The Oxford English Dictionary defines a persona as “the aspect of someone’s character that is presented to or perceived by others”. I, personally, have had more than my fair share of social media personas over the last few years. I have invented and maintained identities that I wanted people to see – to believe – in an effort to make myself seem like I have my life together, to seem like I am happy and popular and confident. It has often been the case that the reality was the total opposite. Things came to head recently, and I decided to take myself off Facebook permanently, to delete Snapchat and to severely limit my use of Instagram, all of which I will go into detail in a little bit.
I want to make it very clear that I am not comprehensively criticising the use of social media. My following thoughts and comments are only relevant to my personal experience and how I respond to situations. I am very aware that social media has a wonderful presence. It can be an incredible platform to inspire others, share essential information quickly to a huge audience, share things with people you care about, and even develop your career. In such an instance it may be beneficial, or even necessary, to share only the professional side of your identity – and therefore invent a persona – to further the effects of this usage. If social media makes you happy, or even if it simply doesn’t negatively affect you, then use it, absolutely.
I, personally, have had a difficult relationship with social media. The personas that I have created over the years have not reflected the entirety of who I am as a person. Instead they have been warped reflections of my attempts to define who I am – to fit myself into a box and define myself – before I am mature and experienced enough to not only know, but to be confident in, my identity.
My Instagram started as a “food and fitness” page, where I would post up to four pictures a day of my meals and my body as I trained religiously at the gym. While, again, if used for the right reasons this can be a brilliant resource, it restricted me and narrowed my perceptions of the world. I got used to eating cold food – even food I didn’t like (cough-avocado-cough) – simply in order to get the picture of it, and my bulimia resurfaced when my ‘progress’ pictures showed I wasn’t making much progress. After a lot of those issues were resolved, and the gym developed into a safe and enjoyable space, my Instagram turned into what I thought would be an honest reflection of my life. However, I would upload pictures and then delete them if I didn’t get enough likes. I would send ten versions of the same picture with minute variations on the ‘brightness’ scale to four different friends to ask for their opinion. I was still obsessively managing what I posted in order to present myself to my peers, and even to strangers, in such a way that would make people ‘like’ (both literally and on the app) me.
Facebook wasn’t much better. While I was slightly more honest – I would post status’s when I had opinions on recent events and share news items and links that I thought were important to read – I still micromanaged the photos that I uploaded (or even worse, was tagged in). Again would delete things if I felt they didn’t get a good response and I would consider what certain people might think before posting anything. I know some people are going to be reading this and feeling absolutely incredulous that someone might go to these lengths – might care that much – and I am truly envious of you. I’m actually pretty embarrassed to be admitting it, but I promised myself that whatever I posted now would be honest and open, so here we go.
Snapchat made me feel infinitely more narcissistic and self-obsessed. I guess being encouraged to take pictures of yourself with filters that are designed to either be funny or literally make you “more attractive” can do that. Again, this is not a comprehensive criticism. Snapchat can be brilliant to share funny moments that happen quickly and would otherwise be lost, as well as to communicate in an interesting and personal way. Additionally, I fully support selfie taking. Own your confidence, your beauty, your individuality and show it off to the world. But I found that, more often than not, I was taking these pictures looking for validation from other people. I was waiting to see that the guy I liked had seen my snapchat story; for the potential message ‘hey you’ message from said guy, or the (much appreciated) “yaaaas girl 🔥” messages from my girlfriends.
Initially I was just going to have a ‘Facebook Friends’ cleanse. This, I reasoned, would mean that I wouldn’t worry so much about what I was posting because the people I would keep would be people I felt comfortable with and who I thought would be interested in what I shared and what I had to say. The victims of the delete button were…
- People I didn’t know that well and had added/accepted them as friends of friends.
- People I didn’t have much of an inclination to stay in touch with.
- People who I didn’t think had any positive interest in my own life.
- People who I hadn’t spoken to in over a year.
This took me down to 350 friends. I seems like a daft way to measure it’s effectiveness, but I did notice that the number of people who had ‘liked’ my “Dissertation Hand-In” photo had not gone down, and that almost three-quarters of my friends list had ‘liked it’. This told me that it was effective to a degree, because the people I had kept had at least some interest in my life and supported me in my achievements. However, social media can be very political and there were still people on my friends list who I didn’t particularly want there, but I was anxious about the consequences of deleting them. One solution would have been just to unfollow them, but I didn’t really want them still being able to see my life. So instead I decided to delete it totally. It was long process and included saving all of my photos to my laptop (tagged and uploaded, it took an age) and contacting everyone I still wanted to stay in contact with to make sure I had their number. Facebook has a 14 day ‘cooling off’ period in which you can return to it with your profile still intact after deleting it, which came in very useful when I was desperate to check Harry and Sam (two close friends who are currently in New Zealand) were okay following the earthquake, but it has now gone for good. And honestly, I have not missed it at all.
Deleted and forgotten, dog filter and all.
The first thing I did was make my account private: if I’m only posting things for friends, then I feel like I’m far less likely to worry over what I share. I then unfollowed a lot of celebrity pages (those I followed purely for the pretty faces and snazzy outfits rather than for inspiration or enlightenment) as well as people I didn’t know in real life. I have made a promise to donate £2 to charity every time I upload a selfie to try and make sure I only do it for me, when I’m feeling really good about myself and want to show it off, rather than for validation (and I figure there’s never a reason not to donate to charity) and forbidden myself to delete anything I upload.
