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The best decision I made during quarantine — while somewhat drastic — was to delete my Instagram and Snapchat accounts. The reason was simple, I was fed up with the hidden rules of social media and the stress that came with it.
Before making those irretrievable deletions, I had to consider my gains and losses. I would gain phone storage, time and a peaceful mindset that didn’t revolve around capturing the “perfect image of the day.” But, I would lose contact with friends that only communicated through social media. Choosing to prioritize myself, I entered my passcodes and permanently deleted my online presence.
We live in an increasingly technological society that provides instant, yet superficial social gratification. The number of followers we have, the content of our pages and the specific order of our posts represent an idealistic version of who we are. Strategically curated, social media has become in some ways a means of showing off, rather than its marketed purpose, to share and connect.
The gratification of posting or sharing content is outweighed by comparing one’s life to their peers, as discussed in an article published by Psychology Today. Throw in some COVID-19 violations, and social media has become a place of judgment and dislikes. This isn’t a space that encourages connection or joy, and the emotional landmines lie everywhere. This is not territory for the faint for heart.
Given this perspective, it is perhaps not surprising that studies have demonstrated a positive correlation between social media use and an increase in anxiety and depression.
The problem with social media is it attempts to replicate interpersonal relations when in fact, social media can be a platform for the least genuine form of communication. The amount of effort or thought required to send a Snapchat or reply to an Instagram comment is significantly less than typing a personal text message. Social media is — at best — encouraging a regression in communication, and at worst giving us a false sense of intimacy and connection. It’s enabling us to falsely believe that tagging a friend in a post is an acceptable and sufficient way of expressing friendship. It’s no wonder that many feel empty and lonely in this technologic social environment.
Think about it, twenty years ago the idea of “tagging” or “poking” someone would just be rude. “Winking” is even worse. At a minimum, people should at least expect a sentence’s worth of effort and thought, not a shallow acronym like LOL (laugh out loud), which represents barely a crumb in an interpersonal meal.
As we near the seventh month of COVID-19 restrictions, now isn’t the time for fictional relations, fueled by technologically assisted interpersonal laziness, and friendships that are more caricature than multidimensional. More than ever, we need to balance physical distance with genuine and meaningful connections with people.
COVID-19 is changing the way we socialize. While the fear of contagion has prompted people to use social media more, it is possible to use it to connect with each other in substantial and intimate ways as long as we are mindful about the pitfalls. Thanks to the pandemic, we have an opportunity to recognize the disconnect and do something about it.
This is a special moment in time for our generation to re-establish the standards and means of relating. By shifting the emphasis from social media and pretend connections, we can incorporate old school methods such as hand-written letters and phone calls. Initially, this might feel forced but hey, it doesn’t need to be perfect, and at this point, we probably need some practice.
Maybe we can tolerate some awkward, silent moments in an unscripted phone conversation to make sure that we are listening. No one said that developing deepening relationships is easy, just that a life devoid of them is like living on junk food – we feel full, but don’t know why we remain hungry.
So back to me. Almost four months later, I’m closer to my friends, I’m smiling more, and I feel lighter. My phone usage is down significantly, with the majority of it dedicated to Hulu. Although I’m not seeing friends in person, with the exception of the occasional outdoor socially distanced visit in my backyard, I’m able to make quality connections via Facetime or shockingly, an old fashioned phone call.
In fact, I recently received a hand-written card in the mail from a close friend I met abroad! Not a thing in this world had the power to wipe the smile off my face. Moments like those demonstrate the importance of genuine connections, and make the transition from social media worthwhile.