We live in a time where there is a multitude of online social platforms, like digital watering holes, offering up any style of interpersonal engagement you could hope for.
On Facebook, it’s the ultimate convention center of conversation. Share pictures with captions, react with as little as a “like” ( and even, after years of urgings by users, dislikes, angry faces, hearts) or as much as a novel-esque comment.
The urgency of the perfect pictures and the immediacy of cheeky attention-grabbing stories on Instagram.
The shocking twist of Snapchat, originally intended for temporary, ungrabbable nudies turned into a cartoon imagining of our actual world, complete with facial modification, animated doppelgangers, and eerily precise geolocation.
And then, of course, Twitter. A tornado of users hurling words and peddling mixtapes while vying to keep the rights to their own jokes.
What makes these platforms (and other B-class platforms) likable–ease, accessibility, options–is the same thing that makes them insufferable–impersonal, unthoughtful, fleeting.
To add even more irony to the addiction (though, I know, we’re moving away from labeling it an addiction), jokes run rampant addressing the very mindless action we’re taking place in.
It’s a constant tug-of-war for attention and sanity and if you don’t know exactly which pill to take, which path to follow, which company to pledge your loyalty; you can easily get swept up.
I’m not here to explain social media to you, though. It’s ubiquitous. It needs no introduction. Even those who don’t partake online can recognize the references born of this 21st-century beast, this new wave of engagement. Hell, they’re even conducting studies on it.
What I’m here to say is that if you take a break, it’s okay.
I’ve been reading more and more about the wide-swept inclination of the social media hiatus. The personal choices to take the path less digitized. And to my utter shock and surprise, people describe it as a somewhat cry of attention. “Annoyingly unplugged” is the general consensus of continued users for conscientious objectors. And that, to me, reveals a whole other layer and level of this strange new world.
In a Medium article asking “What do Social Media Breaks Accomplish?” the author draws the connection that what’s really annoying is that a break, for some, can be part of the show. “Performative” (and annoying) is the word she used. On that, I somewhat agree. It’s like when the movie villain finally gets the upper hand in the fight and they throw away the moment by rambling on with their manifesto. If you’re going to do it, get on with it.
I personally chose to do it that way. To wake up one day and decide to cast an unannounced dark shadow over my online presence. The idea took hold of me when I was on vacation in Mexico, and still was checking Instagram updates, toiling over captions, aching to find a well-received photo, all the while keeping my finger on the pulse of the summer’s latest celebrity dramas.
When I got home from that trip, it only got worse, as I floundered around different jobs, unable to get a footing in my life, but watching as profile after profile of my friends were suited up and taking NYC by the balls. It nauseated me to a point where I felt that not only my content had lost its relevance, but myself, as a person, did as well.
So I quit. Just like that. And both everything and nothing has changed.
I still take selfies when I’m having a good day or loving a new outfit. I still plan trips with my beau, weekends out with my friends. I wish my nieces and nephews and sisters and parents happy birthdays, I just do it more meticulously.
And in this practice, I learned the reason that social media does have a meaningful draw. It’s everything you want to say and everyone you want to say it to in one central place.
But, call me crazy, because that’s exactly what I like about a social-media-sparse life. The chaotic nature of it. The way that things aren’t as easily perceivable as a few hundred thousand pixels. You have to be at the party to feel the vibe. There’s no flush of jealousy over gold and silver mylar number balloons suspended from a rooftop. Your bank account isn’t draining by the latest hand-picked by a machine algorithm ad that is 98% guaranteed to convert you into a buyer. That job you quit because it was soul-draining is not a black mark on your meticulously-mapped out posts for the upcoming weeks. You feel a little more grounded when you’re not unconsciously plugging your lifeforce into a hand-held device.
Call me a hypocrite; I still use Twitter. To go truly and completely dark didn’t appeal to me. I didn’t intend to make myself a mystery by shuttering my other profiles. I simply wanted some essence of connection. Having all those social media accounts only made me feel more isolated from my friends, so I thought, maybe, just having one will tone down the elemental competition.
I still want to hear some of the jokes, to get the latest memes. I didn’t want to completely recede from a generation that is, for better or for worse, my own. I just wanted to bring more clarity to my days. Have less influential urging to browse Fashion Nova and more time to finish reading a book.
I just wanted to take back a semblance of control.
When you’re constantly flicking through one profile to get to another; to update an image or outfit or quote just to touch base with the people whose activity you saw in the last app, relationships become overwhelming. Life becomes a blur. And it was. So I chose the one place I knew I could handle; the one place I felt some sense of belonging. Twitter gives me real-time news updates alongside brilliant Game of Thrones episode jokes and recaps. And even though I do spend some time scrolling to catch the latest updates, when I close the app I don’t worry about hopping into another to see the reformatted take on the same shit. I found an online neighborhood to call home and I settled in.
And in choosing my place–to borrow from internet forum culture, my tribe–I feel much more at ease with myself and my world. And it seems I’m not too off the beaten path, either. Months after my own media darkening, AOC went so far as to use her political podium to deem social media a “public health risk” and followed suit in ending her personal endless juggle of accounts to set up shop on Twitter.
Consider, also, the man in the ivory house’s preferred media account to rant, rave, praise, and flex. It’s Twitter.
Maybe, for you, it’s not. Maybe Twitter is too heady, too pretentious, too… (here it is again) annoying. That’s the beauty of it. It isn’t the only place. Just like, most likely, that bar you go to religiously every Thursday for happy hour isn’t the only bar in your neighborhood. But you like it there. It’s a place you feel comfortable to frequent. To show up when you want, wear what you want, order what you want, and maybe even feel comfortable enough to talk to who you want.
Like the grocery store on the left side of the street that you avoid, preferring to shop in the one on the right side of the street. Going to both is possible. Sometimes, if the one on the right is sold out of the salsa you were hoping to pick up, you have to visit the left. But for the most part, jetting back and forth between the two can seem exhausting, unnecessary, and a dreaded way to spend all your time.
It’s like a TV trope of yore when someone is trying desperately to appease several groups of friends by ping-ponging between parties on a single night only to realize she’s missed the best moments of each of them.
Spreading too thin. Covering too many bases.
Social media isn’t evil on its own. We make it so by not ever fully committing a true and authentic portrait of ourselves in its databases. We quickly post pictures, spew comments, and troll through threads, letting a moment’s reaction become a lasting impression. Maybe, if we just put a little bit of focused energy into one place where we’d like our mark to thrive and give up the FOMO of missing a destined-to-be-reproduced Instagram Live story by Kylie Jenner doing her daughter’s hair (?), we can take a good hard look at our profile pictures and say: Is this who I am? Is this who I wanna be?