I’ve written about social media before, ending each post with the hopeful thought that maybe I’ll figure out how to handle it. Maybe I’ll learn to not see “likes” as a numeral representation of my own self worth. Maybe I’ll settle into the idea of exposure. Maybe I’ll find paradoxical balance in hyperconnectivity.
I’ve always been a Highly Sensitive Person, carrying the innate character trait “Sensory-Processing Sensitivity” (SPS), described best as an uncommonly sensitive nervous system, found in about 15% of the population. HSPs (Highly Sensitive People) are deeply aware of subtleties in their surroundings, and are more easily overwhelmed when they’re in highly stimulating environments. The brains of Highly Sensitive People actually work a little differently than other people’s brains. (Interested? Check out Dr. Elaine Aron’s research or one of her books on HSPs).
All of that aside, I understand why “issues” like social media cut me so deeply. Why comments can feel like bruises and tweets can feel like the gnarly raspberry scrapes that graced both knees during my tomboy stage. For a lot of the world, social media is just another normal, albeit rapidly growing, fragment of life. But if 15% of the population—about 1,056,900,000 people—is feeling the same way as I am (a.k.a.: deeply overwhelmed/what happened to in-person friends?!), social media is worth discussing. I’ve also been receiving a lot of emails recently from readers asking about how to deal with the likes and comments, jealousy and comparison. Highly sensitive or not, social media is bit of a burden for a lot of people.
I want to like it.
That’s what normal people do, right?
But I can’t handle social media in my life. I won’t let social media control my life. I don’t want social media to broadcast my life. Social media may be the anthem of the Millennial Generation, but I’m sitting out the song. I’ve tried varying degrees of social media usage, searching fruitlessly for that perfect balance of hyperconnectivity.
I began cutting social media out of my life a year ago. The process began slowly. I bid adieu to Twitter and its 140 little characters. Vine went next, along with its other one-hit-wonder friends (Path, 4Square, Google+, and every other social media site that was popular for a week). Even with my iPhone feeling metaphorically lighter, I felt no different. I was still craving the worst kind of validation, counting my likes on Instagram and exposing so much of my daily life through the filters. I was letting myself be vulnerable, allowing friends and acquaintances to decide how many likes or comments I was worth receiving that day. At the same time, it was a front—staged pictures and excessive editing—all to sugar coat and shroud the messy realities of daily life.
Yes, I could choose what I posted. Yes, I could decide what I looked at. Yes, I could pick who to follow and who could follow me. Yes, I could decide how often to log on and when, but this “moderation” wasn’t satisfying. After getting rid of Twitter, I turned to Instagram. Even when used in moderation, I would still compare myself to my friends and acquaintances, obsess over how many people unfollowed me, and allow others to define me with their likes and comments. So with an all-or-nothing spirit, I said goodbye to Instagram too.
I was left with the dying social network—Facebook. I tried to glean comfort from Facebook’s irrelevance (maybe since “nobody” uses Facebook anymore, I’ll feel more comfortable posting on it). I cut down my Facebook friends to the essentials (which somehow still included my middle school lab partner and my boyfriend from kindergarten). With the best of intentions I posted pictures and commented and responded to messages....only to feel the same way. I think Facebook is one of those things that people claim they don’t use. They roll their eyes, laugh about how they “like never go on,” but still have an undeniably active presence on the site.
I have never known a world where Facebook wasn’t the breeding ground for political arguments, snarky comments, comparison, spam, bullying, and wasted time. I do have really wonderful acquaintances and deeply respect many of them, so I knew it wasn’t their fault that my Facebook experience was so bothersome.
So what’s the problem?
Social media isn’t so much of a problem, as it is the wrong solution for me. As a Highly Sensitive Person and an old soul, I want face-to-face interaction, phone calls to say hello, letters by mail, and notes left on my car window. I need a room full of friends—not a device full of them.
Is it possible to be a twenty-something in 2014 without social media? Yes. Is it possible to go through high school without watching all of the popular TV shows? Is it possible to be a college student and not be a wild partier? Is it possible to be twenty and to feel more like five and eighty-five at the same time? Yes, although it all goes against the societal grain. But that’s okay. Let’s call it being entrepreneurial. Forging a path where few have gone. Being an individual. Having the confidence to not need online validation. While changing the natural progression of friendships (debatable wording) in the world is impossible, I’m free to give my polite “thanks, but no thanks,” the next time social media comes knocking. And although it gets a little tedious or uncomfortable to answer the “why” question when people find out I don’t have a Facebook, it’s worth discussing instead of being carried upstream by the forces of trends and social norms.