My internet addiction (admittedly) started very early in life. When I was a kid, my very favorite thing was borrowing my brother’s laptop to play on websites. A guilty pleasure was the Goldfish cracker website, which had games, for some reason. The Barbie, MyScene and Polly Pocket dolls all had websites that went way harder than they needed to, and I could (honestly) spend hours playing on them. I was an awkward kid, and it didn’t take long for me as a child to realize that online, no one bullied or picked on me for being different. That’s not really true anymore, but, you know, life happens. The internet escapism I loved quickly grew into me spending days and nights on odd forums dedicated to video games or book franchises. That lead to an obsession with fanfiction.net, which at some point I switched out for Tumblr. As I grew older and became a more functioning human being and a teenager who wanted desperately to be liked, I rooted myself in the triad of major social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And on all of these sites, I felt more liked than I ever did in the real world, and so I clung to them.
To be entirely honest, I live on Twitter. I know this to be true. I spend far too much time on it. Today, at work, I spent the entirety of my shift on Twitter, with breaks to Snapchat my girlfriend and browse Reddit. Earlier, in a drive-thru grabbing food, I checked Twitter in the twenty seconds between rolling up to the window and receiving my food. I had to fight the impulse to scroll rather than write this article. All of these moments felt entirely normal. Twitter is how I fill my time; it’s how I keep a finger on the pulse of pop culture. When friends of mine don’t use Twitter, I find conversation having to be derailed while I explain social and cultural phenomenon that they simply don’t know about. To me, it’s fully wild that they might not have heard about the Fiji Water Girl from the Golden Globes red carpet, or about the latest meme, or the Paddington Bear fandom, or just that they didn’t see that funny thing I tweeted that several people commented on. It’s as though those who don’t frequent the site have a massive cultural blind spot. I’m almost embarrassed for them. Point blank: I love Twitter. I love the jokes. I love the discussion. I love that it keeps me as up-to-date as possible on current events. We’re all living in an absolutely nuts moment, globally, with just all of the everything. Twitter is how I know every moment, every breath of the news cycle.
The first time I ever heard of someone taking a social media break was my best friend when I was 12. She, like me, spent her days on forums and watching anime. She told me she thought it would be healthy for her to delete her Facebook. At the time, I thought that was stupid. I still kind of think it was a weird decision for a 12 year old to feel the need to make, but maybe it was a very healthy choice, after all.
People close to me have always mocked me for my social media fixation. My parents teased me for it, ex-boyfriends and friends have joked about it. My current girlfriend often makes gentle comments about how a social media break might be really beneficial for me. I always tell her I’m considering deleting Twitter. A host of one of my favorite podcasts, Georgia Hardstark of My Favorite Murder, often talks about how she deleted Twitter and how healthy it was for her. But Twitter doesn’t make me unhappy, right now. During my freshman year of college, it absolutely did. I was in the deepest depression I’ve ever known, I hadn’t made any new friends at school, and my relationship with my high school sweetheart was deteriorating rapidly. I felt completely alone. Whenever I turned to social media to fill my loneliness, as I had in times like these as long as I could really remember, it didn’t help. I became angry, or sad, or sick to my stomach. This was the dawn of the Trump presidency, and every tweet fed into the cycle of negativity that I lived within. But to look away felt like I was ignoring the problem, like I was in denial of the truth, and so I kept looking, like I was a moth and my timeline was a flame.
It isn’t like that anymore. My twitter is probably 50/50 cultural updates and jokes. I like it. It doesn’t make me unhappy. In fact, I probably get a hit of dopamine every time I look at Twitter. And that’s probably the problem. There are several people who I follow on Twitter, or Instagram, or I’m just Facebook friends with, who I think are wonderful, delightful people, but in reality, I would probably never spend more than five minutes with them. I am terrified of most human interaction. I spend most of my time with a select group of friends from high school, and my girlfriend, who I almost didn’t agree to go on a date with when she first asked me, because I was terrified of one-on-one interaction with someone else. I could comfortably message her for hours, because that was safe. Most people I can’t even direct message. Once, someone I knew in high school posted on her finsta that anyone who liked the post, she’d post something about anonymously. Reading through her anonymous posts, I am still convinced that the one that was about me, was the one that said simply: you’re only funny online.
My Twitter is hilarious. I am able to sit down and craft a joke. I consider the sentence structure, the comedic placement, the spelling and grammar to make sure my jokes are funny. In person, I often freeze. I think spending so much time on social media has actually replaced my ability to socialize.
I’m very opposed to the idea that social media is evil, and usually when people say something like “social media has ruined kid’s ability to socialize” I roll my eyes and want to egg their house. But I am afraid that it might be true. And that’s exactly why I don’t know how to quit it.
What would my life be like if I didn’t use social media? I’d definitely read more. I might watch the shows I’ve been wanting to watch. I might actually do all of my homework, which is a wild thought. I might—and here’s the thesis statement, guys—I might spend more time with the people I care about. But it isn’t fun to think about the ways my life would be better without social media. It’s fun to check Instagram, and see pictures of my friends looking beautiful, living their lives offline.
I don’t think social media is bad. I think I am an anxious bundle of a woman who is able to avoid her problems by posting another dumb meme and gaining another 10 followers and feeling safe in a bubble of validation.
But maybe I delete social media, and I lose out on all the perks. I become someone who isn’t In The Know. I can consider if I am just a boring person if I am not the most culturally aware. That’s the scariest thought of all. When I came up with this article concept, I ran through a bunch of potential titles in my head, mostly cheeky (this article was also a lot funnier in my head.) "I Really Should Quit Social Media, but I Don't Wanna" "Social Media is Ruining My Life But I Won't Quit It" "Should I Quit Twitter? Yes. Will I? No." but ultimately, this is the most honest. I should. I don't know if I can. If someone deleted the apps by force, I'd hate them for it. I'd say they didn't get it, that their feelings are old fashioned, and I'd point to all the great things that social media can bring. And I wouldn't be wrong! Social media can be great. But they'd still be doing me a favor, ultimately, even if I couldn't cope with it. I just don't know if I can be the person to cut myself off from it.
There isn’t a fun, uplifting conclusion to this article. This is just where I am. As I've written this, at several points I've wanted to close the Word document and bail on this concept. This is too vulnerable, too icky, and I don't like admitting to feeling like this. I hate when people talk about social media like it's a disease. The thing is, I'm the problem. And that's why I think this needs to be published because I think I’m not alone. I think this is a conundrum for a lot of us Millenial-Gen Z cusp kids. I cannot believe that I am the only one raised on the internet who wants to get away from it, but loves it and all the wonderful things it provides. At least a handful of other people my age need to feel this way too. And we all need to be confused, and scared, and not knowing what to do.
If you have thoughts, feel free to DM me (lol) @itsdorothybonch