I never thought Facebook would cause me to bomb an exam, but I certainly didn’t get a C on my econ final because I struggled in the class. I blame my social media addiction on my birth year, because I belong to the “tech-obsessed” Generation Z. We Gen Z’ers Facebooked and instant messaged our way through elementary and middle school. We wake up and check our phones, and we go to sleep checking our phones. We know the best times to post on Instagram. And if we don’t get over 100 likes on our photos, did we really even post? Sometimes the amount of time we spend socializing online exceeds our time in real life conversations.
I didn’t really have a problem with these “Gen Z” habits until college.
I started to realize my social media usage affected my academics when I couldn’t stop checking Instagram in my journalism class. I would spend the 75 minutes completely absorbed in my phone or computer. Sometimes I barely paid attention at all, leaving the room without raising my hand or even knowing what we discussed.
Passive scrolling harmed my academics outside of class even worse. When I went to the library with friends, I couldn’t focus. Once we all settled down to start our assignments or study, I’d open a Google doc and pretend to start writing. But as soon as a notification appeared, I’d click instantly and become absorbed again. I could spend hours at the library and only get 15 minutes of work done. The entire time would be spent crawling down a Facebook browsing hole.
After I crammed a semester of econ into seven hours with no sleep and had to guess most questions on the final, I realized I had a problem. I didn’t find the material difficult in the beginning, but I struggled to absorb anything in class. In the weeks before the exam, I tried not to look down and respond to notifications or scroll through social media during class. During one lecture, I turned off my phone and purposefully shoved it deep into my backpack. I couldn’t even get through 10 minutes without fishing it out. I didn’t feel like myself anymore. Motivation and good grades slowly slipped away.
All the notifications and time online interfered with my classes, assignments and time management. I could never just be alone with my thoughts. Any time I had without a distraction of people or technology filled me with anxiety. While as an introvert I appreciate time to myself, my dependence on a screen made it difficult to get that time to recharge. I realized that despite the fact that everyone else seemed to use social media just as much as I did, it stole my time and made me feel bad.
I debated deleting everything. I thought about how much I would miss the Facebook meme tags, the Instagram updates and Snapchat groups. After considering it, I realized I did not care that much. I felt like my life was spiraling out of my control. The days were slipping away, and the reason I was in college, to learn, felt distant. I wanted to get involved in extracurriculars/ I wanted to be seen as a leader in my classes. And I wanted the satisfaction of getting an A on an assignment, which I hadn’t had in a long time.
Why did I need to know what every friend and acquaintance did at every second of the day? The cheesy Instagram captions, cliché Snapchat stories and the forgettable Facebook videos started getting old.
So, I deleted it all at once. No more social media and no more text notifications.
The first days dragged on. I found myself picking up my phone and staring at my homepage blankly, realizing that the familiar apps I would always click on didn’t exist. I even felt phantom vibrations and I swore I got a buzz, but after I pulled out my phone, nada. While I felt tempted to re-download the apps, I made it impossible to. I deleted the Gmail account connected to my Facebook and changed the password to something I didn’t write down. I deleted my Snapchat account and Instagram account as well, which were both connected to that old email. So even if I did want to check back in, I would need to create a new account from scratch, which was more effort than I have ever wanted to expend.
It didn’t feel fair that everyone looked down at their phones while I didn’t have anything to do. Sometimes at dinner in the school diner everyone at the table would somehow check their phone at the same time, while I sat there silently. I also felt embarrassed that I had to delete social media in the first place. It didn’t seem to consume other people’s lives in such a negative way. Why me? But despite the awkward and anxious moments, I had so much more time. I now have no distractions in class and I start and finish my homework faster because I turn off notifications and Facebook can’t tempt me.
In a perfect world, I wouldn’t carry a smartphone at all. But I’m a college student, not someone living off the grid in the jungle—I need a phone for some things. So I find a happy medium. I’d encourage anyone to try being social media-free. No, you won’t get to show your ex-boyfriend how good you look on Instagram. You won’t find out about the Tide pod challenge until way later than most people. And you won’t get to see who wished you “Happy Birthday” on Facebook. But I don’t spend hours of my day looking at photos and videos of people I barely know. And I don’t feel jealous after looking at those photos.
Anxiety doesn’t seize me anytime my phone dies in public, and my attention span lasts longer than five minutes. So if you want to know how I’m doing, get in touch with me the old fashioned way: hmu via text. If that feels to personal, then maybe you don’t need to know.