I’ve never thought of myself as needing social media, and in a sense I really don’t. But at the same time, I do. I never really realized that there could be different ways of needing new media. I in no way rely on social media for my sense of identity, but I do admit that it’s almost a necessity in my day-to-day life. Social media and technology have a direct effect on my connections with other people, my access to information, and my general functioning in school and work. But more than that, it has become such an integrated part of society. It is clear that the key is to find a balance with my own life, using social media as a tool instead of a crutch, and understanding that it can be used for far more than posting pictures and chatting friends.
As I stated, I firmly believe that my personal identity is not tied to my social media use. I’ve been a Facebook user since my freshman year of high school, and I have used Twitter/Snapchat/Instagram, but it has never been an addiction. I mentioned earlier in the project that this summer I did my own version of a social media diet. At first it was sort of like an itch, or a natural reflex to check my social media, but week-by-week it got easier. I noticed a change of internal thought process. Instead of thinking “this would make a great snapchat” I began enjoying what was going on around me. Suddenly walking with my dog was less burdensome, as I no longer had to try to take a good picture to instagram or snap to my friends. I was no longer concerned with what others were doing and how it compared to me; I was merely enjoying things for the sake of enjoyment.
I did re-download the majority of my social media once school started, but I have noticed how much my behavior and attitude towards it has changed. While it is interesting to check and keep up with, I haven’t felt like it holds the same importance as it previously has. I have learned to live without it, so it doesn’t feel as necessary. I was sometimes afraid that I would fall out of my social circles or that people would forget about me, but the loss of a Facebook profile has proven not to be a loss of self.
In fact, the media diet I did for this class showed me that this “loss” of my social media self led to more of a focus on my actual self. Instead of filling my usual commute downtown with the goings-on of my Facebook friends, I would read a book or the news. When I say I read the news, I want to clarify. Initially, I told myself I would read five articles a day from various news sources. This plan worked about as well as a New Year’s Resolution or Bob Dylan’s Christmas album. I compromised by downloading the Skimm, a daily summary of world news sent via email. I immediately thought of Nicholas Carr’s “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” article, because I didn’t have the attention span to read multiple articles, I was drawn to the shorter, briefer news summary.
Even though it wasn’t as much as I’d originally planned to do, it did give me an interesting look at what is going on in the world. In terms of reading books, I was finally able to start (and finish) Gone Girl. Facebook Ella was replaced with (semi) globally conscious, book-reading Ella. It was surprising how easy it was to adjust to not using social media. I can genuinely say that my identity did not change but I spent more time thinking about myself. I found it funny that instead of scrolling through other people’s thoughts via Twitter, I was stuck with my own stream-of-consciousness (I got no favorites).
While technology and media don’t play a huge role in my personal identity, they do factor in to my relationships with other people. My brief absence from social media meant that there were quite a few parts of other people’s lives that I did not experience. I cannot even count the number of times I was asked, “Did you not get my snap?” or “Did you see my tweet?” The way in which I interacted with people changed because I was no longer using the same channels. I may personally not have felt any different, but I seemed different to people because our types of interactions had changed. In my sociology class I read “The Medium is the Message” by Marshall Mcluhan, which espouses that the medium through which a message is delivered affects how the message is perceived. It embeds itself in the message, exerting pressure and bias. Although not one of our class readings, I found it extremely relevant to my experience. During my media cleanse most of my social interactions were in person, lengthier and deeper than a snapchat or comment on instagram. One of my friends also assumed I was mad at her because I hadn’t responded to her Facebook messages.
Leaving social media forced me to seek out social interactions with people more directly and be more accountable. With my read receipts on, I was forced to respond to people right away. I also noticed that to fill the social void I had many more conversations with people than I usually do. I thought of the “Digital Dualism” and Vial’s argument that the digital and actual worlds are distinctly separate. There is a difference in interaction with people when it is face-to-face. While my interactions with people were deeper and increased in quality, my social “reach” of sorts was drastically smaller. I was only exposed to people that I ran in to during the day or felt inclined enough to text. Social updates from my friends were no longer conveniently listed on an app on my phone; I had to do more work to hear them.
Ironically enough, the first day of my social media cleanse was also the first day of my new job. My new job as the social media intern for Loyola’s graduate programs. I honestly do not know how I didn’t realize this until I was sitting at my desk Monday morning, but it turned out to be the most interesting development of my project. I technically “cheated” all three days because I accessed Facebook and Twitter, but it was through Loyola’s different accounts and not my own. Instead of seeing social media as a method of socializing, I was using it as a tool for marketing and reaching the specific audiences with different needs. It’s also made clear the fact that social media is no longer just a way for young people to keep in touch with friends; it’s a powerful marketing tool and quickly becoming an integral part of society.
I help post for and support the social media for the Loyola’s Institute of Pastoral Studies, School of Social Work, School of Education, School of Continuing and Professional Studies, School of Nursing, and transfer students. Each school has a different audience and must tailor the direction of their posts and content to the needs of their current and prospective students. For example, the School of Continuing and Professional Studies (SCPS) is largely composed of working adults who want to complete their degree. SCPS’s social media pages often post about events going on around campus to create more of a sense of the Loyola community among their students. We choose events that take place in the evenings and would attract an older audience.
It was interesting to tweet for the first time on a profile that was nothing like my own and fully comprehend that Twitter extends way beyond my tiny social bubble. The Institute of Pastoral Studies celebrated the day of St. Jerome (who translated the bible from Greek to Latin) by tweeting a passage from the bible every 15 minutes on September 30th followed by the hashtag #IPSBible. We manage all of our accounts through Sprout Social, so I was able to program each tweet to go out at a specific time. Piously (heh) logging all 96 tweets into Sprout was a surprisingly cleansing experience for me on multiple levels. I had given up Twitter, yet here I was tweeting Genesis through Revelations. It was like some strange, social media Hail Mary. I’m not Catholic and don’t consider myself to be particularly religious, but I grew up going to church every Sunday so reading each passage brought a sense of peace. It wasn’t so much in a religious way, more just a general spiritual peace and feeling connected to humanity. Catholicism and religion in general is so wide-reaching you can’t help but feel humbled; even if you’re not religious. I thought it was so interesting that I was on a social media “detox” but my first real interaction with it was the most cleansing part of my week.
The social media cleanse really allowed me to analyze not only my personal relationship with social media, but also how social media extends beyond my own personal use and can be a valuable tool for society. Ideally I know that I need to reach a balance between online and real life, similar to Vial’s point that we need to be comfortable with the two to reduce conflict. I will continue to use Facebook, Twitter, etc., but I also need to be more conscious of my interactions with the people and world around me. Reading the news is something that I now do daily, and I feel much more globally aware than I did before my media diet. At the end of the day, it is clear that social media isn’t the problem. Facebook only becomes a rabbit hole if I make it into one. Social media and technology are great tools but we must treat them like it. Sometimes a break and a little self-reflection is all you need.