What Really Happens When You Quit Social Media?

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I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve totally walked into a tree in my haste to catch up on missed Twitter notifications. Sound familiar? You and I both know we’re all obsessed with our phones. Burning eyes? Check. Procrastinating and then stressing out about it after? Check. Why not get rid of some of these negative side effects? As crazy as it sounds to quit social media, a cleanse is more doable than you’d think.

But just how do you resist that strong pull? “Social media give us the option to stay in continual contact with others but also offer great flexibility in how often and in what ways we actually do so. College students live their lives at a fast pace, and social media outlets allow them to ‘scratch their social itch’ whenever they want or whenever they can,” said Florida State University James E. Kirk Professor of Communication Arthur Raney.

Besides that, social media just feels good. “For instance, we post a picture and receive likes, comments and shares, and this positive attention can boost our moods. When this happens, we begin to have positive associations with social media use, and we are drawn to it when we feel the need for that positive boost,” said Dr. Katherine Dale, a postdoctoral scholar in positive media psychology from FSU.

Hard to pull away from? Yes. Impossible? Definitely not. FSU professor Jay Rayburn said some of his friends quit Facebook after the 2016 election. “I do know some of my friends have just said I can’t take this anymore… [They’ve] just completely gone off the site. And from what I gather they hadn’t missed it a minute.”

So how do you actually quit social media?

For one, start small. “It’s going to be harder in the beginning, and you might want to start with 30 minutes at a time and then you can do an hour, and then two hours, and then a full evening of no social media,” said UCLA psychology professor Lara Ray. “That’s why I say usually start in smaller increments and then increase it over time and over time it’s going to become more normal to be disconnected.”

Maybe you’ll read a magazine or talk to someone. You know, the stuff you never do because you’re so immersed in Facebook. But will your newfound free time also cause you to go into withdrawal? Not exactly. According to Ray, a phone obsession isn’t exactly recognized as an addiction per se. So you won’t exactly experience the iPhone withdrawal version of a caffeine headache. Instead, you might feel uncomfortable. “In the beginning it’s going to be very awkward, like what do I do with my hands, what do I do, I’m really feeling disconnected because my phone is not close to me,” said Ray.

Besides that, keep in mind that there’s not really any definitive side effect to logging off. According to Rayburn, there isn’t really a way to measure its effects because that’ll rely on self-reporting. The takeaway? Although people might report that they feel crappy without Instagram to distract them, you don’t really know what’ll happen until you try it for yourself. You might end up perfectly fine, and feel more well-rested (no more 2 a.m. scroll sessions) to boot. The opposite could also happen: People might say they feel refreshed and ready to prance happily on a mountaintop, but they could also be lying. The bottom line is: You won’t experience the apocalypse.

According to Raney, students mainly missed listening music when they disconnected from all media for 24 hours. “They liked being forced to disconnect in one way so they could reconnect in others,” said Raney. Of course, you might feel FOMO. “In contrast, other students report hating not being able to look at photos on Instagram or Snapchat with their friends.”

So you might be glad to hear you don’t need to say goodbye to Instagram or Snapchat forever. Just control your obsessions. “If you are in a bad mood, you might find that uplifting videos shared online can make you feel better, even just temporarily,” said Dale. That’s right; you can still watch and share adorable cat videos.

“Completely quitting may not be the best approach. There is evidence that social media can be detrimental to your well-being, but there is also evidence that it can enhance your well-being,” said Dale. “Instead of trying to decide whether or not you should quit social media, you might want to consider how you can use it in a positive way, or at the very least, how to use it so that it isn’t detrimental.”

Just like with chocolate and pizza, moderation is the key here, people. While you can brave the side effects and learn to live off the grid, you could also learn how to work Facebook into your daily habits.

Wondering what it’s really like to quit social media?

I’ve been curious about this for a long time. I know I’m addicted just like everyone else.  My usual social media habits involve scrolling through Twitter and Instagram, stalking/fangirling over celebrities and staying up to date on what my friends do.

