What is Life Like Without Social Media?

Do People Without Instagram Profiles Still Exist?


Credit: Opal Kendall

Brian O'Dea, Managing Editor

Speaking from experience, social media is an addiction, and from my observations, it has most of my peers hooked. Odds are if you use social media once, you also use it a lot. Not even accounting for age, the average U.S. social media user is on social media for an hour and 57 minutes a day, and according to a study in the U.K., one in five teens is on social media for over five hours a day. I learned that you don’t really know you’re addicted to it until after you quit, and that isn’t an easy process. 

It all started in September of 2016. I was on a plane flying to California for my uncle’s wedding, and my brother set up a Snapchat for me because he thought I should have one. My mom was completely oblivious when we made it, and it was a long time before she found out about it. I could only use it at certain times when she couldn’t see me because I knew she didn’t want me to have it. I used it pretty sparingly at first, but then I had to use it all the time because my friends were on it and I wanted to be a part of it even though I had known them all since I was four or five, and they still would have been friends with me whether I had Snapchat or not. 

I was weak. I had an irrational fear of missing out on things that weren’t even real. I wanted to be a part of everything and anything.

This extended and got worse in high school when I met new people, and I also got Instagram the summer leading up to freshman year. At this point, my mom was fine with me having social media after my brother did his part in convincing her I needed it to be a functioning high schooler (and also saved me by taking the blame for having Snapchat without her permission). 

I was awkward my freshman year. For a while, I really only hung out with my brother, who was a senior, and his friends, and I was lucky enough that he let me stick around. I had a really difficult time making new friends, partially because 14-year-olds can be pretty brutal and cliquey, but mostly because I was too scared to stick my head out. Looking back I now believe the reason I was awkward was because I was so concerned about my social media persona that I had in a sense lost touch with reality and real people. I had no idea how to communicate with people face-to-face. 

I started making some friends sophomore year when I was forced to come out from the shadows because my brother and his friends were no longer around, but I also got more absorbed by social media at the same time. My new fascination was with Snapchat streaks. I had to have them with as many people as possible. Every time I got a new one I felt better about myself, but only for a short period of time. I felt like my whole life was online like my entire identity was my snap score or my ratio on Instagram. I felt fake, like a fraud or an imposter. 

I can’t remember a moment or a day when I started to debate getting rid of social media, but looking back now I’m actually impressed that I did, and honestly surprised. It would have been much easier to keep going down the same road and continue to play the same game as everyone else, but I decided not to. 

I deleted Snapchat I think at the end of the summer before junior year. It felt like a burden had been lifted, but not all the way because the time I spent on it just transitioned over to Instagram. I then got it back on December 14, 2019 (don’t ask me how I know, I just have a ridiculous memory) for the same reason any other guy would get it back. There was a cute girl in one of my classes who I wanted to talk to. I kept it for the next few months after things simmered down like most things in high school. Then I deleted it again on March 6, 2020 (I swear I don’t take notes, I just remember these things) and have only got it back twice since then and each of those times was for no longer than about 5 minutes. 

Quarantine was pretty rough because I spent a lot of time on Instagram. Throughout the summer I basically did three things: play golf, go on Instagram, and read. Late in the summer, I found this thing in your profile that Instagram hides from you. It shows you how much time you spend on the app every day for the last week. I was averaging over three hours a day, which after talking to my friends wasn’t even that much. I thought how much more productive I could be and how much more stuff I could get done if I didn’t waste all that time on social media. 

Instagram also lets you set a timer for any amount of time you want, and when you have spent that much time on the app it will send you an alert. So I set it for 55 minutes, which was a good goal to start out with. This was in July. I found it really difficult at first to not spend more than that time on the app. I would want to go check it, but I had to restrain myself. I gradually got better and better. In August I managed to get my average time down to around half an hour. 

The first week in September My family went on vacation, and I decided that I wouldn’t check Instagram at all for that week. We were visiting my grandpa and were going to see a lot of family, so I wanted to be present with them and celebrate that week.

I failed the first day and went on it for almost an hour.

But for the rest of the week, I didn’t check it once. I felt like I had disappeared. It was hard knowing that people were still doing things and posting about and I wasn’t there to see it. I felt left out and alone, but that was the most fun time I have ever had when visiting my family. 

Quitting Instagram was tough. Sometimes I would go on my phone and my thumb would automatically go right to the icon and I wasn’t even thinking about it. It had a mind of its own, it was a terrible habit that I broke. Every time my thumb would do that I would stop myself and just let it hover over the screen for a second and then turn my phone off. 

When school started in September I would go on Instagram once a day at the max, and sometimes I would just forget about it and not go on at all. I deleted it on October 18, 2020.

I finally felt the weight lift all the way off my shoulders. I have become so much more comfortable with myself, I am much more confident and convictive. I have so much less anxiety now that I almost forget what it was like to have it. I can hold conversations longer, I can concentrate and do work longer and more efficiently. I no longer care if I miss out on things on social media because I don’t need to see them, I’m good enough for myself. I’m still not at my best, but I am much better than I used to be.

I was the problem in my own life. I was my own worst enemy, and I still am, and I always will be. It isn’t social media, but when I realized I could make the decisions in my life and not let outside influences control me I got an immense sense of freedom. I learned that I was letting people and situations that were completely out of my control make choices for me and I was taking a secondary role in my life. I realized my life was going to happen no matter what, and I could either take control of it or let it pass me by. I’m not saying I’m perfect, there are still a lot of things I want to improve about myself, but I first had to learn where the problems were coming from. I hope many people can learn from my story, and maybe spend a little less time on social media.  

The greatest irony of all this is that I run the Western Hemisphere social media accounts. Which makes me either the most qualified or least qualified to do so.