In a world largely taken by logging in, signing up, subscribing, registering, accompanied by the struggle to figure out a distinct and creative username along with a password that is strong in terms of how many special characters it has, I made the decision to quit social media, in March 2020.
How did I reach this decision?
I started evaluating my life in the context of social media and the Internet. After two years of activity, where it provided me with enthralling and time filling entertainment, it no longer had that effect… especially in the stationary pandemic-fueled life which I was living.
Everything about it became repulsive. I looked at my feed, saw all the aesthetic photographs with poetic captions I had put up and the only feeling I got was as if I was maintaining a persona unlike who I really am, for the Internet.
My opinion posts about politics and issues made me feel like I was jumping on bandwagons because I wanted to follow the trend of having an opinion, instead of honestly sharing my thoughts.
I remember after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won the elections in 2019, it caused a flurry of outrage from people who did not want it to win, people who I followed. While my political inclination was also the same as them, I didn’t really have a problem with the BJP’s victory to the extent where I had something to say about it.
But, seeing everyone around me being dismissive of their victory, I put up an Instagram story doing the same. It felt alien doing that because my opinions were always reserved for three places: the debating podium, my personal circle and for my own pondering.
Slowly, social media started seeming toxic. It constantly felt like I was oversharing parts of my life for the sake of online activity. My experiences lacked authenticity because in every eventful moment, I had the crave of documenting it instead of living it.
Going to a new restaurant to meet a friend? I took out my phone and posted a photo about it. Sitting on my terrace and seeing a sunset? My mind automatically told me that it was an Instagram post-worthy moment. Everything became about sharing online or doing it so that I could share it online.
Living started feeling like I was trying to put on a show for the viewers. These realisations brought me to a point where I craved privacy and the room to breathe.
I yearned to take time off… To really understand how much my personality and mental health had been affected. I wanted to be forgotten and forget this unreal persona of me on the Internet.
If I have to describe the feeling I got after leaving Instagram and Facebook (the two main platforms I had created profiles on), I would probably compare it to driving in the opposite direction on a one-way road. It was almost strange, the feeling of disconnect and the withdrawal I felt in the first few weeks.
I could no longer be regularly updated on my friends’ day-to-day lives. There was no scope of connecting with new people online or being aware of what was going on in the world; because social media was the biggest source of connection, entertainment and awareness in my life and I no longer had it.
That’s just how omnipresent social media is. This feeling was most recently reinforced when I was trying to find people who had taken similar indefinite breaks like me for this piece and I was unable to find anyone in my immediate circles. Not being a part of social media can often feel out of the ordinary.
Eventually, the feelings of my FOMO (fear of missing out) subsided. Feeling a lack of connection transformed into a realisation of how much time I could devote to myself now.
The lack of entertainment was overtaken by reading books gathering dust on my book shelf. I read “All The Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr and “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” by Raymond Carver, among many others.
I ended up watching all the movies that I had saved for a never-coming later. Some of them include “Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind”, “Goodfellas”, “Nightcrawler” etc.
As for awareness, I could now be selective about what kind of news and matters I wanted to be exposed to.
I started living life and experiencing things for the sake of my own satisfaction. Life became less about filters and more about filtering out the unnecessary white noise created by social media for me. Life changed in ways where every experience felt real and I was completely absorbed in them.
I started sleeping better, stopped wasting endless hours on my phone and in turn, picked up new things to try and do. It was at this time that I discovered my love for cooking. Being in the kitchen, trying to whip up something innovative or… for the most part in the beginning, something burnt.
Exercise became an integral part of my daily routine because I suddenly found the time to devote to it. These habits added to a new healthy lifestyle that I had inculcated. My mental and physical health, which was bogged down until now, felt uplifted.
This piece is not my plea to the world to completely give up on social media. In fact, I would even go as far to say that exposure to it at some level is advisable.
I believe so because it is an environment that, at the end of the day, provides a lot of opportunities, resources and connections that old school networking can no longer match.
I am, however, a proponent of taking regular breaks from it. I think when your online life starts interfering with your offline one, logging off is probably in your best interest.
Taking a breather, away from the everyday rush of leading a social media life, is a remedy I would suggest to everyone who has experienced what I have described earlier. I hope that no one ever does, though. I hope it is a space where you can feel safe and be a version of yourself that you can accept.