Over the past few months, I began to notice a trend in my daily routine. Every time I clicked on Instagram, Facebook, or Snapchat, I felt a slight twinge in the pit of my stomach. Looking through endless sun-drenched, perfectly posed photos was a daily reminder that other people’s lives seemed more successful (and more aesthetically pleasing) than my own.
Using social media had become an ingrained habit, like mindlessly eating ice cream in front of this week’s “Game of Thrones” episode. I would find my finger hovering over the Instagram app subconsciously, checking it multiple times without knowing why, and logging off feeling as queasy as if I really had eaten one too many scoops of Rocky Road. And so this summer, I decided to stop logging on altogether.
It’s been a little over a month since I’ve checked my social media. I haven’t seen any “candid” beach photos or Snapchat filter selfies—please tell me they’ve brought back the rainbow-vomit one—and I am astounded by how little I long to go back.
The transformation was subtle, but immediate. My mind drained out the clutter that social media had provided, the persistent notifications no longer filled my phone, the aches of jealousy eased. Little gaps in my day, once taken up by social media, suddenly became moments of introspection. My morning and evening subway rides were now chances to sample new music (and by new, I mean classic 90s R&B), rather than scroll through all my accounts.
My self-esteem shot up when I stopped having an endless onslaught of the best angles of countless people’s lives to compare to myself. I had cobbled together these snapshots into some sort of Frankenstein's monster of the perfect person. Some on social media were beautiful, some brilliant, some funny, some fashionable, and they blurred together in my mind until it felt like I had to be all of those people at once. And even then, someone, somewhere, would have cuter shoes than me.
What has surprised me the most, however, is how little abandoning social media has affected my relationships with the people I care about. If anything, it has strengthened them. I made a distinction between apps that allowed me to communicate with friends and apps that, while using the nebulous term “social media,” in reality show us little more than curated content from a range of acquaintances and strangers.
I logged out of my Facebook newsfeed, but I kept Messenger. I shut down Instagram and Snapchat, but I kept GroupMe. There’s now a purpose to when I go online—a specific conversation to continue rather than an endless feed to scroll through. The people I care about are as present as ever, and if anything there’s an added pleasure in hearing about their vacations firsthand rather than through a heavily filtered photo album. I’ve quit social media, not being social.
There’s been numerous, and often preachy, articles and studies on social media’s negative impact on teen mental health. This impact has been discussed so frequently that it seems redundant to do so again, but social media’s power is compounded at a place like Harvard. There is no greater platform for self-promotion, and in this sea of content, even the most overachieving overachiever can feel as if they’re drowning. Want to feel like your slew of accomplishments aren’t enough? With social media, the profiles of a dozen “smarter” people are at your fingertips, often complete with a regular stream of humblebrags. I don’t mean to criticize social media users; I understand the pressure to put on a certain persona online. Yet by constantly trying to keep up appearances, social media can feel like a competition. People try to outdo each other with the quality and rate of their posts, but for what prize?
Now, however, by deliberately thinking about how I use social media, the need to compare myself has faded slightly. When my friends excitedly share their accomplishments with me, I feel genuinely ecstatic for them. As the summer ends and the need to stay connected to college life through apps like Facebook rises, I may have to dig out my old account passwords and log back in. But pressing pause on social media has done exactly what any vacation ought to do: cleared my head and refocused my perspective. Better yet, this is one vacation that didn’t give me a sunburn.
Jenna M. Wong ’20 is a Crimson editorial editor in Kirkland House.
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