The first time I deleted Instagram was during my final year of high school. I noticed how I would spend hours scrolling through Instagram and then, after recognizing how little time I had until my final exams, I would go on my phone again to distract myself from these thoughts. A week before having my exams I finally deleted Instagram. Needless to say, my grades were horrible and I almost had to repeat the year. After that, I decided to also delete my other social media accounts, such as Snapchat and Facebook.
I have always had a love-hate relationship with social media. I felt like I was living the life that people decided to share on social media, whereas in reality, I was alone in my room. I remember clearly how scared I was of missing out on important information once I deleted my social media. This is also known as FOMO: fear of missing out. So on the one hand, I had FOMO which led to me picking up my phone several times a minute, but on the other hand, I knew that social media had a tremendously negative effect on my mental health.
When I moved to Amsterdam in 2019, I made the mistake of making a new Instagram account. It was fun at first because I was able to reconnect with my friends from high school and I was able to meet new people from Amsterdam. But after a while, I noticed how toxic my behavior had become. I was obsessed with my phone – the first thing I did after waking up was scrolling through Instagram and checking whether I missed something. As a matter of fact, I did not. Whenever I posted a picture, I double-checked whether it would fit into my feed and if not I wouldn’t post it. Then there was also the pressure of having more followers than others. I wanted to follow people that I had never met in real life. But why would I be interested in what a stranger had for breakfast? It is important to remember that social media is not real life. It does not matter how many followers you have, they cannot replace your real-life connections. After a few months, I deleted Instagram again and I don’t plan on reactivating my account. My friend Anna even deleted her WhatsApp account immediately after graduating from high school. Here is what she said: “I deleted WhatsApp because I felt like I used it to compensate for the lack of real-life interaction with people and that it took away so much of my own time that could be put to use in better ways. The medium we use shapes the conversations we have. In the case of WhatsApp, conversations were usually made up of short replies, random emojis and were generally devoid of meaningful information. The sole purpose was to keep the conversation going. Nevertheless, there was always an urge to reply to every message and I would spend hours just texting emojis back and forth with people instead of fixing on a date to meet in person. When I did meet some of my friends face-to-face, they would often be busy texting other people on WhatsApp and sending them pictures of the ‘meeting’ they didn’t really take part in. That’s when I realized that I didn’t want to use WhatsApp for its own sake but that it should facilitate connecting with people in real life. Since then, people have to contact me via text message or email – but when they do, I know that they genuinely want to be in touch and don’t just do it out of convenience or boredom. At the same time, I am not susceptible to treating others in the same disrespectful way and that makes me feel like a better friend.”
Advantages of deleting social media
There are a lot of advantages when it comes to deleting social media. One is that you are more aware of what is happening around you. You are not taking pictures for others in order to show off where you are at the moment; you simply are living in the moment. I enjoyed my food and watched sunsets without taking pictures of them. Coming back to what Anna said, I met my friends in real life instead of chatting with them online and without constantly posting about it. I also started to read more. I was able to sleep better. Being well-rested lead to me being more balanced. Moreover, I was finally able to focus on my tasks without getting distracted. Do I still feel like I am missing out? No, because if something important happens, my friends either text me or I read about it in the news. It is important to mention that deleting my social media accounts itself did not solve my problems. I could easily spend hours on YouTube instead. I had to learn how to find the right balance and how to control myself better. You don’t have to delete social media in order to do so, you just have to know how to use it for your advantage and you have to be aware when it is getting too much or when it is harming your mental health. Research has shown that social media can lead to an increased feeling of loneliness and increase the risk of depression.
Just know that your worth is not measured in likes, comments, or followers, but in your ability to love, keep comments to yourself, take note, and lead.
Cover: Christopher Ott