This post was originally written by Annie from the blog Terumah, a space dedicated to style, beauty, travel, art, and creative living, as well as self-care and spirituality.
Some people love sharing their lives online. If this is a positive experience and they are still physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy after heavy app use, kudos to them. Everyone has a different relationship with social media, and what can benefit one person can be detrimental to another.
This post is really for the people who are driven crazy by all the app use or feel forced to post stuff in order to promote their work. After several conversations with different bloggers and friends, I realised how beaten down some are when it comes to social media use, Instagram in particular. There’s the constant comparison to others’ carefully curated profiles, the addiction to the dopamine of receiving likes and followers, or getting depressed when not getting enough likes and followers. It’s not just teens feeling this way, but also middle-aged adults.
Some are so sick of social media, they’re deleting their accounts. I hear about celebrities switching to dumb phones. I won’t be surprised if people start living off the grid when all the screen use pushes them to their breaking point. I read about popular Youtubers who have meltdowns and disappear. When the creators of these apps are warning others to cut back on social media use, you know it’s a serious problem.
But I think there can be a balance where you can reap the benefits of modern technology without letting it control you. I wouldn’t give up my smartphone because it does make my life easier. I like using Google Maps for directions and transit information. Apps like KnowRoaming, Uber and Yelp are invaluable, especially on my travels. While I’m tempted by the idea of a dumb phone, no way I’m texting on a numeric keypad.
I still enjoy using social media because I have strict boundaries. This is not a foolproof system, but techno addiction is very real and can be very destructive. If these tips can help you curb your dependence on apps just a little, it’s progress.
I don’t post about my personal life online. This is the most important thing for me in keeping sane. As I grow my readership on this blog, I’m getting more and more strict on what I’m posting to separate my online self from my real self. I think it’s a different story if you’re blogging about your personal life, you feel cathartic doing so, and you’re comfortable being an open book. I don’t need to because my site is in more of a magazine format, and the content doesn’t depend on it.
The small things would start warping my reality. I don’t want to be living my life and looking for photo ops for Instagram or funny anecdotes for Twitter. It would mess with my head. Would I really be enjoying this party if I don’t post about it? Am I into this ice cream because it’s photogenic or do I actually enjoy eating it? Do I genuinely enjoy the company of the people I’m photographed with? If I remove the option of posting about my social life, it’s not a problem. Certain posts, such as my travel diaries, do sometimes require a personal touch, and I strive to be honest. If I’m not enjoying something, I’ll say so if it’s informative to readers
I feel that private moments and life milestones are sacred. So many people are giving away these moments to strangers for free. My stance is that in order to actually know me and what I’m up to, you actually need to spend time with me. I also don’t find it interesting to learn everything about a person online immediately after meeting them. Where’s the mystery?
However, I do think what’s “personal” is relative. Maybe what I’m writing about, others wouldn’t in a million years. Who knows? The important thing is to know what personal means for you, keeping safety in mind.
Yes, keep safe. The film Ingrid Goes West freaked out a lot of influencers. Check what you’re posting and to whom to avoid creeps and robbers. Learn from the celebrities who have been robbed after bragging about their valuables online. Even if you keep your profile private, you’re not safe. What if someone in your group of “friends” uses your personal photos to Catfish other people on the Internet? (That happens on Catfish, the show.) I’m not saying to trust no one, but post stuff on the internet as if you trust no one.
Okay, so if you’re not posting about your personal life on social media, then what will you do there? I like to focus on creativity and interests. This is why I actually enjoy social media. I use it for curated news, to discover new designers/bands/photography/etc, and to be inspired by other creative people.
I mostly post on social media to promote content from this blog, although the posts are automated now, except on Instagram, where I go in to post photos on ethical style, travel, and other interests, which all require my creativity (styling, photography, writing, sharing facts). I see Instagram as more of a portfolio, where people can drop in and see what your content is about and where you can connect with others who share the similar interests. So many bloggers worry about followers and numbers. It’s not my focus. Instagram is not even the best platform to get your work seen—I hear Pinterest is—so it’s better to direct my energy in creating useful, quality content.
I used to have a personal Instagram, where I shared mostly travel photos, but I didn’t have the energy for two accounts. I also shut down my personal Twitter account for the same reason. Keeping all my social media accounts work related makes posting and interacting with people more purposeful.
