I’m sitting at an outdoor table at the suburban default for celebration, ‘The Cheesecake Factory’. I’m surrounded by a few cousins of mine but my ears are completely tuned to the family sitting at the table behind us. A middle-aged father laughs at something his toddler says, the mother gently scolds the older son and tells him to sit properly.
I can’t help but smile thinking about my mom saying the same words to my brother so many times before.
I love listening to people, I think it’s the best way to learn. I can sit in a seat like this one and watch people interact for hours. Today, the interactions feel duller than usual. Besides the one family behind us, there’s no notable interaction at any table. Even the four people beside me are staring into their screens, not laughing or talking.
There’s a window beside me, I peer into it to see a single woman sitting at a table of two. I wonder what her story is, what brings her to the same place as I on this Friday night? Is she waiting for a man, or perhaps a friend? Do they have something to celebrate?
She has her phone in one hand and bites into the complementary bread with the other. She, like the family around me, seems to be glassy-eyed, scrolling through Instagram.
I smile a little at the irony of me negatively looking at those on their phones instead of talking while I’m writing this on my handy little iPhone. Don’t get me wrong, I love my phone, I love texting and talking and just feeling connected with my loved ones at all points of the day but truly, my best moments happen without it.
And Friday nights like these, when I could be joking with my older cousin or getting to know how my little cousin feels about graduating eighth grade, I’m watching everyone around me look at Instagram feeds instead.
I’m trying to be less glued to my phone, even while writing this. I can’t help but be worried about society’s general addiction to these devices. Are we slowly forgetting to live in an effort to show others we’re living?
It hasn’t been long since I deleted social media from my phone and deactivated Instagram.
And yet already, I’ve had friends ask if I can reactivate in time for their birthday or how I was going to survive without showing my outfit on Eid. How will I survive if the world didn’t know I was surviving?
If the world didn’t know I was doing it, was I even doing it?
“Picture or it didn’t happen.”
I tune back to the voices of the family behind me, the little boy is telling a story from school. I love listening to stories.
Do you ever focus on the energy that flows out of people when they talk in tales of their past?
What occurrence makes their eyes sparkle or makes them laugh before they can even get their words out?
What event makes them avert their eyes or stutter when they recount it?
I think stories build people and discovering which tales make someone’s eyes sparkle and which ones still hurt is how you can get to know someone.
Every time we interact with someone, we give ourselves the opportunity to become a story. Maybe you become a family behind a girl who listens more than she should or perhaps you become a girl a waiter sees writing an essay on her phone.
Every story has a story.
That’s a quote I wrote down while re-reading my favorite book, The Wrath and the Dawn for the hundredth time.
A single occurrence can be told in as many ways as the number of eyes that saw it and change slightly every time it’s retold.
Every story has a story.
Why is this story being told, why did it happen? A story so clear in one point of view can be completely different from the eyes of another.
The act of telling a story can become a story. Every moment of our life is nothing if not part of an elaborate tale.
It’s no wonder that we as humans are natural storytellers. From television shows to books to petty gossip, we surround ourselves with stories and use them to build our own character. Our own experiences completely shaped by experiences of those around us.
One of the best tools of storytelling is social media, such as the Twitter feed my cousin is scrolling through next to me. Twitter uniquely lets you share your story in 280 words or less and can reach thousands of people with the touch of a button.
Social media is beautiful as it provides an outlet to tell our stories loud and proud to more people than those that could fit at a Sunday brunch catch-up session.
We can show our best sides, capture our most beautiful moments, it’s no wonder we spend hours a day on these apps. But what’s the cost for this instant and mass storytelling?
I can’t speak for everyone but for me, social media does more harm than good. I find it to be a waste of time and yet I find myself addicted.
My favorite social media app is ‘Snapchat’. I love taking pictures, capturing the moment and playing ‘paparazzi’ with my friends and family. Snapchat allows me to do that instantly and share it with so many. It’s so fun to have tangible things to look back on!
Previously, I was a bit of a Twitter addict. It was my most-used app and favorite website. I could easily spend hours scrolling through my news-feed and it did have some benefits, like I tended to be more aware of the political climate, news headlines but especially memes (my favorite part about twitter!).
That being said, when you do something like finish a painting or a book or even a movie, you get this like surge of satisfaction that just doesn’t happen spending hours on twitter.
That’s because ultimately there’s no finish line, all your time scrolling through your news feed ultimately adds up to nothing. There’s no end point. It’s time you’re not getting back with nothing to show for it but your ability to reference yet another Spongebob meme.
After deleting Twitter from my phone last year, I really understood that to me, it was basically a mesh pool of negativity. It felt like an outlet that let millions of people complain in 140 characters or less (this is before they added more characters for longer excerpts of the bee movie script). Through the simple act of scrolling through my news feed, I realized I was instantly surrounding myself with all this negative energy in other people’s lives.
