This is Your Brain on Social Media

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Three years ago, I logged into Facebook for the very last time. I clicked the “permanently delete” button, without uploading any of the memories stored therein to my computer. Right now, the only form of social media on my phone is Snapchat, on which I have a whopping fifteen friends.

I’m not going to tell you that you should do the same and delete most (or all) of your social media accounts. And I’m not going to preach to you about the merits of a temporary social media detox, although Kendall and Gigi did it, so draw your own conclusions. (Tongue, meet cheek). But for the sake of conversation, I will tell you how my social media abstention was received by others, and the clever arguments I’ve heard in favor of staying addicted. Because make no mistake, we’re addicted.

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When I deleted my Facebook, I’ll admit that the act of dissention was becoming a bit of a fad. I had plenty of friends who were “getting off of Facebook,” but I was one of the few who went the extra mile and permanently deleted it. The most common response to that was: (aghast) How will you stay in touch with people? How about your roommate during first year of college? Or that guy you made out with once at a frat party and are lowkey obsessed with but haven’t spoken to since 2011?

Oh, I don’t know. Perhaps by calling once in awhile? The truth of the matter is, the people I care about I speak to at least once in a couple of weeks on the rotary phone I keep right next to my [insert object reminiscent of prehistoric times]. If you replace this interaction with a social media stalk sesh, you might feel like you’re connecting, but are you?

Having access to the behind-the-scenes action of someone’s life has drawbacks. Mostly, these are related to how honest someone’s portrayal of his or her life is. Considering all the filtering and editing that goes on before something is live, this is a huge concern.

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As a society, we’ve become used to — if not resigned to — photoshopped and alien-like portrayals of the human body. What’s worrisome is that this aesthetic has bled onto our own personal expectations and presentations of self. So while we may be connecting with an old friend online or following a celebrity we admire, we’re often not engaging with the real person, but rather the online mask this person puts forward.

Whether we internalize it or not, this sets expectations. You may not think that all your friends getting engaged, having babies or going back to school is having an effect on you, but the fact that you’re even aware of this trend is bound to change the way you think of things. You may enjoy seeing photos of the travel-filled and seemingly luxurious lifestyles of some people on Instagram, but it’s only a matter of time before you start thinking: well, why can’t I have that?

That’s how the discontent starts — with the conflation of real-reality with a perfectly filtered social media-reality. But it doesn’t stop there. Soon enough, we start engaging in some of this behavior ourselves. We post only the flattering photos, highlights of our yearly vacation or snaps from a particularly fancy meal. When the likes start pouring in, it further confirms our suspicion that we have to portray this person all the time, and maybe that the real us isn’t pretty enough, funny enough or exciting enough.

We use our online profiles for self-affirmation. That is, our self worth and integrity are directly tied to our online pseudoselves. Social media, it turns out, isn’t just about others, but also about building our ideal self and surrounding it with others who support, or should I say “buy into,” that person.

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It doesn’t help that our reaction to the affirmation is actually chemical. Your brain releases dopamine every time you like, post or share something online. It’s the same response you get when someone gives you a hug or when you eat a delicious treat.

Is our addiction to the social media high unhealthy? It’s too soon to say. The only generation to grow up with the ever-presence of technology (Gen Z) has yet to hit adulthood; the implications of such a plugged-in upbringing will become evident in due time. The data is already worrisome, though: Teens and tweens spend about nine hours a day on media (umbrella term that includes all sorts of technology usage). Adults are spending just under two hours on their social media platforms alone.

It’s not surprising that some people are choosing to scale it back. Think of what you can accomplish with an extra two hours in your day. Putting time saved aside, getting off of social media (at least for me) meant fewer distractions and clutter. It left time to focus on myself, unencumbered by the lives of others. It’s been refreshing and liberating.

Have you logged off of social media? What was your experience, and would you recommend it? Sound off below!

Helena Bala is a writer, former lawyer and the genius behind Craigslist Confessional. Follow her on Twitter @Clistconfession. Photos by Krista Anna Lewis.

Helena Bala

Helena Bala is a writer, former lawyer and the genius behind Craigslist Confessional. Follow her on Twitter @Clistconfession.

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