News about a teen Instagram star’s decision to quit social media has ironically been circulating all over social media. The 18-year old, Essena O’Neill, who achieved fame through her Youtube, Instagram and Facebook accounts became consumed by “a system based on social approval.”
In her video expose she says, “I wasn’t being myself, because I didn’t know how to. I lost myself to the fear of not being enough, not having enough and not being what others wanted. That’s all changing now.”
Although O’Neill’s social media accounts are no longer active, she has launched a new website, Let’s Be Game Changers. Her aim is to create a positive online space for people to connect and share ideas, rather than seek validation through likes.
Toward the end of her video, with a tear-streaked makeup-free face, she urges her followers “Turn off your phone. Go somewhere. Do something you love, watch the people who are also doing that as well…go up and talk to someone.”
A section on O’Neill’s website, “Behind the Image,” gives truthful captions to Instagram photos she’s taken that were totally staged and fake. As an avid Instagram user myself, I felt compelled to scroll through my old photos and see how “real” it all was.
Although most of my posts stay true to myself, I came across a photo of me doing a yoga pose in my backyard. I posted the photo two summers ago and as sad as it is to admit, I remember forcing my brother to take it. I had never even practiced yoga seriously at that point in my life, I was just trying to get likes and portray this image of myself as someone who was totally zen.
The worst part about it was that I captioned the photo, “If you want to conquer the anxiety of the world, live in the moment, live in the breath.” (A quote I found on Google from Lao Tzu, the father of Taoism, for which I have absolutely zero knowledge.) Everything about that photo is completely against the meaning of the caption. I wasn’t living in the moment, I was doing the opposite—staging a photo and checking to see how many likes it received.
I know I’m not the only one who’s staged a photo, and thanks to O’Neill, people might feel more comfortable acknowledging the unhealthy ways they use social media. Obviously, the extent to which the Instagram star let social media control her life was on a much larger scale than most of us. However, there are definitely things we can learn from O’Neill’s story.
Here’s a question: if we constantly document our lives on social media, how much time do we actually spend living? It’s definitely something to think about. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying everyone should quit social media. There are a lot of benefits that come along with staying connected online. It’s a great avenue for personal expression, it keeps people in touch and information easily accessible. However, I think we’ve forgotten what it’s like to live without social media. In fact, many people unknowingly suffer from “nomophobia,” the fear or anxiety of separation from their mobile devices.
In an online article published on Psychology Today, results from a UK study of mobile phone users were shown. In the U.S. levels of nomophobia were worse. It was found that 66 percent of U.S. adults have “nomophobia,” compared to 53 percent of UK adults. One in five Americans also reported that they would rather not wear shoes for a week than be without their phones.
Personally, I don’t want to be a person who spends more time on my phone than speaking to people. I don’t want to feel anxious if I turn my phone off or decide to leave it in my room when I go somewhere. I don’t want to be dependent on a device. If you feel the same way, then I encourage you to make small changes in your life instead of quitting cold turkey. Try doing something without documenting. Go somewhere and just enjoy the experience for what it is. Take mental pictures instead of posting. Have conversations instead of hiding behind a screen. It might seem unnatural at first, but don’t be afraid to live life without distractions. It’s a lot more beautiful that way.
Photo by Kit Maher