Instagram has been my favorite social media platform for the past six years. I gladly set aside Facebook as my "time waster of choice" to welcome this media outlet. It didn't take long before I was sucked into the abyss of social media ugliness. Toxic, overwhelming and a whole lot like high school.
No hard feelings Instagram. It's not you, it's me. Turns out it's not Facebook's fault either. Social media has a way of bringing out the best and the worst in all of us. I know I'm not the only one who feels this way. I think comedian Louis CK describes this perfectly when he explains, "everything is amazing and nobody is happy."
Instagram is filled with perfectly crafted depictions of life. I repeatedly tell myself this outlet is for the sake of my posterity so why do I feel bad when I see the amazing things others are doing? Why do I care about comments, likes, shares and followers?
Psychologist Sherry Turkle explains this dilemma perfectly, "In order to feel more, and to feel more like ourselves, we connect. But in our rush to connect, we flee from solitude, our ability to be separate and gather ourselves. Lacking the capacity for solitude, we turn to other people but don't experience them as they are. It is as though we use them, need them as spare parts to support our increasingly fragile selves."
We're too busy keeping up with each other online we have no time to connect with ourselves offline. We struggle to remember who we are, where we came from and where we are going. Lost in other people's photos, we lose sight of our own purpose.
I recently attempted a digital detox in an effort to reconnect with myself. It wasn't something I started on purpose - I naturally found myself pulling away little by little. Here are four shocking lessons I learned:
1. Posting on social media doesn't make something you did more real
My child still had a birthday, our family really did go on a hike together, we had an amazing family dinner with the most delicious food and my son learned how to tie his shoes. These things all happened during my digital detox and because I wasn't posting about them it left me feeling like it didn't really happen. In my mind, the event wasn't official unless I posted this information for the world to see. I am unable to enjoy my life for what it actually is because I have a nudging desire to make sure everyone knows the salad I just made was incredible! This was my first clue social media was triggering a self-induced indulgence coma.
2. Followers, likes and engagement has nothing to do with your value as a human being
All the popular Instagrammers remind us of this fact. We believe them when they tell us we need special toothpaste, a particular face wash and new eyelashes so why don't we believe them when they tell us we are all important?
I find myself haunted by those numbers at the top of my profile and the notifications on my phone. Everything on social media can be translated into a numerical value, but our precious souls can't be justified by numbers. Each one of us is beautiful and unique in our own way. No toothpaste, face wash or eyelash set will increase the value of our souls - our true infinite worth.
3. Social media is not for bystanders
You must comment, like, post and engage on social media if you want to feel connection. Just creeping through people's feeds is the equivalent of someone standing on the back porch and exploring the neighborhood with binoculars.
Participating on social media is an important part of using it properly. Towards the end of my digital detox I wasn't ready to make a comeback, but I started scrolling through the feeds of Instagram again. I felt worse about myself. When I took the time to leave a genuine comment or to interact with others, my scrolling had a purpose and I felt a connection.
My detox is over and I'm making my way back on social media. Seeing pictures of family and friends who live far away. Staying updated about former neighbors. Sharing information with classmates and teammates. Knowing about all the best products and deals.
However, no matter how strong our connections feel online, connecting in person feels better. Being able to give a friend a hug. Looking a family member in the eye while talking. Seeing another person's body language. These connections are irreplaceable. Online contact should never take the place of face to face connecting.
Amy Jo Martin, a social media strategist, shares her wisdom, "[social media] can be magical and offer huge benefits when we use it with specific intentions. Positivity can spread just as quickly as negativity." I now plan to use social media with much more intention than I have in the past. I plan to take advantage of the good it has to offer and work harder to ignore the bad.