I've never had a Facebook account. I've been successful in avoiding the blue social network for years. According to some people, I've missed out on important opportunities, events, and information. That's true. I was never in the loop because I didn't think the loop had to take place on Facebook Inc. virtual territory. I didn't understand why events, shops, friends, family, news, and everything in-between had to be on the same platform. Why do I need to consume all that junk information to get something done or connect with people?
But things changed. In middle school, the girl I used to share my desk with casually reminded me that if I don't create an Instagram account, I'll be forever alone :') In hindsight, I realize it was a mean and superficial comment. I thank my previous self for not paying attention to it. But the seed of FOMO was already instilled in my young mind. After all, it is millennials and Gen Z who have become the heaviest users of social media. So much so that we became evangelists for popularizing them and their business model:
The early stages of addiction
In 2017 — due to peer pressure — I opened my Instagram page (also owned by Facebook). I complied and joined the army. It was awkward at first. I didn't find myself attractive or interesting, so I rarely posted anything. Over time, however, my dependence on the network grew:
- Scrolling became my go-to activity when I was bored
- It became my default mode of communication
- I started stalking people I wanted to know more about
- Instagram learned all of my mental issues faster than any therapist could, so my explore feed was full of conventionally attractive and successful people
The latter meant I was becoming addicted to pitying myself. All these gorgeous and wealthy people from developed countries had a clear message: "you're worthless." I — like many people — thought it was a source of motivation. Why should I limit myself to the average world around me? I want to compete with the best of the best. If they can have flawless bodies and sip cocktails in Mykonos, so can I. Classic capitalist conditioning.
But extrinsic motivation is not sustainable. In fact, as much as I tried lying to myself and letting the "influencers" influence my mind and goals, the more I became addicted to feeling sorry for myself. I got stuck in the world of the hot and the fun, where I was just another account with 100 followers. In hindsight, I realize now that people who were not encouraged and supported enough in childhood (like me) are always prone to seeking out excessive external validation. Nobody ever told me I was good-looking until I was 17 because, frankly, I was not. The beautiful people on my screen became the perfect rat wheel for my issues.
I tried to quit by not quitting. I told myself that if I were to unfollow all the people that make me feel bad — even if it's an act of complacency — it will be enough. I convinced myself to set time limits on the app. Both failed. The number of accounts I followed grew with every connection I made, so even if these people didn't directly cause me the same damage as before, I had to watch every story. I had to know absolutely everything. I took screenshots of every song and movie they posted. I made a list of vacation destinations I want to visit. The network was now exploiting my fear of being left out.
In my early teenage years, I had very few friends, and I was rarely invited to any gatherings. I wasn't popular. I dedicated my time to things that brought me joy, like studying and watching quirky TV series. Any Doctor Who fans here? However, the classic ugly-duckling-becomes-a-normal-person moment I was waiting for never came. So, I started chasing success and academic opportunities. Ironically, even the academically-inclined people I met never invited me anywhere. "It's all on Facebook." I moved 7,800 km away from my home and decided to chase happiness there (with an Instagram account).
The latter stages of addiction
In 2019 I started gaining popularity. I was feeling more confident, sexier, and more successful because I could post more pictures of myself and from trips (disclaimer: they were usually paid for by my school). The tables were starting to turn. Inside, I was still insecure. I rarely put on nice clothes and took selfies. But on the outside, a network of followers was growing. I looked tall and had pretty photos. I was living in Korea, which was exciting for my followers back home. I succeeded in faking it till I make it!
I quickly started posting more. It felt like people had an interest in my life (spoiler alert: they don't). My stories had everything: selfies, shirtless pics, memes, Eastern European music, political commentary, expensive food, and fancy places. It was my everything. I have to admit I didn't have a carefully crafted fake online personality. I used Instagram to broadcast my identity to a larger audience. I was creating a personality cult around me. At least that's what how it felt.
At the height of my popularity, I had around 1,500 followers — a community. To me, they were my friends. I replied to their stories. I liked their pictures. I felt everything they were posting as if they had told it to me personally. I talked to wonderful people and made new connections. I enjoyed seeing comments under my pictures and did the same. My name was on 1,500 screens.
But it was all a deception. To put it bluntly: they were not my friends. Duh? It was all a game that came without a warning label. I realized that not because I was losing popularity (I wasn't) and felt angry, but because I decided to prioritize the real world.
For the first time in my life, I felt content and didn't want to seek out additional layers of reality. I discovered fulfilling friendships and emotional security and entered a healthy relationship, which I cherish. I was living life as it used to be, not the new abstracted version controlled by an algorithm worth billions.
At that point, it became easy to give up social media. I had no use for it anymore. Playing the devil's advocate, I only found a few compelling arguments to stay: promote my brand and work, keep in touch with people, and be aware of useful opportunities. I decided to gauge their impact by quitting temporarily. That is, I removed the app off my phone but kept my account.
Nothing happened. Barely anybody took the minute required to find another way to get in touch with me. My popularity didn't drop because it wasn't real in the first place. There is nothing special about me that can't be special about somebody else. And that's fine. Read that again. The wonderful thing about humanity is that the uniqueness of our experiences cannot be compared. Instagram inflated my ego, and I was actually neglecting any meaningful work I could do. Most importantly, I gave up control of my goals and desires to the external world because I wasn't strong enough to set them myself. Introspection is harder than mindlessly copying.
I don't know what opportunities I missed. I didn't just leave the loop; I consciously walked away from its rat tentacles and dollar-sign eyes. In this case, ignorance was bliss. Why should we as a generation subject ourselves to this technology when people before us lived just fine? There are wonderful things on the internet. Take the time to look for healthier communities. Take the effort to consume content in a meaningful way, not in a way that is tailored to you by Facebook overlords.
I was sitting on a bench in the park when the idea to officially delete my account struck me. I opened Instagram, hesitated for five seconds, then pressed the blue button.