But I gotta say—my kryptonite is Tumblr. Picture this: I usually arrive to work five minutes before my shift starts at 5, and the second after I turn off the ignition I reach for my phone. I never close Tumblr, and my eyes automatically glue themselves to my phone as I search random hashtags and read random posts about my favorite show. I look up at dashboard. Yikes, it’s 4:59, and I should really head inside. But as a loud voice sounds in my mind, telling me to get off my phone, I put it on mute. Do people really need their breakfast sandwiches at 5 in the morning? No. So I settle back into the seat.

Of course, fast forward 10 minutes, and you’ll find me booking it out of the car like an idiot rushing to make it to the bus in the rain. Yes, that includes panting, my carefully constructed bun coming loose and stuff flying out of my bag. Did I remember to lock the car? I’m honestly not sure, but I can’t bring myself to really care. Ehh, there’s nobody here. Nobody will steal it.

Yikes. Hi, I’m Val and I’m addicted to Tumblr.

So because of my masochistic urge to make life miserable, I decided to try this social media cleanse for myself.

The Rules:

  • No form of social media allowed, including but not limited to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Snapchat, you name it.
  • The only exception? Sending out tweets on College Mag’s Twitter account (I am editor-in-chief, after all)
  • Reading articles about funny tweets or Tumblr posts wasn’t allowed either, AKA no Buzzfeed

Day 1:

Day 1 and these Twitter notifications are already bothering me…

I have a bit of an unhealthy obsession with scrolling through on Tumblr (read: obsessing over) gifs from my favorite TV shows while watching said show. But usually I’m too busy to watch TV, so I just use Tumblr as a substitute. Not today. I actually wanted Netflix sans distractions today. My god.

As the day went on, my missed Twitter notifications started to really bother me. I cleared them as soon as they popped up, but I couldn’t make the little red number go away without opening the app. So, ugh. I couldn’t think of anything except all the funny memes, angry tweets and TV show spoilers I was surely missing. Like I pictured tweets floating before my eyes. Ugh. These two weeks need to go by faster.

Day 2:

I usually like to go on Tumblr or Instagram during lunch at work (what else?), but today of course that wasn’t allowed. Do you know what it feels like to actively deny yourself something? With my phone in hand, I literally paced around the break room for the first 15 minutes, probably concerning the crap out of my coworkers. I redid my makeup, fixed my hair, re-organized my locker (to be fair I have about three years of random buildup inside, including handfuls of stray plastic gloves) and finally sat down, rolling and unrolling a roll of paper towels.

Finally, to avoid that temptation, I put my phone on airplane mode and read a book instead. I mean I pulled out an actual paperback (thank goodness I keep tons of random stuff in my car) and started to read it. Someone actually raised their eyebrow at me when they saw me sitting back, feet propped up on another chair, and I just glared. Like…seriously I know how ridiculous I look. I nearly reached for my bag to beat them with it out of frustration, but stopped just in time.  Because that was a manager. Probably not the best idea to resort to violence just yet.

At least I stayed distracted. Right?

Work was busy AF, so the day passed by uneventfully. I can’t say I missed Facebook or Twitter that much, but maybe that’s just because my mind was full of thoughts like “yikes, I’m the only one running an entire deli and there’s a line full of pissed off customers.” Thankfully, that night I was too tired from waking up before 4 a.m. The second I sat down on my bed, I kid you not—I curled up like a kitten and my eyes slid shut within 10 seconds. You know that feeling where you feel so tired you’re almost paralyzed? I could feel my phone digging into my hip, but my entire body felt like lead and I slept on top of it instead.

Day 3:

I mean just look at all these tabs…

So here’s what I realized about myself today: When I’m stressed, I go on social media. When I’m bored, I go on social media. And when I desperately want to procrastinate, I go on…you guessed it, social media. Today, I fell squarely into the third category; while writing and editing today, whenever I felt like taking a break, I found myself reaching for my phone and pulling up Twitter on autopilot, only to realize that no, Twitter was not allowed. The same thing happened twice more, and a little while later I started daydreaming about different sites I could go on instead. From old CM articles to HelloGiggles to Cosmo to TMZ (don’t judge), I started to open tab after tab before my laptop started to freak, flash that irritating rainbow wheel and crash.  This meant that my procrastination has reached a whole new level. Instead of taking away social media to avoid procrastinating, I actively searched for something to help me procrastinate.

