Despite what some people may think – Millennials were not born into a world of constant connection, addictive technology and the never-ending pull of the attention economy.
I can still remember the rotary dial phone that used to sit beside my mom’s bed in our “twisty stair house”. I remember living rooms without televisions… and televisions without cable. I remember our first computer ever, and everything it couldn’t do. I grew up knocking on my best friend’s door asking her if she wanted to come out and play.
As I approached my teenage years – I’ll admit we spent far too many hours waiting for the boys we liked to come online on MSN Messenger or building entire worlds playing The Sims. But in all honesty, the majority of our time together was spent laying in bed listening to music (yes… entire albums), getting lost in the woods, riding our bikes to the mall, laughing for hours under the shade of the big tree at our old school and spending actual quality time together. And up until my later teens, there was no way to get a hold of someone unless they answered the door or answered the phone.
I remember the first time I heard about Facebook. This girl at my school started using it and kept telling me I needed to get on it. At the time I assumed it was just another version of MySpace… something I’d never been interested in, so why would I bother with this?
But as it goes, the more people that started to use it, the more enticing it became. And as brutal as this platform has become today, let’s not kid ourselves, it was never a healthy platform to begin with.
Does anybody remember the ‘honesty box’? Yeah, you know the one. Honesty box was that great tool where people could anonymously message you horrendous things that they wouldn’t dare say to your face. And so began the whirlwind of cyber bullying. Some of the messages I received on there cut me so deep and tore at my insecurities in a million ways. And yet, it didn’t stop me from spending my time in this virtual space.
There was something about Facebook – despite its flaws we all became drawn to it. At the time I never thought twice about why I was using it, how I was using it, or any impact that it may have on my life. For myself, and I’m sure most people, it was a place where I felt just a little bit famous – I had a platform, I had a voice, and people were paying attention to me. Isn’t that every teenage girl’s biggest desire? To really feel seen and heard? Even if it’s just a fabricated version of yourself?
And it’s only gotten worse as we age – now these special moments like first jobs, engagements, houses, marriage, babies… it’s not real if its not posted. And we measure our value by the number of likes we get. We’ve reduced ourselves to a measure of double taps.
And we know how this story goes – the gods of social media figured out ways to make those addictive parts of our brain light up with the fury of a thousand suns. They figured out how to play our insecurities against us. And like any great addiction they became the only antidote to the problem they created.
Twitter, Instagram, Tik Tok (and all its iterations before) are all different facets of the same beast. They study what makes us overjoyed, insecure, proud, angry, depressed – and they play on these very real emotions, in a space of their own making.
I’m just going to call it – these are some fucked up platforms.
And we know this! The public discourse on the problems with these these platforms are in abundance these days. But you know what really frustrates me about the conversation? The criticism I hear from (more often than not) older generations – and I’m calling you on it (yes you!) and asking for a little empathy.
Us Millennials? We weren’t prepared for the onslaught of social media.
We were never given the tools to navigate these insanely innovative and beautifully terrifying worlds.
We’ve been thrown into the deep end and are criticized for staying in the water – but we have no ladder, no floaty, no way out it seems…
People are literally losing precious moments of life. (p.s. If you haven’t tracked and checked your social media usage on your phone… or screen time in general… you should check it. You’ll shit your pants. I guarantee it).
I started questioning my use of new-age tech near the beginning of the pandemic. I was sitting in the hospital, watching my grandfather die… and being bombarded with messaging on social media. The world was going up in flames (literally), the pandemic was spreading across the globe at an unbelievable rate (and people were dying daily) and too many white people were treating the murder of George Floydd like some sensational trend.
I was exhausted.
Now don’t get me wrong – I was not exhausted by what the world needed (and still needs). Maintaining my awareness of injustice in the world, and doing what I can to create positive change, has been a commitment of mine for a long time. What I couldn’t stand was everyone else’s use of these platforms as if it were somehow a real solution to the problems that exist in the world (especially those with privilege… cue eye roll). As if by flooding feeds with trauma porn would somehow make up for their previous lack of knowledge, effort and action.
