Social media, without a doubt, has been my vice.
For many of us, social media is integral to our lives. We check it daily, use it to communicate with our loved ones and share details of our lives. I’ve always seen social media as essential to maintaining contact with my friends and family abroad. Over time, we’ve seen numerous apps join the market — including VSCO, TikTok and Instagram. Even as I write this, I’ve received a few messages telling me to download “BeReal” — an app that encourages everyone to simultaneously post a photo of themselves at a random moment in the day. The pandemic greatly increased the amount of time we spend online, especially when COVID-19 restrictions limited our face-to-face communication.
As pandemic restrictions loosen, our reliance on social media has led me to an addiction. My Instagram feed was filled with pictures of friends, celebrities, news and stories of social and political injustice. I endlessly swiped and refreshed my feed, hoping for an update even as Instagram told me I’d seen everything possible. I spent countless hours tapping through people’s stories on Snapchat and obsessively checking my streaks. I vividly remember celebrating with a friend when we reached a 1,000-day streak; that means I was active on Snapchat every day for almost three years.
My social media addiction negatively impacted my emotions. As I scrolled through others’ posts, I was volatile with anxiety and jealousy, as though they had something I didn’t. When I posted pictures online, I worried about how many likes they would receive, obsessively making sure I posted the right photos at the right time. When my friends posted, I felt unsettled if I wasn’t mentioned in a post, even to the extent of questioning my friendships. The most concerning factor, however, was the time I spent. I started monitoring my screen time over the summer, only to discover that I was spending eight hours a day on my phone, with a significant portion coming from social media. And I’m not the only one who is made anxious by social media: Use of these apps has been tied to an increase in depression and anxiety. Moreover, repeatedly seeing curated images of others’ lives promotes what the United Kingdom’s Royal Society for Public Health called a “compare and despair” attitude in a large report on youth social media use. The report noted that apps that include more images of others, such as Instagram, were linked to worse self-image.
So, I decided to take action: At the end of August, I challenged myself to a social media detox. Right before returning to Brown this fall, I completely cut myself off. Snapchat, Instagram, Tiktok, Facebook, Twitter and even LinkedIn disappeared from my phone.
Initially, the experience felt somewhat isolating, as I wondered whether I was missing out socially. It felt rather odd to not keep up with the latest social media trends and see what my friends and family far away were doing. When I visited the activities fair earlier this semester, I realized that most clubs use social media to promote their events, making it difficult for me to connect with others through those events. But the disconnect allowed me to spend my time in different ways. I spent more time getting to know the people in my dorm in-person, rather than spending all of my time in my room on social media. As my conversations shifted to topics other than the latest Instagram trend, I felt more relaxed knowing I wasn’t being judged online.
Now, I feel relieved. If I want to share photos, I message friends and family directly — without the social pressure to appear like I have a perfect life. When I’m out with friends, I am no longer concerned with the quality of photos we take, nor how many likes posting them would receive. Before, whenever I unlocked my phone, my first instinct was to swipe toward my social media folder, a subconscious tic I had unknowingly developed. After a week, it disappeared.
When I compare my mental well-being now to last semester, I genuinely wish I’d tried cutting out social media sooner. Spending less time on my phone has improved the duration and quality of sleep I get every night. The extra time I have in the morning from not checking my phone has created healthier habits, such as journaling and eating a full breakfast. Even though watching Netflix remains one of my favorite hobbies, it is far less stressful than scrolling through other people’s lives online. Eliminating the need for validation has allowed me to focus more on improving myself.
My personal experiences have been validated by academic research. A study from Stanford University and New York University researchers showed how less time spent on Facebook resulted in more time with friends and family and an improved mood. I feel much more secure in my friendships than I did before my detox, as I focus more on developing genuine relationships rather than on social comparison. Even without social media to help me stay in touch with people long-distance, I feel confident that genuine friendships can remain alive after months without contact.
The University and most clubs on campus have done a good job of keeping people updated on campus events without social media, be it through the Today@Brown emails, Eventbrite notifications or even email lists. I know that programming for residents of Sternlicht Commons, where I live, has constantly reminded us of the importance of staying connected physically and emotionally, prioritizing sleep and living in the present. The University should try to promote initiatives like these across campus. As a community, it would be worthwhile to have greater discussion of social media’s effects. People’s identities shouldn’t be tied to their social media profiles, and students should feel comfortable knowing they can still be part of a community without constantly checking their feeds.
At the end of the day, almost everyone I know continues to use social media. I acknowledge that it can be difficult to break such an ingrained habit. Social media will remain a popular communication and marketing tool for the foreseeable future. However, even if people are reluctant to commit to a full detox, I would strongly recommend cutting at least a few apps out of your lives as a small step. Each small action won’t just help you, but also encourage others to do the same.
Taha Siddiqui ’24 can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send responses to this opinion to email@example.com and other op-eds to firstname.lastname@example.org.