Day 4:

Instagram emailing me about all the posts I’m missing is really not helping. Today, I mainly wanted to scroll through Insta, especially since I have a tendency to pronounce everything around me “Instagram worthy.” This happened when I made the most perfect looking sandwich at work (think elegantly stacked turkey straight out of a Jimmy John’s ad, a slice of cheddar split in two identical triangles and a piece of lettuce that covered the bread just so), or curled up on the couch with a soft blanket and a cup of tea. So cliché, right? But I found that as soon as I started to watch Netflix or started to write, I actually stopped thinking about my phone. #Progress.

Day 5:

How do you walk past a display of pumpkin spice Cheerios without snapchatting that? First of all, people, it’s way too early for anything pumpkin-flavored. And Cheerios? Really? But in all seriousness, it took a fair amount of self-control to not Snapchat that. I made do with taking a regular picture and sending it instead. That actually didn’t feel too different from Snapchatting, and there’s no pressure to snap someone back to maintain that streak if you’re just texting.

Beyond that, today I was pretty annoyed that I didn’t know about Kylie Jenner allegedly being pregnant until hours after it hit Twitter. In hindsight, I really don’t care that much. But I hated feeling genuinely shocked and like I lived under a rock when a friend texted me about it.

Valerie Siu

That’s one thing I’ve missed; this reminded me of all the articles I usually read, whether it’s from Buzzfeed, The New York Times or even sites like The Odyssey. I usually rely on social media for news, regardless of it’s politics or celeb gossip, and without those apps I may as well be stranded in the middle of the Canadian forest. I thrive on being informed and staying on top of things. Without that info, I feel naked somehow.

Day 6/7:

Not much to report for today. I spent most of the weekend with a cold, which meant cough drops, tea and lots of time in bed. Did I even glance at my phone? Not really. By now, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat live in the far back of my mind. When I was awake, my first thoughts revolved around responding to texts.

The Takeaway:

 One thing that surprised me? It sounds harsh to say, but while I bet I missed a ton of updates about my friends’ first weeks back to school and suffering through 8 a.m.s, their adventures studying abroad and having a Lizzie McGuire worthy time in Rome or just random posts complaining about work, I can’t exactly say I cared all that much.

If it was super important (i.e. a new job or something) I would’ve gotten a text. And if not? Well then did it really matter that I liked their post, tweet or photo? No. And I hung out with some of them in person anyway, where we got caught up on all the nonsense that happens, and just seeing their faces (sounds cheesy right?) made me smile a lot more than it would’ve to see their posts in my feed.

However, I did miss social media in terms of it being a news outlet. Call me uninformed, but I don’t make it a habit to read The Seattle Times every morning. Instead, I rely on Facebook or Twitter to tell me what I need to know. Without those articles, I found myself at a loss as to what to read. Whether on the toilet or waiting to warm my car in the morning, I had nothing to distract myself.

I’m probably the only English major who doesn’t actively read actual books everyday, but this week I embraced the stereotype and started to dig into the huge pile in my room, carrying a novel around with me wherever I went, including you guessed it, the bathroom. Of course, an hour later I threw Pride and Prejudice aside with disgust and picked up a murder mystery instead. There’s just something about psychological twists that gets my heart racing, and I made it through six books this week.

Did I miss anything earth shattering this week? I have no way to know, really. Do I care enough to dig through and find out? I thought I did on day 5, but looking back, that sounds exhausting AF. Guess this means that I don’t in fact really need to read random articles about the new iPhone, whatever BS Trump is up to now or what to pair leggings and boots with. I can live without it.

So I can say I did survive without social media, and that it’s entirely possible to do so. Not staying informed on the world’s event may seem a little naïve, but it’s not a huge deal. Looks like I can work towards going off the grid if I choose.

But BRB, going on Tumblr now.

Updated September 27, 2017 to include “Wondering What it’s Really Like to Quit Social Media?”

Valerie is a senior at the University of Washington, studying English/Creative Writing and History. She loves anything caffeinated, Netflix and long road trips. She'll always be obsessed with Once Upon a Time, Scandal, Private Practice and Agents of Shield.

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