it. Please do not draw back from the world because you fear inadequacy or unworthiness, your existence alone makes you more than adequate, more than worthy. Please do not let your worth be determined by anyone other than yourself.
Social media is not all bad, but an understanding of the importance of how we spend our time interacting with a reality so far from the truth and how much our awareness of its affects, matters. If we so choose to put ourselves on display it is okay, but we must always be weary of the critics; even those who may be lurking in the darkest shadows of our own minds.