The Oxford English Dictionary defines a persona as “the aspect of someone’s character that is presented to or perceived by others.” I have had more than my fair share of social media personas over the last few years. I have invented and maintained identifies that I wanted people to see – to believe – in an effort to make it seem like I have my life together, to seem like I am happy and popular and confident. It has often been the case that the reality was the total opposite. Things came to a head recently, and I decided to take myself off Facebook permanently, to delete Snapchat and to severely limit my use of Instagram.
I want to make it very clear that I am not comprehensively criticising the use of social media. My following thoughts are only relevant to my own experiences – I am very aware that social media has a wonderful presence. It can be an incredible platform to inspire others, share essential information quickly to a huge audience, share things with people you care about, and even develop your career. If social media makes you happy, or even if it simply doesn’t negatively affect you, then use it, absolutely.
However, I myself have had a difficult relationship with social media. The personas that I have created over the years have not reflected the entirety of who I am as a person. Instead they have been warped reflections of my attempts to define who I am – to fit myself into a box and define myself – before I am mature and experienced enough to not only know, but to be confident in, my identity. So, I decided to remove the problem: I deleted it.
WHAT HAVE I LEARNED?
1. How pervasive social media can be (and that the FOMO wasn’t as bad as I thought).
The week before I deleted my Facebook, I did a trial in which I just didn’t use it. For the whole time I had this huge, genuine, anxiety of missing out on things – on events, on funny stories, on memes, on drama. This fear went pretty quickly when I realised that the people who really did care about me – actually liked me, rather than just provided internet likes – would make that effort to keep me in the loop. I still had WhatsApp!
When I logged back in after that week, though, to save all my photos etc. etc. I found myself scrolling and scrolling through the home feed. It was at least an hour later when I realised what was happening and closed the laptop. I hadn’t missed the site at all during that week, but within an hour I was hooked again. Scary, huh? While it was lovely to see some photos from friends who are travelling, the majority of my feed was daft videos, (admittedly fire) selfies, and adverts, none of which enrich my life all that much.
2. By disconnecting from a social network I have reconnected with my friends.
I can’t express how nice it is to hear some news and be genuinely surprised, or excited, by it, rather than replying with, ‘yeah, I saw that on Facebook.’ I’ve started to receive and send letters, which is far more exciting to see that a Messenger notification. I now have to think and plan for people’s birthdays, rather than a half-arsed, ‘happy birthday!’ on their Facebook wall (and only done when Facebook reminds me) and now communicating with people is a meaningful and enjoyable experience, rather than a shitty ‘like’ over the internet.
3. It’s nice to have some anonymity.
I like the idea that people I meet won’t already have a preformed idea of who I am in their heads. If someone wants to get to know me, they will have to make that effort rather than give me a quick search on Facebook. People won’t know my news unless I choose to tell them, and that choice is really empowering.
4. There is SO much time in the day.
Before deleting my accounts, my morning routine was to wake up, check Facebook, check Instagram and check Snapchat. Then do it again. Then get up and scroll through them while I ate breakfast. Before bed I would check them all at least three times, and maybe again if I woke up in the night. My instinctive reaction when I was in a waiting room, or at a bus stop, or in the car (not driving!) was to open Facebook, or Snapchat – to look down and check my phone.
Now in the mornings I scroll through the news. I always have a book in my bag to read when I’m waiting or bored and I’ve rediscovered my love of music (both playing and listening). I have started to draw more, to look up – to remind myself of what I love and do things that enrich me as a human, rather than makes me compare my own activities to what others are doing and feel like I should be doing the same. I have regained literal hours of my day.
5. I actually quite like my face. Or at least I don’t care enough to dislike it.
Since removing myself from Facebook two weeks ago, and I have only taken one selfie. I am neither saying this is good or bad, but personally I used to take a lot more (at least 50 for every I posted to Instagram or Facebook, probably around three or four times a week) and way more over Snapchat every day. Like I said earlier, I am an avid supporter of selfies in themselves, but I was 100% doing it for other people’s validation. This time, this singular time, was because I felt really good that day and I wanted to share it. It was entirely for me and, unlike before, I wasn’t checking every few minutes to see how many likes it had gotten, and who those likers were.
I have also found that I’m wearing way less make up day to day – putting it on is not a reflex, but an effort for an occasion. Again, I am in no way saying people shouldn’t wear make-up, but it was armour for me, and now I haven’t felt the need to wear it as much. I haven’t often felt the need to look at myself, or study my face in the same way I used to, but when I do I like what I see in the mirror, something I never thought I’d say.
6. I no longer using dating (cough-hook-up) apps.
Arguably, this might be because you need a Facebook account to use Tinder and Bumble. And I won’t pretend that I haven’t been tempted. But not being able to has been a blessing, because while I have used both apps in the past (and had both really awful and really great experiences) and wouldn’t change that, I’m at a stage in my life now where I would like to meet someone organically, through common interests, mutual friends or even by chance. I don’t want to be judged immediately by my face (although it could be suggested that happens in real life too) or analysing which of my pictures might get the best reactions.
I want to feel natural and positive when dating – to know that someone is interested in me rather than wondering what their definition of ‘casual’ will be. I don’t want to be second-guessing what I type, receiving creepy chat up lines or judging someone on a few pictures. Let’s hang out in real life.
7. My phone battery lasts way longer!
This doesn’t really need further explanation, but now my iPhone will last up to two days once it’s fully charged.
8. Social media definitely isn’t all bad.
There are some things I miss. I miss the convenience of contacting people, especially those I met when I was travelling. I miss being able to share articles, news, and opinions within a ready-made, prepared-to-read community. I miss being able to see pictures that people I love share remotely.
But, all of these things have solutions. They may not be as simple, or quick, but in an age of instant gratification I don’t think that’s such a bad thing. I’m not suggesting that you all go cold-turkey and shut off your Facebook’s, or Snapchat’s. But maybe just take a day or two away from it. Realise how much more time you’ll have in a day, rediscover a hobby that you used to love, or think about who you care about seeing into your personal life.