In my completely unscientific and unfounded opinion, there are two types of social media users: the persistent posters and the compulsive checkers. We all know who the persistent posters are (and if you're unsure, check out this comic by The Oatmeal for further explanation). But the compulsive checkers often fly under the radar. It wasn't until a few months ago I realized I'd become one of them.
Moving to New York City three years ago hadn't been an easy choice. I grew up in the Midwest surrounded by a great community of family and friends, and I worried about all I'd miss when I wasn't just a short car ride away. My young cousins were growing up at what seemed an exponential rate. Friends were planning weddings and celebrating housewarmings. Shortly after came the job promotions and baby showers.
For a few years, I justified my burgeoning social media use by insisting platforms like Facebook and Instagram were the best and easiest way to stay connected with loved ones. And for a long time, that was true, and my social media use remained fairly controlled. I didn't sneak a glance at my phone for updates while out to dinner with friends (not even a quick check beneath the table while hiding the bright screen from view), and I didn't scroll through my feeds while walking between work and home (partly because it takes a very gifted person to do this without colliding with passersby, and I'm not that talented).
Eventually, my compulsive checking became less about staying in the loop and more about being the first person in the loop. If someone asked, "Did you hear the news about so-and-so?" and I hadn't, my heart would race as I leapt for my phone to check for updates. Oh, no! I'd think. All of these people have already commented, and I'm so behind! I look like a horrible friend.
All of this may have turned out fine (if not a bit unnecessarily stressful), had my compulsive checking not transformed into a whole different beast several months ago. I'd be sitting on the couch on the weekend, snuggled under a blanket, enjoying some downtime while scrolling through my various social media feeds, only to be assailed by a heap of obnoxious inner dialogue:
He has a new job! His dream job, no less. What a great opportunity.
I wish I could afford a trip to Europe. She's so lucky. Sometimes I worry if I wait too long I won't get to see as much of the world as I'd like.
He got to go to the football game? And it was an overtime win? That's a once-in-a-lifetime experience -- I wish I'd been there.
She finally had her baby! What a blessing. I wonder if I'll have kids, someday.
He's moving across the country! I've always wondered what it would be like to live there.
Look at their beautiful home -- so cozy! My tiny city apartment pales in comparison.
Wow. Everyone seems to have things together and really know what they want and where they're going next.
And then, I'd ask myself: WHY do I care so much?
After some self-evaluation (and after opening my Instagram app one last time before going to bed, despite it having only been 2.3 minutes since I last refreshed), I diagnosed myself with FOUL. Most are probably familiar with FOUL's older sibling, FOMO -- the fear of missing out. But that wasn't quite my issue; I was perfectly happy staying home, cooking dinner and bingeing on Netflix reruns while friends posted photos with their sparkly necklaces and fancy drinks. What I had was the fear of an unfulfilled life. A fear of regret. I didn't want to look back on things and discover I hadn't lived the life I wanted.
Social media can be a wonderful thing. But when I started questioning my ambitions and goals and comparing my life choices to others' based on something as silly as a photo upload or status update, I knew something had to give. My compulsive checking had become a burden instead of a fun way to keep in touch. I wanted to live a better, more present life, and in order to do that I had to stop bombarding myself with information on how everyone else was living theirs.
Beginning tomorrow, I'll be giving up all of my social media accounts for 30 days. That means you, Facebook and Instagram. Twitter, too. And yes, even you, Goodreads and LinkedIn. I've moved all of these apps into remote folders on my devices so I don't accidentally access them in those few blurry and confusing moments right after I turn off my alarm in the morning (because yes, an early-morning feed read has been known to happen).
Though I don't quite know what to expect from this project, I hope to reclaim some of that lost perspective and learn to stop worrying so much about anything except myself and what I'm doing that day. Halfway through, I'll update on how things are going. In the meantime, if anyone would like to share a similar experience, please feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.