Breaking up with social media, Kat Lee

photos by Kat

I have a love-hate relationship with social media, but as a blogger, it's almost unthinkable to not have social media. I mean, it's all part of the job, right? It's all about connecting with our readers, with our community, creating a wholesome experience from Facebook to Instagram to Pinterest to Tumblr to Twitter. Blogs that blog about blogging blog about how to use social media. People hire coaches to learn how to create an image (brand) across their different social media platforms.

Then I read Alexandra Franzen's post about why she doesn't use social media anymore and her follow-up post about how it's possible to run a business without using social media, and I realized that breaking up with social media could be a possibility, even with a blog to run.

Six weeks ago on Wednesday, February 24, Kat texted me and said she'd deactivated her Facebook and handed her Instagram account over to a friend who changed her password, which left her only with texting and Snapchat. And if you know Kat AKA Bryn Mawr College Instagram Queen, you'd know that this would be a big change for her. But it's been six weeks, and I'm happy to report that she's alive and well and here on the blog today to share ten things she's learned whilst away from social media.

I also have a little announcement at the end.


Scott Hutchins’ debut novel A Working Theory of Love centers on a singular theme: how do we make technology seem more human? And in particular, how can we create technology to replace and to feign human interaction? When the protagonist’s father committed suicide ten years before, he left behind thousands of pages of writings, secret journals cataloguing in exquisite detail and honest truth, his life and hardships. Now, the protagonist, a young divorcee thrown into the San Francisco tech scene, hopes to use them to create the world’s first sentient computer and in many ways, bring his father’s words back to life.

I don’t actually remember how the story ends, largely because, since the protagonist doesn’t actually know any computer science, I find the techy parts of the story to be inaccurate and somewhat flimsy. Barring that, I’ve thought a lot about this over the past month and a half.

About a month and a half ago, I pretty much retired all of my social media without warning. That sounds dramatic, but drama is kind of my thing. When people asked me about this, I told them that social media was a distraction to me (which it was/is). What I didn’t tell them was that it was somewhat larger than that. I’m a fairly positive person. I rarely outwardly appear stressed or anywhere near the negative emotional range, besides tired. But at the time I disappeared, my mental state had penetrated my cheerful outer shell. I could feel my self-worth draining from my fingertips. I sought validation from other people in the form of likes and comments and followers. These arbitrary and unimportant numbers meant little in a worldly context but everything to me. I was wholly dependent on other people for my happiness, many of whom I didn’t even know. My identity had been constructed around some false version of my life, to trick not even just friends, but strangers into thinking that I was somewhat more interesting, more witty, and more sassy than I was. And so, I put an end to it.

Dropping off the metaphorical social media face of the earth has been rocky, but not without its lessons:

1 // Social media is a crutch

In the age of FOMO, social media makes us feel included. It allows us to get “invited” to events easily and quickly. If I ever was going to forget something (someone’s birthday, some concert that I was never going to attend but said I would for the satisfaction of someone else), there was Facebook reminding me what was going to happen and who was going to be there. It makes us feel that we are doing something when in actuality, we’ve been staring at our computer screens for hours on end. Social media allows us to participate in conversation without ever saying one word: by liking someone’s status or clicking a link, we’ve immediately shared all of our opinions, our social and critical views with the world, opinions we, perhaps, had never even thought to explore let alone share with everyone on our newsfeeds. The headline and subheadline culture of our society allows us to care for a split second and move on. It forces us to move onto the next hashtag, the next trending topic, only skimming the thoughts and points and arguments that should keep us up late at night and throw people into heated and passionate debates.

2 // Social media is not real

I mean yes, physically, it is real, like Facebook has hundreds of servers running at once, but in the sense of, you’re here and I’m here, it’s not real. I realized how different social media is, even to texting. When I text someone, I put much more effort into that conversation, believe it or not, and not simply because it takes more effort for me to text from my phone rather than from my computer (though I do text from both -- technology is magic). A relationship with someone who actually has your phone number knows something very personal about you. And this is different from someone who you happen to know from that one thing you went to that one time and is somehow your Facebook friend or someone who follows you on Instagram. When you choose to reply to someone’s text, it’s not because the pressure is on because they are online, but because you actually want to, because you have something valuable to add to that conversation.

3 // We rely much more heavily on social media than we realize

This one, to be honest, might just be me. But I used Facebook for everything. I had group chats for projects, I was the admin on multiple pages, I communicated with people who I consider myself close to but not close enough to have their phone numbers. I used it to catch up with friends without ever really having to talk to them, letting those real friendships deteriorate. I even (low key) used it for my news. All I’m saying is, check yourself.

