Kate is a senior in high school from Boulder, Colorado. She is working as a writing and editing intern this fall.
Below are her thoughts on what happened when she deleted social media for a month.
Why I Deleted Social Media
By Kate Gallop
Clicking the small red delete button on the top corner of the Instagram and Snapchat apps felt wrong. I never thought of myself as someone who was glued to their phone. I put it down at lunch, around friends, and during class. I even went without service for a week each summer. So, why was it this hard to click the button that deleted social media?
I was embarrassed to admit that two apps had such an impact on me. I always brushed off statistics I heard about teens spending an average of 9 hours on their phone each day, and opening their phones 157 times thinking, “that’s not me.”
I didn’t realize how wrong I was until I began Offline October.
Offline October was created by high schoolers in Littleton, Colorado who wanted to prevent suicide by fostering face-to-face connection. They believe that social media plays a negative role in teenagers lives, and removing social media will allow people to connect and build stronger friendships. After a few announcements to the high school about Offline October, most of my friends signed the pledge, and people across the other grades did too. It was easier to stay off of social media when the people around me were doing the same.
“I find that when I am bored, social media is something that I will turn to and mindlessly scroll through, wasting away time. Offline October was an amazing opportunity because I was able to get off of social media and spend time interacting with those around me instead.”~ Sophie, 18.
I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t hard to go off of social media. It was how I imagine quitting any addiction would be. I found myself not knowing what to do with my hands when I was waiting in line or an awkward silence came up in conversation. I initially opened my phone as much as I previously had, but my fingers hovered above the familiar screen, not quite sure what to do next. I even cheated once, it was after the first week and I went on instagram.com, logged onto my Instagram, scrolled for a minute, then asked myself what was I doing and exited out of it.
It was worse at home when I wasn’t surrounded by people. I felt isolated from everyone I would’ve usually seen or talked with on social media. Distracting myself with homework helped, but I still had a distinct fear that I was missing out on something. Although many people decided to take part in offline October, the majority was still on social media and talked about things people had posted at school. Over the weekend, I felt out of the loop because I didn’t know who was hanging out like I normally did.
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact day my attitude changed because it was a gradual shift. I stopped taking my phone everywhere with me. I started asking people I usually didn’t talk to about themselves, instead of seeing their curated content online and assuming nothing more was happening. At first, I didn’t tie any of that with Offline October. All I knew was that I was happier.
“After you get over the hump you don’t miss it. It feels good to know that social media is something I can thrive without.” ~ Emily 18
Without Instagram, I stopped judging others and myself as harshly. It was never a conscious thing. I recognized that as I would absentmindedly scroll through photos of people looking gorgeous, skinny and happy, strong bursts of jealousy and self-doubt would creep up. These feelings, that I rarely experienced when being around someone in person, were magnified online. I viewed everyone else’s lives as seemingly perfect because that’s what they portrayed.
In the prime of my social media usage, I found myself Snapchatting people less on the days I didn’t wear makeup or I was breaking out. Sending others constant pictures of my face made me insecure, and I found myself focusing less on how I looked when I didn’t have Snapchat as a constant mirror.
Of course, I didn’t notice any of these things in the moment. I only knew that the month of October held some of the fondest memories I’d had in a long time. My friends and I carved pumpkins, watched scary movies, went on hikes, and roasted marshmallows together. We did something fun almost every weekend, and I became close to people I usually didn’t try to connect with. It’s only after further contemplation that I understand how incredibly different the memories would’ve been if everyone was distracted by their phones.
By the time November 1st came around, I wasn’t looking forward to redownloading social media, but part of me was curious if it would seem different. Another smaller part still itched to see what people had posted, so I redownloaded social media.
Scrolling through Instagram and opening Snapchats, I had a new lens. It didn’t matter to me anymore. I saw people traveling to exotic places, looking amazing in their bathing suits, and laughing with friends at parties, but I finally saw it all as it is: fake.
“I don’t miss social media. I redownloaded it on the first day of November and then I deleted it again. I don’t think it adds anything to my life.” ~ Heather, 17
I scrolled through my own Instagram, thinking of the real story behind each photo. Some show me smiling and ‘happy’ with a group of old friends that I never laughed with aside from these forced moments captured by cameras. We used to drive up to the top of a mountain near our houses, not to enjoy the incredible view, but to take photos in front of it. I remember how long it took me to pick out and edit each picture, the extent to which I drafted clever captions, and checking my phone constantly after posting, to see how many likes and comments it got. It’s confusing how much two apps could influence my mental health.
My relationships with friends were strengthened over the course of Offline October because we were able to spend real time with each other, undistracted by notifications on our phones. I interact with the apps more consciously now because I know how they can make me feel. I have realized I don’t want to be impacted in the same way again.
If you have any questions for Kate feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org
At Cultures of Dignity we are excited to have joined Mazu, a new social media platform for connecting families that focuses on mindfulness and positive core values in our communities. Our community page on Mazu serves as a place for youth, parents, and educators to aks questions and wonder about the things that happen in school (and other places too) but isn’t really taught. We’ll be asking questions and we hope you do to!