I Quit Social Media for 5 Weeks and Here's What Happened

Animation by  Ada Love

Animation by Ada Love

I’ve been using social media since I was 15. (MySpace, anyone?) Before I started college, you still needed a valid college e-mail address to sign up for Facebook. I hopped on board in the spring of 2006 during my senior year of high school—as soon as I got that .edu golden ticket. 

A note to younger millennials and Gen Zers: Back then, we had to walk uphill in the snow—both ways—to sign in to Facebook on our dorm room laptops.

It wasn’t long before Facebook opened its doors to everyone, and my college friends panicked about how they’d hide their debauchery from Aunt Mary and Grandpa Joe. We couldn’t even begin to comprehend that we might one day be panicking about the use of the platform to disrupt American democracy.

I’ve always been an early and eager adopter of new social media platforms. I joined Twitter in 2009 and Instagram in 2011. I even dabbled in Vine for a brief period (R.I.P.). It took me a while to get Snapchat, but by 2014 I couldn’t deny the allure of sending obnoxious photos to my friends that would disappear in 10 seconds or less.

I did all of this without much thought about the impact on my mental health or the fact that I transitioned from adolescence to adulthood highly tuned in to the filtered lives of my peers and connected to non-stop messaging from brands and news outlets.

But research shows that the more people use Facebook in a day, the less moment-to-moment happiness and life satisfaction they experience. And nearly half of millennials worry about the negative effects of social media on their physical and mental health, according to Stress in America 2017: Technology and Social Media, an American Psychological Association study. In my own, not-so-scientific experiments, I’ve learned that reading certain tweets (you know the ones) increases my heart rate and induces rage 100 percent of the time.

Most of the research around the effects of social media have centered on children and young adults, says Dimitri Christakis, M.D., M.P.H., a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine. As director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s, he studies the environmental influences on children’s development and behavior, including digital media and social media.

“Until recently we’ve neglected the fact that the addictive qualities aren’t unique to kids,” he says. “If we think of social media as coming to the fore with the advent of Facebook, which has only been around for 10 years, it started for people who had to be 14 to get on Facebook at the time. It’s a condition that started permeating adolescents and young adults, but now it’s everywhere.”

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