I’ve often rolled my eyes at people who go on social media to tell people that are currently on social media that they’re going off social media. Like WE GET IT BECKY, you’re too good for Instagram. The irony annoyed me.
Since leaving Instagram though, I’ve wondered if my judgement towards people who ditch social media was my own internalized judgement for being so reliant on it; maybe my intuition was letting me know that my own reckoning day with the internet was coming.
It sure did.
When one of my favorite Instagrammers and “online turned IRL” besties left the Land of the Like, I felt oddly betrayed. It was like her saying she no longer needed this app that consumed a lot of my day was her saying, “This isn’t important. This app that connected us and that you love isn’t worth my time anymore.” I didn’t believe she could live without this outlet, because I couldn’t live without it. I didn’t think she could be truly happier offline then I was online. It wasn’t until a few weeks later, after I started anti-anxiety medication, that I realized how she could really be happier and healthier offline:
Because I was too.
My relationship with social media began when I was 19. I graduated high school in 2008 with my blue LG flip phone, and my only exposure to social media had been chatting with my boyfriend on MSN. Remember MSN?
I didn’t join Facebook until 2009, back when we only updated our statuses once a week (if that) and checked our timelines from our computer. No one had a smartphone. I didn’t get my first iPhone until 3 years later and that’s when I joined Instagram. IG was officially launched in 2010 but wasn’t acquired by Facebook until 2 years later, so it still seemed fairly new when I joined in January of 2012.
Fast forward to 2015 and social media was officially a part of my life in a real way. Facebook and Instagram became where you found out about engagements, pregnancies, weddings, births, all the big milestones. Then Instastories came out in 2016; I remember thinking, “Who’s gonna make one of these videos? This is ridiculous. We don’t need this much information about each others lives.” (Dear 2016 Brittany: who will make those ridiculous Instagram Stories??? You. You will make those videos. A LOT OF THEM.)
By 2018 I had a “following”, a blog, and if I didn’t post an Instastory at least daily a friend or two would text to see if I was doing ok. Some of my best friends didn’t even follow my online shenanigans because I was posting too often for them to keep up. It wasn’t just where I posted the big moments of my life; it was where I lived my life. I prided myself on sharing authentically, being open and honest, and learning about myself while sharing that journey with others. I put who I am in real life onto the internet and it resonated with people. And I’m grateful for that. I truly found so much friendship and joy and confidence in my writing while on social media.
Instagram was a huge influence on me truly stepping into my identity and story because it gave me a platform to share that journey with other like minded people. I also see now that social media was a necessary coping mechanism for me in the isolating seasons of motherhood, especially while going through Postpartum anxiety and recovering from disordered eating; as we evolve though, sometimes we outgrow our coping mechanisms. And when I shared on social media about my decision to try medication for PMDD after a year of managing my anxiety with therapy, I think that’s what happened. Because after 2.5 years of sharing my life online in a very transparent and real way, once I started medication, the strangest thing happened:
I didn’t want to be on social media anymore.
I cut down my social media and phone use drastically the first week I was on medication, from 4 hours a day to less then an hour, without much effort. It was such a quick change that I started to question: was my social media use causing my anxiety, or was my anxiety causing my social media use? I realized within a few days that every time I opened the app, it was either out of habit, boredom, or a feeling of obligation – like I needed to update people about my life and mental health because that’s the precedent I had set over the last few years. But more then that, because managing my anxiety wasn’t taking up all my brain space, I was able to think critically for the first time in my life about whether or not I felt social media in general was something I wanted to be a part of my life.
When I signed my first smart phone contract in 2012 and shortly after joined Instagram, I didn’t think twice (heck I didn’t even read the terms and conditions) about how it would affect my life, my relationships, or my mental health. This was just what people were doing, so I did it too. Then when I left Instagram this January and downloaded all my data, I realized just how much of my privacy I had surrendered to this app. In my data download, along with all my photos and captions and stories, were all the phone numbers of friends and family that I stored in my phone, collected by Instagram. My therapists phone number. My husband’s coworkers’ phone numbers . And all those stories I had fearlessly made because they would disappear after 24 hours, putting myself out there on the internet in ridiculous and heartfelt ways – they were all there too.
I hadn’t been a conscious consumer.