WHAT HAVE I LEARNED AND WHAT HAS CHANGED?
1. How pervasive social media can be (and that the FOMO wasn’t as bad as I thought).
The week before I deleted my Facebook, I did a trial in which I just didn’t use it. For the whole time I had this huge, genuine, anxiety of missing out on things – on events, on funny stories, on memes, on drama. This fear went pretty quickly when I realised that the people who really did care about me – actually liked me, rather than just provided internet likes – would make that effort to keep me in the loop. I still had WhatsApp!
When I logged back in after that week, though, to save all my photos etc. etc. I found myself scrolling and scrolling through the home feed. It was at least an hour later when I realised what was happening and closed the laptop. I hadn’t missed the site at all during that week, but within an hour I was hooked again. Scary, huh? While it was lovely to see some photos from friends who are travelling, the majority of my feed was daft videos, (admittedly fire) selfies, and adverts, none of which enrich my life all that much.
2. By disconnecting from a social network I have reconnected with my friends.
I can’t express how nice it is to hear some news and be genuinely surprised, or excited, by it, rather than replying with, ‘yeah, I saw that on Facebook. I’ve started to receive and send letters, which is far more exciting to see that a Messenger notification. I now have to think and plan for people’s birthdays, rather than a half-arsed, ‘happy birthday!’ on their Facebook wall (and only done when Facebook reminds me) and now communicating with people is a meaningful and enjoyable experience, rather than a shitty ‘like’ over the internet.
3. It’s nice to have some anonymity.
I like the idea that people I meet won’t already have a preformed idea of who I am in their heads. If someone wants to get to know me, they will have to make that effort rather than give me a quick search on Facebook. People won’t know my news unless I choose to tell them, and that choice is really empowering,
4. There is SO much time in the day.
Before deleting my accounts, my morning routine was to wake up, check Facebook, check Instagram and check Snapchat. Then do it again. Then get up and scroll through them while I ate breakfast. Before bed I would check them all at least three times, and maybe again if I woke up in the night. My instinctive reaction when I was in a waiting room, or at a bus stop, or in the car (not driving!) was to open Facebook, or Snapchat – to look down and check my phone.
Now in the mornings I scroll through the news. I always have a book in my bag to read when I’m waiting or bored and I’ve rediscovered my love of music (both playing and listening). I have started to draw more, to look up – to remind myself of what I love and do things that enrich me as a human, rather than makes me compare my own activities to what others are doing and feel like I should be doing the same. I have regained literal hours of my day
5. I actually quite like my face. Or at least I don’t care enough to dislike it.
Since removing myself from Facebook two weeks ago, and I have only taken one selfie. I am neither saying this is good or bad, but personally I used to take a lot more (at least 50 for every I posted to Instagram or Facebook, probably around three or four times a week) and way more over Snapchat every day. Like I said earlier, I am an avid supporter of selfies in themselves, but I was 100% doing it for other people’s validation. This time, this singular time, was because I felt really good that day and I wanted to share it. It was entirely for me and, unlike before, I wasn’t checking every few minutes to see how many likes it had gotten, and who those likers were.
I have also found that I’m wearing way less make up day to day – putting it on is not a reflex, but an effort for an occasion. Again, I am in no way saying people shouldn’t wear make up, but it was armour for me, and now I haven’t felt the need to wear it as much. I haven’t often felt the need to look at myself, or study my face in the same way I used to, but when I do I like what I see in the mirror, something I never thought I’d say.
6. I no longer using dating (cough-hook-up) apps.
Arguably, this might be because you need a Facebook account to use Tinder and Bumble. And I won’t pretend that I haven’t been tempted. But not being able to has been a blessing, because while I have used both apps in the past (and had both really awful and really great experiences) and wouldn’t change that, I’m at a stage in my life now where I would like to meet someone organically, through common interests, mutual friends or even by chance. I don’t want to be judged immediately by my face (although it could be suggested that happens in real life too) or analysing which of my pictures might get the best reactions.
I want to feel natural and positive when dating – to know that someone is interested in me rather than wondering what their definition of ‘casual’ will be. I don’t want to be second-guessing what I type, receiving creepy chat up lines* or judging someone on a few pictures. Let’s hang out in real life.
*the creepiest ever was possibly: ‘What’s the difference between jam and jelly? I can’t jelly my d*ck up your a**.’
7. My phone battery lasts way longer!
This doesn’t really need further explanation, but now my iPhone will last up to two days once it’s fully charged.
8. Social media definitely isn’t all bad.
There are some things I miss. I miss the convenience of contacting people, especially those I met when I was travelling. I miss being able to share articles, news, and opinions within a ready made, prepared-to-read community. I miss being able to see pictures that people I love share remotely.
But, all of these things have solutions. They may not be as simple, or quick, but in an age of instant gratification I don’t think that’s such a bad thing. I’m not suggesting that you all go cold-turkey and shut off your Facebook’s, or Snapchat’s. But maybe just take a day or two away from it. Realise how much more time you’ll have in a day, rediscover a hobby that you used to love, or think about who you care about seeing into your personal life.
I would also love to hear from people who have already removed themselves from social media platforms. Why did you do it? What have you learned since?