You may have noticed, or perhaps you have not, but I’ve essentially disappeared from the Internet.
As you read this clearly-written-on-the-Internet essay, you may be saying, “What?”
I still have a Facebook account, because it’s my livelihood and my connection to most of my family. My friend list is short and my posts are few and far between. However, my Instagram is gone and my Twitter is too. My personal blog is password-protected and I will continue to write there – for myself, for now. I’ll also tend to things here because this space is bigger than me. I’m attempting to draw the line between work and self. It’s a struggle.
The truth is, and it’s really this simple: social media makes me incredibly unhappy. While admitting this, I felt like, maybe I’m not alone and maybe the readers of this site would be interested in this. There’s something there – some reason we all need to unplug and detox and let go. It must be harmful? But, for better or worse, I can never truly disappear from the Internet because I have made it my life’s work to connect with others.
But it wasn’t always this way…
It was the summer before college. My then-boyfriend and I were sitting on his front steps. It was warm and we were so young. We had cellphones, of course, and we loved to use Instant Messenger to see what our friends were doing – but mostly, we were all together, all the time. His house or mine, their house or theirs. We drank in basements and we played guitar hero and we broke into pools when it was dark and too hot for anything else. When I was home, I would write in a journal or a word document and save it for no one. We were free in the true sense of the word.
There, on the steps, our innocence and our privacy and our self-awareness was so tangible. We were fully engulfed in every moment, or we weren’t in a moment at all. But we didn’t care – we didn’t know what was going on without us, no feed to tell us what we were missing.
A few days later, we received our college email addresses and moments later, signed up for our first Facebook accounts. And it ruined us.
We would have been ruined anyway – but it ruined us fast and hard and it made the moving on part so fucking impossible.
The posts and the photos, his college life there and mine somewhere else. We had to watch the other person grow, in vivid detail, without us. We were happy to move on, but to watch someone else? It didn’t seem fair. We had to watch them grow apart and then deny it, and then admit it. And it made us miserable. Every day was like a self-operated torture cycle of signing on and breaking down.
It’s now been eight years, and though the pain of that first social-media fueled heartbreak is long gone, the memories live on. The concept remains. Sometimes, I will stumble upon a photo of my now-husband and his then-girlfriend, or an old friend having fun, and I try to imagine if it was hard for them, too. But it’s better if I don’t.
Since the first time I signed onto Facebook, and every app I’ve downloaded since, each milestone has been a little bittersweet. Social media has taken my good times and placed them up against yours in a virtual who wore it/planned it/got it/had it best. And that part isn’t about you. It’s about me. It’s my weakness. It takes a person, much stronger than myself, to look at social media and not flinch at least three times a day.
In my mid-twenties, with seemingly everything I could have ever wanted, how could I be so uncomfortable, so ungrateful?
And I realized it wasn’t about me – it was about you. Not you. But the general you – out there. You with everything I don’t have. Always a click away.
It’s now been three weeks since I stepped away, and sometimes, if I don’t think about it too much, I’m back on those steps. My privacy and innocence, intact. And when I look around, when I take stock of what’s right here: I have everything I need and I feel free.