4 // I need to care less (kind of)

I was never one of those people who liked to internet stalk. It made me feel weird to go into someone’s intimate middle school Facebook past (unless it was someone I knew very personally and I were doing it to make their lives miserable because I’m one of those garbage people, you know them). And still, social media made me paranoid. Just based on the random array of posts which skimmed past my newsfeed, questions raced through my brain: Is he dating her? Are they better off without me? Having better times without me? It was too easy. I could create a false narrative based totally out of context and on arbitrary Facebook posts or Instagrams. It made me, on the occasion, feel physically sick. And that’s just bad. Like, just bad.

5 // I know a lot of Taylor Swift lyrics

I broke up with social media. I’m a drama queen, but I’ll be honest, that’s kind of how it felt. And I think the last time that I sang that many Taylor Swift lyrics in a 24 hour period was following actually breaking up with someone.

6 // Quitting cold turkey is a necessary evil

I got rid of Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram (my main baes) all within ten minutes of each other. And the day after was really difficult. It felt like I was missing out on something, like a whole part of me had been removed. It was so easy to just go back. And yet, looking back, I’m glad I did it this way mainly because I have literally no self control. And also because it meant that I was serious about putting myself first. I was serious about making sure that my self worth was centered in the way that I look at myself and not the way that others look at me. Sure, I care about what other people think and yes, I value the opinions of my friends, but those who mattered, I would see and communicate with in real life.

7 // Follow up, I can play a lot of Candy Crush

I played a lot of candy crush in the 48 hours after and did pretty much no work. As you can probably tell, I go really hard.

8 // I'm a work in progress

I’m a happy and optimistic person. I knew this already. I also knew that I’m not perfect and I won’t ever be. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t and won’t try. And if that means focusing more on myself and the people in my life, my real life, my real relationships with people that I care about, and less on everything that I’ve ever seen and everyone that I’ve ever met, then so be it.

9 // I'm incredibly lucky

I told Audrey when I did this, she was one of perhaps three or four people that I actually notified and she said to me, “I’m so proud of you,” which really meant more than anything someone could have told me in an Instagram comment. Likewise, in the two days after, I had multitudes of friends offering support, coming over to comfort me and to make sure I didn’t slip back into the social media black hole. (Again, I told you, dramatic). But they made me feel like I was loved. They supplemented beyond what I felt on social media. Other friends, many of whom I communicated with primarily on social media, reached out in other ways. They kept me company in my real life, proving to me that though my profiles were gone, my friends were not.

10 // Social media isn't all bad

You knew this already. It’s obviously not all bad, otherwise it wouldn’t have millions of users. Social media, for most people (not for me, because I was basically an addict), provides a way of staying in touch with people we ordinarily would have forgotten. I’m a nostalgic person. I can appreciate this, though, for now, perhaps from my journal very, very far away from the Internet.

I told you that I didn’t remember how A Working Theory of Love ended. (And you thought the book was irrelevant). I don’t, truly. But here’s how I hope it ended. Technology cannot, no matter how hard we computer scientists will try, supplement real people. It cannot. We can teach technology to infer and to ask questions, to answer questions and to fake, but ultimately, we cannot teach it, nor can we through social media, cultivate real relationships and real personalities that are not supplemented by living life outdoors, sans screens.

Update: I looked up how it ends. It’s quite insightful: “love guarantees nothing.” He’s right. Social media and technology guarantees us so many things: inclusion, someone’s, stories, new shiny things, always. Real life, real relationships guarantee us nothing, but -- if you are willing to go out and experience them -- often enough give more sensational somethings beyond and including everything that exists in your online sphere.

Hello, Audrey here again with the little announcement: On Friday, April 1, I deactivated my Facebook and Pinterest, and got Kat to take my Instagram account and change my password. I did this because 1) I waste too much time browsing social media with no purpose, and 2) I don't feel any better after using social media--occasionally I even feel worse. Five days in, I can tell you that this is no April Fools' joke. I'm testing the waters April 1 - May 1, and if I'm feeling good, this could be indefinite! Maybe I'll even muster up the courage to pry myself away from the enticing arms of Tumblr and Twitter. Until then, the best way to stay in touch now is Twitter, Tumblr, Snapchat (@auderoylin), or emailing me through my contact form.

(Wow, now that I list all the ways you can contact me, it appears that I haven't really broken up with social media. But Facebook and Instagram are my main modes of social media, which I've purged myself of, so it feels big. Tumblr is the other big one, but I can't bring myself to get rid of it yet...)

tl;dr-- Kat has broken up with social media, six weeks strong, and shares some of her insights. I myself have recently deactivated Facebook and Pinterest, and will be inactive on Instagram. The best way to stay in touch now is Twitter, Tumblr, Snapchat (@auderoylin), or emailing me through my contact form until May 1, and if I'm feeling good, perhaps indefinitely.

PS: dorm tour by kat lee

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