In the late 2000’s, a co-worker was smitten in a new relationship. It blossomed quickly, and co-living was soon on the table. Shock for how quickly they committed to sharing the same bathroom was thrown to the curb when I learned there would be no television in their new cohabitation. Her partner did not believe in television. Therefore, no tube. I was twenty-three and living alone so the mere thought of no television made me shudder with boredom. Without my Panasonic PV-C1320 13″ TV VCR Combo, my apartment was a padded cell by another name.
How she cut cold turkey was beyond my early twenty-something understandings. The thing which stuck with me most was the certainty in her decision. She was brighter when explaining her new lifestyle, like those lost years of watching a technicolor sound box came back in the form of flawless skin and a white smile. Was this the key to youth and happiness? Sadly, this coworker and I did not stay in touch once we did not share an employer. I wonder if she still lives a sitcom-free life or has Netflix entered her life? My TV has only upgraded, along with my cable bill (damn live sports).
This narrative came to mind as I was battling February’s trendsetter, the flu. Trends do not always find me, but the flu found me and camped out temporarily. Once I emerged from the fever-inducing oblivion, I thought there was no better time to go on a social media diet. Due to winter’s hibernation and a slower work schedule, social media ruled my time more than I comfortable admitting. We aren’t talking about the positive engagement digital content creators make look easy. We are talking about the rabbit hole which led me to watch all 11:32 of Kylie Jenner’s “To Our Daughter” video. Yes, me and 55 million others, but I do not keep up with the Kardashian’s in my non-social media-obsessed world. I leave that work to my friends. Mindless scrolls led to monitoring Roxane Gay’s twitter as she called out grossly negative comments and then watching the subsequent contempt unfold. I traveled back to my first Facebook profile picture wishing I never entered a tanning booth. Make it stop!
Unlike my co-worker, I didn’t cut social media out of my life completely (though the idea was on the table for an hour), but a diet was in order to restore a healthy relationship (and who knew, maybe it would make my skin glow). As I continued down recovery road over the next week, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter would not be engaged. I wrote an out-of-office caption and deleted all three apps from my phone understanding I did not have the restraint to not open them.
The next week was an experiment of self-analysis. The biggest (and most horrifying) takeaway was the magnitude of my use, especially Instagram. When there was a lapse in conversation with Ben, I would subconsciously reach for my phone and press the space where Instagram was once housed. A commercial break, in between chapters of a book, even during the “big reveal” on Fixer Upper – there I was reaching for Instagram with no intention or thought. Instagram was no better than a filler word. It was the meaningless string in my life building small hesitations into a big waste of time.
Around day three, I panicked in my pajamas. I once took pride in my self-control with social media, or at least, I did at one-point pre-flu. When did I lose it? Being quarantined certainly didn’t help my use, but sadly, the intentional use of social media crumbled before the first cough. This diet, once an act of defiance, now became an act of mindfulness. Once filler words are identified in speech, a mental detector is set into motion. When I use “like” and “ya know” (my nemesis in speech), a hesitancy emerges. My mind is trying to halt the routine. It is difficult. Filler words are familiar and comfortable because of the sheer repetition of use. To rid them, a new routine must replace it. As the week continued, I made mental and physical notes each time I reached for the phone. Acknowledging when I looked for stimulation led to its gradual decrease. It is not a proven scientific method, but by the end of the week, my phone’s whereabouts were not a top priority. The fact I could alter, even slightly, my use in a week’s time gave me hope.
An internal dialogue began brewing and I found myself asking why I use Instagram. Outside of sharing my writing and creative projects, why do I need it? My first thought was inspiration. Truth is, I found hordes of inspiration on my hiatus, from articles and magazines to books and podcasts to Sudoku (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it). Inspiration seems full steam ahead.
Around day four or five I realized a whole 48 hours passed and I did not talk to anyone outside of Ben. I was perfectly capable of calling and texting, but I didn’t. It became clear Instagram served as a space for daily interaction with friends and colleagues. This is not a surprise in the digital age, but it was a disappointment for me. Up until this hiatus, social media interaction was, to a degree, impersonal. It would never reach the intrinsic level of physical interaction. Commenting on a post is flattering and appreciative, but to relay the same message in person left an everlasting stamp on my heart. I then had to take a sharp turn and look at the comments, likes, DM’s I’ve thrown into the digital universe. These weren’t impersonal pieces of bait fishing for a response. They were genuine snapshots of concern, encouragement, and support. How can I expect others to value my digital support, if I devalue it in comparison to face-to-face engagement?
My relationship with social media needs to evolve. Time to own my involvement with it. I’ve lived without social media more than I have lived with it. Facebook entered the scene during my sophomore year in college when I was a delicate 20 years old. Instagram entered a couple of years later. It is one of the reasons social media has walked this Jekyll and Hyde tightrope. I didn’t grow up with it; therefore, it wasn’t a root I needed to care for. Though my engagement with these applications increased over the years, I held it at an arm’s length. The detachment allowed me to distance myself from the perceived negatives, such as social media is narcissistic. (This point is mute, however, because I am a writer. Of course, I am a narcissist.) Outside perspectives and opinions are as common as the air we breathe. They are not going anywhere. It is up to me to exhale those which do not apply to me. It is up to me to make social media a positive fit in my life.
I want Instagram to be one of intrigue in my friend’s lives, curiosity in other’s creative journeys (new and old) and glimpses of my creative insight. It is not the entirety of who I am, but it is an important part. Shame on social media no more. Of course, practice makes improvement. Acknowledging the value social media plays in my life, especially my creative side, and ensuring time spent is not empty time will be a mindful practice until it becomes, like, ya know, routine. I will experience the rabbit hole Kardashian dive or an envy dagger (I may be immune to the flu now, but I am not immune to comparison); but by defining the role social media plays in my life, I bring attention to them. With this surveillance, hopefully, the mindless scrolling and idle time will decrease. Social media will settle into a space where it stimulates more often than it drains. And, like all aspects which create the collective me, there is always room for a diet, a break, to bring you back to balance.
The real question, when you see me after my week hiatus, how does my skin look?