I realized I needed to change my relationship with social media after I spent an entire beach weekend on my phone, taking and editing pictures for Instagram. Instead of choosing activities that appealed to me and sharing moments I enjoyed on social media, I chose activities specifically to be shared on social media, and as a consequence, I enjoyed them less. Building an attractive Instagram presence can get in the way of building a happy life.
I knew why I needed to amend my social media usage, but I didn’t know how. The obvious answer was to disengage entirely, but it would erase the benefits of social media: keeping up with friends, efficiently sharing big developments in my life, seeing what Billy Porter wore to the Tonys/Oscars/Emmys. And for my generation, a social media presence has become a personal and professional expectation – some online job applications even include fields where an applicant can link to their social media pages.
I started searching for a way to have a useful, sometimes fun online presence that didn’t swallow me whole. I tried strategies like setting time limits for myself or being present on some platforms but not others. With each approach, I still felt like the balance tilted towards social media dominating too much of my mental energy and time. Finally, I hit upon the one practical step that completely reconfigured my relationship with social media.
Here’s what changed: I deleted the apps from my phone, but kept the accounts accessible on my computer. That’s it! It’s that simple – keep the accounts, but eliminate the access point you have with you all the time. If your phone is next to you right now, which it probably is, try it. Hover over the apps. Watch them wiggle in fear – they’re a little freaked out, and you probably are too! Just delete them. The accounts aren’t going anywhere, but by limiting their convenience of access, you can diminish their addictive potency.
Removing social media apps from my phone eliminated the temptation to interrupt life experiences by immersing myself in social media. Sure, on a beautiful hike I could still snap a picture and upload it later to share the memory. Often an immediate impulse to post faded in the time it took to finish the hike, drive home, and log into Instagram on my laptop. Once I removed the instrument that allowed me to post or browse instantly, I spent less time on social media, and more time being present in meaningful experiences, and stupid ones, and even boring ones. Basically, I spend more time living my life and less time documenting it, less time trying to make my documentation look perfect, and less time poring over the curated documentations of others.
Social media can be damaging, but it’s also useful and fun – and it’s designed to be all of these things at once. As a member of the first generation growing up with social media as a fact of life, it’s critical that we find ways to both stay connected and stay sane. Seriously, try it: Keep the accounts, just limit your access to them. It’s just one step, but it’ll get you off your phone and back in touch with the rest of your life.