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Unplugged: Students opt out of social media

Undergrads off Facebook, Twitter could face obstacles as hiring process taps social media

In high school, Shane Fischbach ’15 checked his Facebook incessantly. Like the vast majority of his peers, he consistently liked statuses, posted photos and received updates on the college acceptances of “friends” he hardly knew.

“At a superficial level, (Facebook) didn’t make me any happier,” Fischbach recalled. “I would go on and sort of satisfy this addiction for snooping into other people’s lives, and what would happen is I would get systemically less happy because, by definition, people are performing on Facebook.”

Disenchanted with the superficiality of the site, Fischbach decided to terminate his relationship with Facebook and unplugged in March of his senior year of high school.

Fischbach’s decision places him in a small minority of undergraduates who abstain from using social media. In an age when efficient communication and widespread connectivity are increasingly emphasized in students’ lives, the move to digitally disentangle stands in stark contrast to mainstream trends. Fostering relationships today involves more than a mere exchange of telephone numbers or emails addresses, with the Facebook profiles, Twitter accounts and Instagram feeds taking a prime role. To many, social networking has exploded into an art of self-advertisement, and the use of and participation in social networks seems inevitable.

Within this increasingly ‘plugged in’ landscape, Fischbach and other Brown students are intentionally opting out.

“I think it’s natural to want to be connected to people you care about,” said Reem Rayef ’15, who recently deactivated from Facebook. “But I don’t think it’s natural to be so in (tune) with so many people that are so marginally important to your life.”

The inauthenticity and prevalence of online presentation and communication similarly motivated Pia Brar ’15.5 to deactivate her Facebook account.

But Brar, who is interested in photography, retains her Instagram account to “stay in the creative process” and uses the platform to post her photos regularly, she said.

Though Brar is a heavy Instagram user, she said she remains skeptical of the superficiality of modern social networking sites.

These sites are “playing on the vanity of … humankind,” Brar said.

“It’s saying, ‘We’re allowing you to present this version of yourself right here in the picture you look best in (and) brag to everybody where you worked this summer,’” she added. “It’s not living life for yourself. It’s living life so that other people can judge you.”


Into the wild

The omnipresence of social media in undergrad life makes it difficult for some students to imagine an alternative lifestyle. But a drastic shift in setting last summer spurred Michael Markell ’18 to reassess his relationship with these digital platforms.

Markell traveled to Alaska on a wilderness trip with Outward Bound, a nonprofit wilderness education organization. He spent 15 days in the wild, two of them completely alone, and none of them connected to social networks. Heading into the wilderness allowed Markell to disrupt his reliance on social media, he said.

Re-entering society after the trip, Markell said he was “shell-shock(ed)” by the pace of modern life.

“Social media and the reactions we get used to every day are really sensory-overwhelming,” he said.

After Markell returned from Alaska, his sense of over-stimulation eventually faded, he said. “But first, coming and reintroducing yourself, it’s not an attractive thing.”

“As an idea, I think (social media) becomes addictive,” Markell said, adding that students seek retweets, likes and assurance that they are a “good person.”

“I think social media is a relatively easy way of getting tangible evidence of your own power as an individual,” he said.


Missing out?

In a world where making connections — social as well as professional — relies so heavily on sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, some have raised concern about the professional ramifications of students unplugging.

Ron Foreman, a career adviser at CareerLAB, said he advises students to be on social media sites to gain access to career opportunities.

Using social media now tops email as the most common reason people go on the Internet, Business Insider reported last year. This trend has encouraged everyone from celebrities to corporate CEOs to tweet, like and follow.

“We are being inundated by organizations in all industries that tell us, ‘Tell your students to be on Twitter because we are going to be promoting opportunities on Twitter,’” Foreman said. “Certainly you can find jobs in other ways, but there’s a whole category and possibility that you are missing out on.”

In its annual Social Recruiting Survey, recruiting technology website Jobvite announced that 94 percent of companies used social media — with LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter as the most popular platforms — to recruit potential employees in 2013.

Employers today assume undergrads are social media-savvy, Foreman said. “From an organization’s point of view, the function of recruiting people is very time-consuming and can be costly. As an organization, I can just send out a tweet to people, … (and) from that, I can generate a pool of applicants. It didn’t cost me anything to do that, and it probably took me a minute and a half.”


Business sense

Social media can also contribute to the entrepreneurial success of students with a foot in the professional world.

In 2011, Jenny Bui ’18 launched “Antoinette’s Boutique,” a small jewelry business based in Los Angeles.

The business’s website, which ceased sales this year, sold inventory that included jewelry made by artisans in impoverished regions of Africa and Latin America, handmade pieces by Bui and her business partner and carefully selected vintage items, Bui said.

Over four years, Bui and her business partner and friend, Elaine, relied heavily on social networks to promote their passion for jewelry and mission to help others.

The inherent global scope of the business made turning to social media for marketing a natural move, Bui said, referring to the business’s use of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

“It was through social media that mainly gained us access to a broader community,” Bui said. While “Antoinette’s Boutique” partnered with nonprofit groups, the business also had to find ways to collaborate with photographers and fashion bloggers throughout Southern California. “We were just reaching out to everybody and anybody we could, and the only way we could do that, as a small e-commerce trying to survive, was through social media,” she said.

Social networking sites boosted the profile of Bui’s newly launched business, which caught the eye of media outlets such as Seventeen Magazine, Teen Vogue and Audrey Magazine and resulted in photo shoots and featured articles.

For young entrepreneurs like Bui, it’s hard to imagine the unplugged lifestyle of students like Fischbach and Markell.

“We were already an online e-commerce, so it was only natural that we expanded onto social media and used it to our advantage,” Bui said. “The 21st century is technology-based, and we’re moving toward a super advanced age where people, businesses, the economy, everything is based on running on a technology-based forum.”


A more intimate network

While a widespread move away from social media now seems unrealistic given the popularity of these sites, some students who deactivated accounts on these platforms said they have found their detachment to be constructive.

Facebook is “a great way to contact people (and) to reach out to a larger network,” Brar said.

But the authenticity and depth of intimate human relationships are under fire by social media, she said. “For me, personally, I don’t really have a need for (social media) because the people that actually care about me, the people that love me will take that time to write an email to me.”

For Fischbach, leaving Facebook and Twitter forced him “to reconsider the relationships that I did want to maintain and enhance and also consider the ones that I didn’t.”

In addition to leading to the reevaluation of relationships, Fischbach’s move to unplug has also helped him reassess how he spends his time, he said.

Time is “really your biggest asset,” Fischbach said. “If (you) want to spend five minutes on Facebook, that’s fine, that’s great. I do stupid things for five minutes that are probably much less important than Facebook, but I want to make the decision about it.”

Though outside the mainstream, the decision to unplug can be fulfilling for some.

“One thing that people assume about not being in the modern, hyped, energetic world is that you’re not stimulated enough and that you’re going to be bored,” Markell said. “But I think, actually, that I’m more bored in a world of such shallow and constant communication compared to just being outside.”

“I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, it’s been solely good,” he said.


A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the social media account Pia Brar ’15.5 deactivated. It was her Facebook, not Twitter, account. The article also previously incorrectly stated that Brar is a visual arts concentrator with a focus in photography. In fact, she just has an extracurricular interest in photography. The Herald regrets the errors.


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