Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
Life > Experiences

What I Learned From A Social Media-Free Life

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at York U chapter.

From the years 2014 to 2018 I made the executive decision to completely rid myself of all social media. I deleted my Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. At the time, I was 14 years old and I had freshly entered the petri dish that is highschool. If I remember correctly, I walked off the cyber grid about four months into my ninth grade. 

Being a 2000 baby, social media really took off in my lifetime. By nine years old, most of my grade school friends had MSN and Facebook. I vividly remember that Jersey Shore aired every Thursday night after I came home from mid-week church services. My mom surely didn’t want her 10 year old watching, but I tried when I could. This would be followed by chatter on Facebook — with debates over who fits which character best and that horrid Jersey Shore game on Facebook. I really hope the other 2000 babies know what I’m talking about. 

Entering high school, I loved having the option of adding people on Instagram and making my social mark. As a kid, the dopamine explosions provided by social media was hard to ignore. 

I vividly remember when the first photo I ever had that reached 100 likes. It was horrible. I staged it in my upstairs bathroom, decorated in a very 70s green tile scheme. I stood in the corner with a printed pink high-low skirt, a California graphic t-shirt, and a side braid with a flower crown — also known as my 2014 uniform. I used a 10 second timer while I rammed my phone in the soap dish on the wall. I stood in the corner sniffing a fake flower. The picture was black and white except for the flower, which was a blushing pink. As I reminisce on this photo, my insides do somersaults. 
Needless to say, before I got rid of it, social media had a chokehold on me, like most 14 year olds.

If you were to ask me why I deleted everything, all I could really credit it to is a feeling. I had a strong sensing in my gut that I just needed a break. Perhaps I was trying to channel my main character, I’m-not-like-other-girls energy. Maybe God was warning me of the looming abyss that is social media. 

I’ll always remember the judgemental gaze I would receive when I told my peers I deleted my social media. They usually questioned why I unfollowed them, I think they noticed that first. When I would inform them I just deleted it, I was often met with a pair of knit eyebrows and general confusion. 

I was never bullied or ostracized for not being online, it just confused people. I was never embarrassed, I just struggled to explain why and that was the number 1 most common follow-up question. 

Part of me definitely liked the attention. It made me feel mysterious, like I was some kind of main character in a John Greene novel. I was never motivated by that, but I did enjoy it to some degree. Even then, I wasn’t fond of the world social media created around me. 

Being in high school opened up a whole new world to me. I came from a very small elementary school, where I knew most of my peers for 10 years and had a strong sense of community. It was a blissfully naive place, a place where wearing a crop top was considered ‘racy.’ Moving into highschool was a culture shock to me. 

I couldn’t tell you how much I weighed before I entered secondary school. I was carelessly unaware of my appearance in the best way. That’s not to say I didn’t care about my appearance. I just didn’t care about what my body looked like. I grew up active and conventionally thin, so I didn’t think about it much.

I still remember my weight in high school. Part of my ninth grade gym class included monthly weigh-ins.  The first time I looked at the number, I felt mildly surprised. It was only when I saw how much other girls weighed did it pass the threshold into an uncomfortable experience. Playing the comparison game opened up a wound in me, a grading feeling that gnawed at me for years. It’s not that I gained weight in highschool, or was even overweight at all. I was still thin and moderately athletic, I just became hyper aware. It’s like noticing when one of your eyebrows isn’t identical to the other. It isn’t problematic as a whole, but once it is seen, the image can’t be erased. Adding social media into the mix of that certainly didn’t help. Unattainable beauty standards on the internet were a problem then, just as it is now.

My teens were a breeding ground for comparison. I wish someone would have told me bodies develop differently and that weight doesn’t matter. And factors including height, breast size, PMS and muscle mass play a role on the number on the scale. I remember downloading a fitness app and tracking my calories, feeling absolutely disheartened when I saw myself getting closer to the limit whilst still feeling hungry. I became somewhat obsessed with how I looked. Most of the girls around me were, and as the saying goes, misery loves company. It was a miserable part of high school, to be so self conscious all the time.