I was tempted to delete my personal Facebook account, but I need it to manage my Facebook page. It’s not so bad because I use FB the “hipster way”: unfollow everyone and just use it for the news. Okay, maybe I don’t unfollow everyone because some friends are fun to follow, but my feed is mostly articles from The Onion. What do I post on FB? Articles from The Onion.
UPDATE: After all the FB scandals, I’ve decided to make my personal profile completely blank—no more personal photos, no friends, no posts—and only occasionally log in now to read the news. I can’t delete my profile because I still need it to manage my blog page.
Feel free to unfollow anyone you want, including me. Your environment always wins, and your social media feeds are part of your (digital) environment, so it’s better to follow people and accounts that inspire you. If anything or anyone conjures up negative feelings or their content doesn’t speak to you, simply unfollow. Unfriending people can be a big deal to some, but your mental health is more important than being nice to someone you never interact with in real life, ever.
I don’t really check personal feeds from friends, except I’ll make an effort to do so with good friends living abroad. Read this excellent Zadie Smith essay on why your real self is much more interesting than your online self. That’s why I prefer to catch up with friends in real life. I used to make the assumption that some friends were having a grand time in life because of their posts on social media—the exotic travels, the adoring significant other, the career milestones—but when I met up with them, I found out out their personal lives were in shambles, they were depressed, they were having relationship troubles, or the sweet job they had barely paid rent. My theory is that the more someone is posting about how happy they are, the more miserable and insecure they are in reality.
Some friends are genuinely happy, and what they post on social media reflects that. How can you tell between the truths and the lies? You talk to friends in real life.
On that note, you have to be honest with yourself when posting on social media. Only you know whether you’re posting something because you’re happy and genuinely want to share, or if you’re just doing it for the likes and social validation. Sometimes it’s a mixture of both, and that can be fine as long you’re balanced about it. Always check your intentions so you’re not outsourcing your happiness and self-esteem to a mob.
If you’re creating content for an audience, it is important to listen to what people want, but don’t lose your individuality. For example, I’m posting more ethical outfit photos on Instagram now because people want that information, but I’m not going to stop posting about museums, concerts, and other things that I’m interested in because they get less likes. I’m constantly finding my balance.
I see myself as a guinea pig on my blog and social media. I’m testing green beauty products, styling ethical clothes, and searching for travel hot spots to recommend to others. If someone likes my content, they’re saying they like my style, my writing, or my recommendations, but not necessarily me. I assume people don’t care about me but what I can help them with. This way, my ego’s not going to get inflated if I get a zillion likes, and my self-esteem is not going to drop if something doesn’t get enough likes. My work can be a reflection of me, but it is not me.
I deleted social media apps on my phone to make access difficult. No more Twitter, Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Pinterest, Bloglovin, and even Quora on my phone. The only one left is Instagram because I post content there, but I keep the app on page four on my phone, so it’s not on prime phone real estate, hence not easy to check.
UPDATE: this preventative measure doesn’t always work, so when I feel I’m checking Instagram too much, I’ll temporarily delete the app on my phone. I’ve installed Flume app for my Mac, so I can check DMs on my computer instead.
I was still checking my Facebook news feed on a phone browser, and I could easily spend an hour reading in bed. (Even though I keep my phone away from my bedroom at night, I still have the bad habit of waking up and taking my phone back to my bed to “wake up.”) I stopped that by changing my Facebook password to an automated one suggested on my computer, something impossible to memorise, so now I can only access my account on my laptop.
The reason I did all this is because if I have nothing to check on my phone, I won’t check it. My phone won’t be my crutch when I’m bored or if I’m feeling awkward in social situations. If I’m, say, waiting for someone, I’d rather sit there and be fully present in my surroundings rather than mindlessly scrolling on my phone. If I’m on public transit, I’ll read a book or write longhand in a notebook. I want to read more books again because I feel my attention span has taken a hit in recent years due to all the scrolling.
When I do use social media on my computer and come across articles that sound interesting, the Pocket app is my friend. Instead of reading the articles immediately and getting too distracted in the moment, I save them on the Pocket app to read offline on my phone at the time of my choosing. You can save articles via a Chrome extension on your browser or the Pocket app on your phone. If I’m not in the mood to read a book on the subway, I’ll read short articles from my Pocket app.
There you have it, all my tips on maintaining sanity with screen use. Even without all the social media apps on a phone, there are still phone calls, emails, and text messages that will distract you. Sometimes, a digital detox is in order.