How social media’s absence and presence affected my teenage years


Photo courtesy of Holly Hinman. Summer day in 2018 spent in Montauk, New York.

In my junior year of high school, I wrote my favorite editorial to date, “My Life With No Social Media.” With the exception of a slightly theatrical title, I believed it was a story worth sharing since 90% of teens have social media downloaded onto their phones and tablets, according to AACAP. There were no religious or political reasons behind deleting my old Instagram account when I was thirteen, but two months in, I recognized I was in no rush to have it back and was perfectly content with apps like YouTube and Pinterest. In most ways, I felt happier and certainly freer.

As I began my senior year of high school, I downloaded Instagram again and Snapchat for the first time in order to build college connections wherever I decided to go. I wanted an opportunity to profess how I feel about social media now that I’m (mostly) active again and include three italicized excerpts of my old editorial measuring how it compares and contrasts to my thoughts today. Essentially, this is a recollection, a trip down memory lane to younger Holly’s more simplistic life, and I invite you to read along.

person holding black samsung android smartphone
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

I’d say the biggest takeaway for myself is the number of friends you keep or eventually fall out of touch with. Sometimes I was saddened because of this, especially since I have a more sensitive nature, but my core group of friends never left my side, and fallouts never stopped me from making new friends in my youth or school communities. 

First off, shoutout to those same eight friends and my newer friends, including two in this journalism team. I think this was an honest but naive statement for me to make because relationship fallouts are only natural, and they’ll happen wherever you are, no matter what you do, sometimes. Perhaps in my junior year, my biggest obstacle was accepting the natural turbulence of relationships, but I’m happy to say it’s really not anymore. I was more sensitive then, and I had a lot fewer things to keep me occupied and connected, which is often the downside of being media-less. In truth, I really appreciate my alone time (and, yes, I am an only child) so that once my social battery is charged, I can be social again by asking everyone what their favorite Vine is because 2015 was a better time.

It’s no secret many of us waste hours of valuable time on these social media platforms, including moms on Facebook.

The idea of us becoming unattached to any social media is deranged. We’re all guilty. If you are someone who can just simply turn off your phone after a few minutes on TikTok with no issues whatsoever — does TEDTalk know about you? Tony Robbins? You win because most of us can sit down at lunchtime, open that app, blink, and it’s time for bed. Last year, Forbes calculated that Americans spend an average of 1,300 hours on social media in one year, equivalent to fifty-four days. This is unhealthy, and although the majority of us are guilty of too much screen time, we should take a step back when it impacts school or work. Whenever I get stressed or overwhelmed, I delete all my apps cold turkey for the weekend or a few weeks, depending on how rigorous life around me is. I will say that my room is never cleaner than during these periods, but the joys of the internet outrank everything when I’m active again, so consider me a bit shameless on this front.

Privacy is the biggest reward of all, however. Unless you pull up my username for the apps I do have, hardly anyone can track me down, and most importantly, there’s nothing embarrassing that I might regret years later. Also, it has been noted that Facebook and Instagram can listen in on your conversations even when your phone is off. SnapMap has a tracking device to spot where your friends are and also collect data on your whereabouts. 

Out of everything I discussed, this holds the most prevalence. You know those ads that pop up that are a little too relevant to the conversation you had with your mom the other day? The data systems may or may not be directly listening to you if you have your mic off, but Facebook and Instagram will gather evidence of things you show interest in, “it uses sophisticated demographic and location data to serve up ads,” states USAToday. Keeping a lower profile might benefit you in the long run because there’s a lesser chance of unwanted tracking. If you are someone who has an online business, or you’re fine with keeping an open profile, awesome! We all have to make ourselves known somehow and social media is one of the best networking stategies out there, so as long as necessary precautions are ensured by setting strong passwords or enabling two-factor authentification, there’s nothing to worry about.

I distinctly remember when I hopped back on two years ago, the Black Lives Matter movement was surging everywhere and it was then that I intensely recognized how politically-involved my generation is, which is great. I usually remained apolitical on the internet and chose to stay in the know by following the New York Times, ABC News and the Desert Sun. In my friend groups we hardly talked politics because we all understood basic human rights, but once I started following hundreds of people, including those I haven’t talked to since grade school, it put this movement into much greater perspective for me as a teenager first, and as a student reporter, second. With instant access to information and this generation’s willingness to stay infomed and seek answers, I entirely believe that saying, “Gen Z will be the most powerful generation” is true, in my book.

I just turned nineteen recently, but so far my teenage years have been awesome, beautiful, mostly calm, and bittersweet, but when it boils down to social media, it feels like a prolonged science experiment in a good way. It didn’t alter my outlook on social media being a destructive force as much as I thought it would as long as it’s checked in moderation. I often find deleting social media to be therapeutic and I would highly recommend breaks to anyone, even if baby steps are necessary. Insider published an informative article that echoes my points but also includes effective solutions to log off.

To reiterate, social media is great for entertainment, maintaining long-term connections and personal expression, but whenever it’s overwhelming or I become too mentally drained by it, I never question myself before deleting the apps again because it works wonders as long as I let some people know beforehand, which allows me to focus on the outside world I would much rather appreciate and relish in which stands front of me. These past few years have taught me that it’s more than okay to step back into a simpler life.