It might seem a bit extreme or ridiculous to suggest that we’ve all signed our lives away by naively assuming that smartphones and the Google phenomenon are totally positives advances, but I’ve really started to question if being this “plugged in” is what I want for my future (or my children’s future).
In an issue of Bella Grace magazine, I read an essay titled “An Act of Radical Self-Care” at the same time I was considering leaving social media. Tammy Strobel shares why she was finally able to throw in the towel with social media, and it really challenged me:
I wanted to leave social media, but I didn’t want to leave the social internet . . . Understanding the difference between social media and the social internet helped me quit “free” services like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Social media cost me much more in distraction than it benefited me socially.
“Cal Newport, a computer science professor and author, offered a helpful distinction between the social internet and social media, in an essay titled “On Social Media and Its Discontents.” Cal described the social internet as a way to ” . . .enable good things like connecting people, spreading information, and supporting expression and activism.” Whereas social media privatizes these activities by using personal data to sell my attention to advertisers. As author Catherine Price explained in “How to Break Up With Your Phone,” “The reason that social media apps are free is that we’re not the customers, and the apps aren’t the product. Advertisers are the customers, and our attention is what’s being sold. The more time we spend using social media – and the more personal information we share – the more money we make for someone else.”
Advertisers are the customers.
Our attention is what’s being sold.
Having a friend step away from social media showed me that going offline was possible. Having my anxiety managed meant I didn’t need constant distractions to manage my mental health; I could make changes that were more beneficial for me and think more clearly about how I had been investing my time. I love Instagram, and the people I had been connecting with there. But what was it costing me? Once I wasn’t using social media for hours a day, I didn’t feel so dependent on my smart phone and I started to consider why being ultra-connected online and living our lives tethered to our smart phones is so common place to begin with.
The internet has changed the world, in so many good ways. But that doesn’t mean we are off the hook from being critical consumers, and questioning the “this is how the world works now” mentality. So what if this is how the world works now? We are the consumers – we still have the choice to consciously decide (with our time and our dollars) if this is how we want our world to work. Technology will continue to advance, and we get to decide which parts of it we want integrated into our day to day lives – and into our children’s day to day lives. I want my kids to see parents who value face to face connection, and have our lives reflect that. This article from The Globe and Mail on how social media is affecting our parenting, our attention spans, and our culture was shocking and alarming to read. Read with caution, it could truly change your life and how you view the internet.
I loved being on Instagram. I loved social media. But after the last few weeks of researching and questioning and really observing my life without an online presence, leaving social media doesn’t seem that extreme to me anymore. All the studies on how depression and anxiety increase with social media use don’t seem so inconsequential to me anymore. The fight to be mindful and present in my life and with my kids doesn’t seem so uphill anymore. I know there was value in the time I spent online, I really do, because I never would’ve started this blog if I hadn’t been on Instagram – and I likely wouldn’t have very many readers either. I’m so grateful for the encouragement I received and was able to give, online.
A few people have asked me, “Why not just take a break from social media? Why leave altogether?”
My response: why not? If there’s value in taking a break, if you gain clarity and peace of mind, and more effective use of your time by taking a short break, why not leave altogether? I see the benefit of social media in terms of building businesses, of advertising, of creating online community, of connecting people in a way that they might not otherwise be connected – I really do – but I no longer think those benefits outweigh the cost for me.
If this is something that is resonating with you, I would really encouraging you to read this article for practical steps you can take in living less dependently on your smart phone, or considering downloading Moment to get a better idea of how you’re spending your screen time each day. You don’t have to quit social media all together or all at once to make more conscious choices that benefit you and how you consume media online. If being on social media is benefiting your life right now, that’s ok! I needed to be on Instagram for the time that I was. I have so much love for the many, many women I connected with and respect online, and for the time I spent sharing my life with so many of you on Instagram. And I’ll take all of that goodness with me, off the internet, into my real life. Thank you for that, truly. But leaving social media has also meant leaving behind the let fear that I’ll be forgotten if I’m not online, that my life is too small or mundane to matter to anyone but me, or that I can’t make a difference if I’m not building an online brand. You and I matter, with or without social media ❤️ and we don’t need the followers to prove it.
I’ve snapped out of the silly fear that people won’t find me if I’m not there.
If they care at all, they’ll find me.
Keep doing the work to become your most bodacious self, and subscribe to the blog if you want to do that work with me ❤️