Social media is over (if you want it)

Losing Instagram on vacation.

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Okay, I’m going back to taking the week off now. —Kate

At first, yesterday felt like the premise of a horror movie I’d turn off halfway through. With the Facebook outage not only bringing down Instagram and WhatsApp, but reportedly cutting off employee access to buildings as well, a tiny part of my brain couldn’t help but worry this would somehow end with us once again ransacking grocery stores for toilet paper. After two hours or so, though, when it became clear this was more than just a blip, I settled into a new emotion: relief.  

I was sitting with my friends by a pool in North Carolina on a vacation primed for sharing photos and other memories across social media platforms. Rather than feeling frustrated by the sudden lack of social media opportunities, I felt I had been released from what for some reason feels like an obligation to validate my actions through external feedback—to prove to the world over and over again that I’m here, or else I don’t exist. 

Given how my childhood coincided with the rise of social media, I’m not sure I ever had time to develop a healthy set of tools for internal validation before comments, likes, and shares became the de facto means for determining my worth. FanFiction turned to MySpace turned to Facebook turned to Instagram before being joined by Twitter, at which point my career required keeping up with all of it (well, not FanFiction and MySpace). I don’t know what it looks like to appreciate something without documenting it. I don’t know what it’s like to think something I’ve made is good without being informed by digital metrics.

All I have to do to start fixing this is log off, but that means independently making the decision to sacrifice that sense of connection and potentially a number of work opportunities. But yesterday, someone else did it for me. I always knew in my heart that Facebook and Instagram would come back. But for six hours (was it really only six hours?) I allowed myself to briefly imagine that this was the new normal, that the 20-year experiment with social media was wrapping up and the rest of life would be just me, doing what I want in my own small orbit of people and places and things. 

This doesn’t mean I didn’t keep instinctively opening and shutting Instagram, or going to take a photo of something only to realize I had nowhere to share it. The addiction is very much still there, but it felt like yesterday, we all were significantly awakened to it. 

On my Twitter feed, where everyone was congregating in the absence of Instagram, this seemed to be the overwhelming response. The real-world implications aside, for those for whom Instagram is only a social tool, it seemed to provide a reprieve we didn’t even realize was so long-awaited. I also noticed it prompted more people than I expected to announce that, actually, they had recently left Instagram, so this wasn’t affecting them. When I think about how I am gently untangling myself from social media, I worry I’m fighting against a current that’s only going to become more powered by apps and the internet. But yesterday was a positive sign that, maybe, unregulated and all-encompassing social media use isn’t the guaranteed future of our society. Maybe, one day, we’ll all just log off.

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