And their mood and their energy began to surround me because that’s what energy does. When we’re kinda sad we all know someone with that positive, pure energy that can bring us back up.
Just like that, negative energy brings us down but slowly and subconsciously to the point where we don’t even notice the affect it has until we step back.
Not to mention, twitter culture basically thrives on bringing people down and dehumanizing them. Have you ever shown your mom a video of someone falling on the internet and she asks “who is that?”
And you’re like “I don’t know mom, who cares just laugh..”
We strip the people that become ‘memes’ of their identity for our own entertainment. We don’t care about the affect our laughs have on their lives.
What really allowed me to originally leave twitter was this trend going around where there was a new hashtag every week with a different celebrity saying “#TheirNameisOverParty”. Someone would make a mistake and next thing you know, there’s a trending hashtag celebrating their doom. Admittedly I was one of these people as well, falling into Twitter culture, I fell into a mind-set that was so unlike me.
It’s astonishing because there’s no way that people hitting retweet haven’t made mistakes or done something they regret. Think of the last mistake you made… now imagine that being plastered over everyone’s feed, your face on everyone’s phone, your mistakes repeated and dissected and talked about again and again. Your apologies don’t matter with this mob mentality.
A lot of times when this happens it’s because someone said something racist, homophobic or sexist. Of course, we can try to educate these people kindly and try to make them understand what’s going on but calling their employers or schools and trying to have them fired is beyond ridiculous. For one, getting fired or expelled will not teach them tolerance, it’ll probably make them hate you more and hide it better.
After realizing all of this, I vowed to never have Twitter back on my phone, and I never did. After about 6 months, I began occasionally tweeting little jokes again from my laptop but I unfollowed nearly everyone I followed before and was careful to never scroll through my feed for more than 5 minutes at a time.
The cost of being in-the-know with the next stock image meme was too much for me.
Ironically, Instagram was a different story. My feed was filled with friends and a few influencers. I never cared too much about the explore page but my own feed was enough to create an addiction.
I loved posting and putting my life out there. Every major event in my life captured in a square photo for everyone to see. All my friends called me “Hibzeem”, my Instagram username (and now the name of this blog) and I became the go-to person to come to for help with Instagram themes and witty captions.
I spent a ridiculous amount of time editing my photos so they’d look aesthetically pleasing yet still natural and even more time trying to come up with captions that’d show my wit but wouldn’t be too much.
The funny thing was, I was acutely aware of how ridiculous it was. Instagram literally does not matter. I knew this and there I was. I could have been exerting that energy into school, art, or even this blog. I spent hours of my free time on the same app instead of partaking in endeavors that felt like they were feeding my soul and helping me in the long run.
Realizing I needed to put my foot down and step away is what solidified my decision to deactivate Instagram once again. I asked my brother to change all my passwords and then deactivate my Instagram account so I wouldn’t be able to reactivate without him next to me.
Without social media on my phone, I find myself spending more quality time with my family and friends and I feel like I’m finally living for no one but myself.
Looking around at our little table in Cheesecake Factory, where everyone is scrolling through their Instagram feeds, I’m surprised at myself for not being tempted to log into my own social media accounts. I’m actually more than happy filling my ‘notes’ app up with more strange little thoughts (or essays such as this one.)
Maybe in another world I’d carry a notebook with me, maybe I want to in this one. I’d genuinely switch to having a flip phone if I had any sense of direction and could survive without Google Maps. I don’t want to spend my life glued to screens, I want to open my eyes and really live.
I want to take photographs and Polaroids, I want to fill tons of little journals up with writing but beyond anything, I want to truly appreciate every moment of being alive in this short, beautiful life.
So currently, I don’t have any social media and I love it. Social media does have its uses though so I’m likely going to ask my brother to log into my twitter for me so I can tweet a link to this blog so someone like yourself can read it. I don’t think I’ll be re-activating my main Instagram any time soon but I’ll ask my brother to log into my alternative one every once in a while so I could post birthday posts for my close friends because showing loved ones I care is a concept very important to me.
Small doses of these apps are okay but I don’t think they’re going to permanently return to my phone, at least until the end of this calendar year. That being said, that is where I am right now with my thoughts on social media. My philosophies and feelings are always evolving, who knows if I’ll feel differently in a year?
I LOVE being completely present in the moment and I love appreciating every moment of my strange yet wonderful life. I want to focus on things that matter and spend my time on things I care about. I want the things I care about to be more than an app on my phone. I want to tell my stories with more than 280 words and I want to focus on the stories of the people around me. Beyond anything, I want to write it all down. Then perhaps you’ll get to hear my stories in more words than those that can fit on a single filtered photo or a punny tweet.
Edit: I still stand by everything I said. I am back on Instagram though purely for the reason that reaching out to people became difficult without it. Even things like promoting my writing were nearly impossible. I don’t have notifications on for it and I try to minimize my time on the app. I am grateful for my summer without it though.