Around this time six years ago I checked Facebook for the final time and then deleted my account. At that moment Facebook was my only social media outlet and I remember exactly where I was when I made the decision I did: in Trinity College library, getting ready for several hours study. It was finals year.
Facebook must have been such an enormous part of my life because I don’t only remember where I was but also what sweets I had in my bag for a sugar kick when the reading became too much; what books I had taken to the desk with me and, unbelievably, I retain a perfect mental image of two girls I knew but who didn’t see me sitting there and how I watched them descend the stairs.
They say you remember significant moments in detail but it scares me that that is what deleting Facebook must have been.
I say that but I know that I was one hundred percent addicted to the worst thing that not only Facebook but all social media facilitates: comparison.
Looking back I am filled with shame to think that many of the decisions I made or didn’t make were based on what other people were doing at the time. If someone posted pictures of themselves on a beach in California or on holidays in Egypt, I would search to understand how they had made it possible (we were students after all) and then I’d plan on how I could do it too with no thought of whether or not I would enjoy it.
So much of my late teens and early twenties were filled with time-wasting that involved imagining the lives of others based on what they had posted for me to see. The rest of it was filled with me attempting to emulate it or wondering about why I couldn’t and how I had therefore failed. It sickens me to know that many of the holidays I went on and certainly many of the day trips I took were orchestrated with what photos I could take in mind and how I could make my life look aspirational, ironically for myself rather than for anyone else.
I was in a constant state of trying to make myself fall in love with my own life.
Several things have happened in the years that I have been away from social media and none of them simply blossomed overnight. It has been in coming home here to my childhood home for this month that I have come to realise the extent of the positivity I have benefitted from in removing myself from Facebook in particular, but also Instagram.
When I learned that several of my schoolmates had gotten engaged it affected me in a very different way from how it would have had I been plugged into social media. It bothered me, of course, because I wondered when if ever I will get engaged but the speed with which I have been able to put it to one side without any bitterness and with genuine well-wishes surprises me. Had I access to Facebook I might have tried to find out further information, look for photos and lamented my life and appearance in comparison for a much longer time.
A photo speaks a thousand words and it is the person looking at the photos who generally invents the words is what I have certainly come to realise.
It is now also strange when people meet me here and that they feel it disconcerting to have no idea what I have been doing or where I have been living since leaving. The questions that I am asked are what I now consider to be too personal but had I been on Facebook, the information that they seek would have been so readily available. Am I in a relationship? Where is he from? Where do I live now? I have kept my post-graduate life private – including a breakup that everyone around here would have known about – and I am grateful for this privacy.
I wonder how any relationships go ahead with social media involved. I have never been tempted to stalk my boyfriend’s profile or even to think that he might be liking or commenting on other girls’ pictures. It is an entire element to an otherwise stressful life that I am glad I don’t have to concern myself with. I suppose I might be extremely easy to cheat on.
My favourite moment in recent, no social media memory is when a friend told me: you keep dropping place names like Barcelona and Budapest, can you maybe draw me a timeline of the last few years?
Somewhat smugly I find that I am much more interesting and the subject of far more genuine attention when the information that is so available on others is not there for me. Not that I like attention, which is really the reason why I have struggled to commit to Instagram.
On a more serious note I am frequently glad that I am not making anyone feel about their lives the way I once felt about mine. When I deleted my Instagram it came after I had posted dozens of photos detailing my happiness at mu current sabbatical status. The happiness wasn’t false but not only did it fail to encompass the anxiety that I also felt but it simultaneously made me think about how I would have felt seeing a similar post if I wanted to be but wasn’t in the same position.
If you do come away from social media, you do loose friends and contacts. I have regular contact with one friend that I had from this village and it is because he was never on social media either. I have missed invites to birthday parties (that I might not have gone to anyway) just because it wasn’t as easy to invite me personally as it was to organise a group page on whatever social media outlet. One thing is certain: if you come off social media the people who matter to you and to whom you matter will have the platform they deserve in being a real part of your life.
I am often accused of being too private but I am happy here behind my reinforced walls. While I might have once spent all my time looking out on what others were doing, I have spent the last six years building with metaphorical headphones on and I am not exactly displeased with the results.