Older generations like to criticize young people’s social media use, and many of us like to defend it because social media connects people in a way that’s never been more efficient and creative. However, our incessant need to look carefree, successful, and happy has led Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to become a curated highlight reel in which your “likes” are highly impactful to your self-esteem.
You may be thinking this does not apply to you, or that it is silly to think “likes” are any measure of self-worth. If you’re one of these people, I applaud you and your ability to disregard the constant pressure to appear a certain way online. But for many people, it is difficult to ignore all the notifications on our phones that are always in our pockets. You may even feel like your life would be better off if you could take a break from social media altogether. Here are some signs that you should go on a social media detox.
1. You obsess over your Instagram numbers
Whether it’s your following to follower ratio or the amount of “likes” you’re getting, you’re overthinking it, and it may not be healthy. You may think getting a certain amount of likes on Instagram is indicative of your social status, but it does not indicate the authenticity of your friendships. Let’s be real—the average person does not have over 300 close friends.
Studies have shown that Americans, on average, only have five close relationships, and can only maintain about 150 relationships at any given time. Knowing this, doesn't this make you think differently about that 800-person following on Instagram? Popularity on Instagram may correlate with creativity, talent and beauty but there are other measures of this outside of the digital world that people should also value highly.
Maggie*, a sophomore from Lehigh University has dealt with this issue before. "I'm not gonna lie, I've once felt ashamed because my follower to following ratio wasn't as good as my peers. For some reason, I felt this pressure that more people should like me than I like them. It's a weird culture thing that no one talks about but everyone feels. The pressure feels like 'I should be cool enough for other people to want to follow me.' But I am cool. I don't need followers to prove that to me or anyone else."
Because of the unhealthy idea that your social prominence in this world is based on your social media numbers, people have started to purchase followers, friends, and likes to keep up with their peers. While you have a right to how you spend your money, you should think about these decisions and the implications of spending money on social media.
Instead of purchasing likes, you could help further your education, enhance your wardrobe, or even go on a vacation. The rewards of those things may be long-term and help you feel more fulfilled than the short-term effects of seeming popular online. Besides, who are you proving your popularity to? Is it to yourself or your friends? Do they really care about how many followers you have? Should you?
2. You only share things you are sure will get likes
By the nature of social media, we want to receive positive reinforcement for the things we enjoy. However, we shouldn’t change the way we present ourselves solely because of how many likes we get. Social media is supposed to be a fun way to share ideas, photos, and memories online. When you lose sight of that because you’re focused on the popularity of your posts, it becomes more like a competition than a fun way to connect.
Whether it’s a grainy picture of your pet or a quote that resonated with you, people seem to judge posts that are “uncool” so quickly. Remind yourself that your online presence is entirely unique, and you can use your social media in whatever way that aligns with your identity. Not everyone has to post Fuji, Polaroid or portrait shots at the beach. Sometimes, it’s nice to share something just because you, and only you, like it.
Nancy, a junior from TCNJ, says, "I once posted this picture with my mom and it wasn't the most aesthetic nor were we on some exotic vacation. We were just in my house and I wanted to share that moment. Someone told me it wasn't 'Instagram worthy,' and I was taken back. When have we become a culture so consumed by what's appropriate just for Instagram?"
3. You've lost touch with what you like
You do it for the ‘gram. Examples include going specifically to aesthetically pleasing restaurants and wearing trendy outfits that will be sure to catch everyone’s attention. There’s nothing inherently wrong with liking pretty aesthetics or wearing trendy clothes, but there’s something disturbing about feeling pressured to eat certain things and dress a certain way based on a supposed reaction online. If you plan your daily activities based on how well it will look in photos, or purchase things online because celebrities endorse them, you may need to take a social media detox.
Before posting something online, consider what you like about the photo or status. Remember that nothing can ever really be deleted online and that what you post is a reflection of yourself. The more you post things that you actually identify with, the more your accounts will feel like a scrapbook to look back on instead of an imitation of a celebrity.
4. You feel less confident after spending time on social media
Everyone on Instagram seems to be a body-builder, under a strict dietary regimen, and newly-engaged. Seemingly, they're having the time of their life. They’re attractive, happy, and successful. In reality, people want to create an image that is inviting and gathers the most likes. People lose sight of the fact that social media is a curated highlight reel and start to unhealthily compare themselves to others. They see pictures of people their age getting promotions, starting families, and having fun and forget that, with those success stories, there is a lot of struggle and unpleasant parts of life that society does not typically endorse online.
Kelly*, a freshman from Rowan University, says "I used to spend hours on YouTube watching these model 'what I eat in a day' videos to the point where I'd follow everything they did. It's weird looking back on that now, but I fully believed to be beautiful I needed to eat like them in order to be thin, which was beautiful. I know people use those videos for inspiration but it turned into low confidence for me."
Finding yourself suddenly inspired to work out after seeing a fitness blogger’s workout is different than obsessively comparing your fitness progress to those you follow online. If you feel like the time you spend on social media is having a negative effect on your self-esteem it may be time to take a break.
5. You can't go more than ten minutes without checking your phone
You ignore your friends and family in person because you’re too entranced with what’s happening in the digital world. Your parents may have even enforced a rule prohibiting cell phone use during dinner. If you use your phone as a crutch to avoid talking to people and exclusively communicate via social media, it may be time to take a break. While jokes about being addicted to social media may be lighthearted, no one should actually feel like their life is so consumed by the Internet.
Every young adult has probably behaved in some capacity to the examples above. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, but it may mean you’re too invested in your online life that you’re neglecting parts of your actual life. To detox, you don’t have to delete all your accounts in one day. It may be beneficial to start the detox by just deleting an app or two off your phone. Every time you have a tendency to check your socials, you’ll be reminded that you can spend your time doing something else instead. By the end, you’ll realize there is more to life than social media and you'll be thankful for it.
Toni Morrison, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, once said, “At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough, you don’t need to photograph, paint, or even remember it. It is enough.”
The mindset of our generation seems to be that if we do not capture our greatest moments and share them, then they simply did not happen. Captured and shared or not, we are living our lives, and how many people have digitally liked it should not diminish the value of our experiences. As always, good luck!
*Names have been changed