I don’t recall insecurity being at the forefront of my mind when I got rid of my socials, but in retrospect, I see my hiatus as a type of protection mechanism, limiting exposure to comparison which left me feeling dejected.  

After the dust settled from my abrupt transition into social media-free solitude, I remember acquaintances and peers approaching me in the hallway often, expressing how they haven’t seen me in a while.  These would be the people at school I would occasionally speak to in class and have on social media but not know personally.

In my point of view, nothing changed. I saw them as often as I remembered. I hadn’t been away from school for a long time and my schedule remained the same. It almost felt like some sort of Mandela effect or illusion. It perplexed me. 

It was only when I understood the perceived integration of social media and reality that it all made sense. In my reality, the one away from the internet, I saw these people the exact same amount pre and post having social media. In their world, I was no longer a face on their timeline or in their likes. They could no longer see who I hung out with over the weekend or what I was doing outside of school. 

Social media provides a type of social compass. Even if we really don’t know someone at all, having their socials caliberates us in their life in some way. It’s a similar experience to watching a movie. We feel included on the sidelines of someone’s story. Except, the sense of community is false, or warped at the very least.

A few pictures and updates tell us very little about a person’s life. 

The shallowness of these types of relationships was hard for me to ignore. It made me melancholic, that people surmised ‘knowing someone’ to how frequently they see them on the internet. That isn’t real life, at least not to me.

I can say this because I have actually maintained my highschool friendships. I made about three good friends in high school.  Not the people you have fun with in school, I mean the people I actually cultivated a relationship with. Almost five years later and I still consider them my friends. 

Being off social media allowed me to find the people who I genuinely liked. These were the people that contacted me outside of the internet and inquired about men beyond the virtual realm. 

I felt like a no one because of my absence — not in a hurtful way, but in an individual way. I felt separate from the group, very reclusive. This actually wasn’t upsetting. I had friends and was familiar with tons of people. I’m not a shy person in the slightest. I just didn’t feel like I lived in their world. Almost as if I was some sort of metropolitan nomad. I didn’t hate it. I didn’t particularly dwell on it either. 

Fast forward to the summer of 2018 when I entered university. I decided I was ready to join Instagram again. I figured I would be entering post-secondary education and it would be nice to keep in contact with some people. I also just felt ready to be back.

It was initially unsettling. It was like an ominous reunion with a childhood friend you haven’t seen since you were a kid. The comfort of childhood is no longer there and the pursuit for similar interests is as equally awkward as it is uncertain. 

Social media changed a lot between the years 2014 and 2018. I felt like I was behind a generation. I didn’t quite know the trends or basic online etiquette anymore. All this came naturally with time and my Gen Z instincts quickly sharpened. 

After my debut, I started to like social media a lot. It’s been a great place for me to further my passions. It provides a medium to promote my works in a way that couldn’t be achieved without it. 

Although, there are some days I just want to delete it again. There is almost a freedom away from the constant urge to check my Instagram. I miss the absence of that impulse. 

My four year hiatus feels like an informal study of my generation. I learned the difference between life online and life itself, and how so many people my age struggle to decipher the difference.

 Social media is such a speck in my life. It may be ironic, and slightly hypocritical, as I spend copious amounts of my time there, but it’s not the same way as it would have been had I not gone through this experience. It just doesn’t feel like real life to me. It is a 2-D experience, and nothing more — a shallow, hollow, and potentially harmful idealization of reality in which people feel close to strangers and the best parts of someone’s life are perceived as their existence entirely.

I certainly don’t regret being off social media during most of my teenage years. The unconventional experience proved to be both grounding and enlightening- like my own social experiment. I’m glad I have seen the world in both lenses — the recluse and the social.

Lenna Kapetaneas is an English and Professional Writing major at York University with dreams of becoming a journalist. She began writing as a child and it is something that has stuck with her. She has a passion for fashion, beauty, lifestyle, mental health and faith that she loves to write about. In her writing, her goal is to relate and connect with the women reading.