My relationship with social media was precarious throughout high school. In a habit that emerged around junior year, I reflexively scrolled through Facebook and Instagram to procrastinate on schoolwork — with such frequency that I ultimately downloaded the application Self- Control to block the sites. This barrier offered a partial solution, but during other unstructured periods throughout the day, I still often reverted to aimless browsing. Time that I could have utilized for additional productivity, individual conversation or meditative relaxation I instead filled with mindless digestion of digital content — much of it only vaguely connected to the people and things I truly cared about.
Late in my senior year, I was confronted unexpectedly with a unique opportunity: the chance to take a gap year before matriculating to Yale. My family encouraged it, suggesting that a break from academic pressures might be beneficial to my health and personal development. I agreed, and welcomed a chance to truly live for myself — to make choices and seek out experiences at my own discretion and pace, rather than to continue behaving primarily within the confines of external structures and expectations. I seized the opportunity, my gap year began and I spent months relishing my newfound autonomy — yet remained burdened by phantom pangs of accountability to something I couldn’t quite identify.
It took until October, but the culprit was eventually revealed: I came to understand that I relied heavily on social media to validate my behavior. Though I purported to be living entirely on my own terms, I still felt a need to broadcast my travels to the audience instantly accessible at my fingertips. Obsessively probing the likes and comments on my posts, my valuation of my own experiences had become inextricably tied to their perception on social media. Rather than savor my adventure in its own right, I had become reliant on arbitrary, electronic assurances of its worth. Finally aware of this difficult truth — and taking into account my prior qualms with social media — I decided a full detox was the best cure for my dependance. A few weeks later, I deactivated Facebook and Instagram and deleted Twitter, and I haven’t accessed them since.
My typical tether to my phone effectively severed, I permitted myself to better appreciate and more better enjoy the captivating places and fascinating people I encountered throughout the remainder of the year. The downtime I had was more frequently populated with books, music or contemplation. Most significantly, I learned how to better treasure the intrinsic worth of my experiences, unbound from the pressure to carefully parse and curate the events of my life in search of praise from the digital masses.
At Yale, we are confronted — for the first time in our lives, for most first years — with a horde of peers whose accomplishments and experiences seem to match, sur- pass or even dwarf our own. The throng of introductions posted to the first-year class Facebook group often constitutes our first exposure to this new reality — and as we widen our network, a quick glance through any individual profile serves as further testament to the fact that Yalies are truly remarkable. This process, as I vividly recall from my own senior year, was humbling — and humility is undoubtedly an important element of character. In awe of the impressive individuals who inundate our feeds, however, we seem to forget how one-dimensionally all of our profiles are assembled. They’re rife with photos of smiling families and friends, clips of virtuosic performances and mentions of stunning accomplishments, but they’re devoid of even the suggestion of fault or inadequacy.
On campus, through face-to- face conversations, our gargantuan impressions of the individuals sur- rounding us are soon scaled down to reflect reality — we’ve all achieved fantastic things, yet we all encounter doubts, challenges and failures. We are glad to revel in our shared passions and talents, but also learn to bond over our mutual imperfections. It is within these interactions, extending far beneath the collective facade enabled by social media, that true friendships flourish.
Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are useful tools for countless reasons — keeping in touch with friends, remaining informed on the many happenings at Yale and browsing memes, to name only a few. To suggest that altogether for- going social media would be in the best interest of all Yalies is patently absurd. I will leave you, however, with this simple challenge. Take a break, just for a week. Corral the apps into a forbidden folder, or just delete them. Within the clarity of a hiatus, investigate how the platforms might subtly and unconsciously shape how you use your time, view your experiences and perceive those around you. In our present age, the ubiquity of social media will only continue to intensify, so I entreat you to seize this opportunity for reflection while you still can.
And don’t worry — Yale Memes for Special Snowflake Teens will still be there when you’re back.
Will Wegner is a first year in Pauli Murray College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.