Now I’m not making light of the power of these platforms. They can be incredible tools to disseminate information, transfer knowledge and move people to act… but the key here is that people must act.
I wasn’t tired of the messages that were being shared on these platforms.
I was tired of the ‘slacktivism’. I was tired of people using social media as a cop out for actually doing something worthwhile.
This feeling of overwhelm and exhaustion, coupled with the fact that due to the pandemic I had nowhere to go and nothing to share made me just sort of… stop. And it felt nice.
I turned my phone off, I bought a great book called Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport, and I just stopped scrolling. I deleted all social media from my phone – yes there was a time or two I popped on because of an event or something my partner asked me to share for his business. But all in all, I cut the obsession, the addiction. And let me tell you – you don’t think it’s a problem until you cut it out of your life.
Since I stopped going on social media here’s what I’ve learned.
Social media was feeding my insecurities – as is no surprise to any of you I’m sure, constantly watching other people’s lives does nothing but make me question my own – my successes, my relationships, my appearance, my health, and yes even how much I contribute to the world around me.
I was feeling overwhelmed by the constant connection – I felt this impossible pressure to keep up – to keep posting, keep responding, stay in the loop. It was an amount of connection I couldn’t possibly maintain.
Social media was actually making me more angry than joyful – I was angry about how so many people used these platforms to promote and support colonial systems, racism, sexism, homophobia, you name it. I despised (and still despise) that people can connect with online communities that breed hate and violence.
And on the flip side, I realized how angry I was about the surface level bullshit good people spewed in place of real action. (And if it’s not clear yet… let me give it to you straight… supporting causes on social media is great. But it is not enough. End of story.)
AND I was losing life and a real sense of self. The amount of hours spent scrolling and watching other people’s lives when I could have been living my own had started to weigh heavily on me.
But when I stopped? Man.. I’m about to get real dramatic here.. But it felt like breaking free from shackles. When the urge to scroll finally went away I actually felt so much more human than I have in a long time. I felt like an individual. I was not a brand. I was not a reaction to things happening in my feed. My thoughts started to become my own again. And this immense amount of anxiety that I didn’t even realize was there started to slowly lift away.
I became more aware of my own self-care.
I became more aware of how I wanted to engage with friends and family, knowing that I couldn’t simply ‘keep up’ by checking their Instagram.
It’s been over a year and I still don’t know what I want my relationship with social media to be like. I have popped on a time or two when I had no other options – and when I have I can immediately feel the anxiety start to bubble up. I have felt so good being away that the idea of being back on feels a bit scary. I don’t want to lose all that I have gained. I don’t want to get swallowed up into the Meta and lose my humanity. I feel as though I am just starting to gain it back.
I know that social media has its many benefits – and in the sector I am in, doing the work that I do, I know the power of social media and the good that it can create. But anytime we want to create good – it has to be done with intention. And if I’m going to be honest with you, scrolling hardly happens with intention and hardly ever ends with action. I need time to really digest what I want that relationship to look like and how I can navigate these platforms so that they align with my values and how I want to exist in this world – both on and offline.
And I don’t think I am quite there yet.
So what now? Well, I encourage you to try it out – and to be honest with you – this shit is a straight addiction and at least for me, it took intention, focus and a lot of determination. But I know you can do it.
Maybe you’re reading this and thinking ‘relax girl. It’s just an app.’ and maybe you feel like the time you spend on social media contributes to you in a real way. Maybe you feel like it elevates your life and sense of being. If that’s the case, good on you. You do you.
But if you’re reading this thinking hmm… I see a little of myself in that. I dare you to stop scrolling. Just for a little while. See how it feels.
p.s. If you found this post because someone else shared in on their social media – just let the irony go 😉
p.p.s. If you do decide to stop scrolling – don’t allow yourself to become disengaged and complacent with what is happening in the world – find ways to connect, listen and learn. Figure out what activism and allyship really means and do something real.