Right now, I know too much. I know the first, middle, and last names of all the children and husbands of the “career women” I follow on Instagram. I know what they wore today, what their kids ate for lunch, and what they bought at Target, among other useless information. I follow these women because next to the useless pieces of information are often golden nuggets of encouragement and wisdom, information that helps me through my day and makes me feel good. But this game of learning through social media is overwhelming, distracting, and, ultimately, an oxymoron. While I crave support and good ideas to help me better navigate my day, I despise having to know about the mundane details of these stranger’s lives. I hate seeing that instead of being fully engaged with their children, these Public Figures choose to hop on Instagram and tell me about all the work they have to do, or to post a picture of their Starbucks next to their expensive Macbook Pro. I DON’T WANT TO KNOW THAT STUFF! I want to know less, I want to know only what is important. It’s why on my own blog I do not provide a roll call of my family’s names or oodles of pictures of us doing nothing important (but making it look super cool for Instagram); it’s why I only post when I feel there is something useful to share.
Checking social media is an addiction, I’ve come to realize: it provides an escape from reality and, when I resurface, I have no idea what just happened around me. If I’m bored, waiting for my turn in an office waiting room, checking out is not a problem because there’s nothing to miss (though one could argue there is plenty to miss there, too). But when I’m at home and could be engaging with my son, it’s a problem. I feel nothing but guilt and remorse for missing out on this real, precious life. Furthermore, I feel sad that I gave up an opportunity for a happy moment in my life in order to learn about someone else’s stupid happy life, or worse, someone else’s stupid complaints and negativity. Either way, I wind up feeling worse for having been on social media than if I had just chosen to stay present.
Social media is terrible for seeing into the lives of others and believing that those lives are more magical than our own. Social media causes me to miss out on my own real life when I’m contemplating the life of a stranger through rose-colored glasses.
I want to be intimate with my personal life, not longing for something that’s manufactured for me to consume. When I get annoyed by how social media has become the cornerstone of society, I find myself longing for life as it was before it took over. Remember when someone explained MySpace to you and your initial reaction was, “WTF, why?!”? That was me, too. And that was me for everything else that has come to social media since. I need to distance myself from this world of images that make me feel envious. I want to only consume the best wisdom blogging and media platforms can produce, without sacrificing my sanity and learning how many Starbucks coffees a person I’ll never meet had in a week.
I want to just live real life, without subconsciously overlapping and comparing another’s life with my own.
With these concerns in mind, I’ve formulated the following plan to maintain healthy boundaries with social media:
Hide the app from myself. I have a folder that hosts the few apps I hardly use. I’ve moved Instagram in there so that it’s completely out of sight. When I do decided to go on it, I have to open that folder first. Some social media detoxes will have you delete the app from your phone so that you have to re-download it every time you decide you’re ready to get back on it. I feel like that is a bit excessive and this method gets the job done just as well. The barrier of the separate folder gives me enough time to consider whether or not it’s appropriate to check out from my life and enter the social media vacuum.
Work through each real life moment as it presents itself. Yes, I will get bored. No, that does not mean I need to escape the boredom via social media. Boredom passes just as quickly as it arises, so why not just let it be?
Embrace simplicity. What I value most about pre-smart phone times was that we only had what was in front of us physically, and I want to get back to that.
Finally, I want to stop caring about stranger’s lives. This is truly the only thing that keeps social media running and keeps everyone addicted. But caring about what happens in a stranger’s day is keeping me from caring about what happens in my own day. Once I get unhooked, I can move on with living my own real, beautiful life. And that is the most important post of all.
*For an update on this topic, please read Living Off the Grid.