Instagram Likes, and Other Things that Don’t Really Matter

Nora McNeil, a junior Human Development and Family Studies major and member of the CLAS Student Leadership Board, is studying abroad in Dublin, Ireland this semester. Here, she reflects on how traveling internationally has made her rethink her use of social media, and shares some tips for setting social media boundaries. 

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This week I visited the Cliffs of Moher, the towering, incredibly beautiful bluffs in County Clare on Ireland’s west coast. The iconic cliffs are hundreds of millions of years old and draw more than a million visitors each year.

On the trip to the cliffs, someone asked the bus driver, “What’s the wifi password?”

“Look to your right,” the driver said. “Now look to your left. Introduce yourself to the people you’re sitting next to. Enjoy the scenes of Ireland. That’s your wifi for the day.”

Anyone who knows me knows that I love social media. I am a huge fan of what it has to offer. That being said, I think there are some issues with it, mainly relating to the amount of time being spent on it, and the way it creates a false sense of identity.

The amount of time spent on social media has been an issue in the past for me, and probably every other millennial at some point. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram used to be my favorite form of procrastination when real work had to get done.

But when my smartphone broke last fall, I had to wait two months to get my new iPhone. Until then, I was stuck with an un-smart phone. At first I was genuinely upset because…how was I supposed to Instagram?! But almost immediately there were a ton of benefits.

I wasn’t constantly on the apps while walking to or from class, and spent more time talking to people and just being aware of my surroundings. I can’t tell you how many times I would be in a small classroom or a waiting room with a bunch of silent, distracted people. What a missed opportunity to meet someone new or notice something novel.

“I can’t tell you how many times I would be in a small classroom or a waiting room with a bunch of silent, distracted people. What a missed opportunity to meet someone new or notice something novel.”

So I made some changes. When I got my new iPhone, I decided not to download Facebook and other forms of social media, and decided to just use my laptop for these things. And I knew when I studied abroad I really wanted to enjoy specific moments, take in my surroundings, and be less in-tune with my social media accounts. I decided not to get an internal plan on my phone, meaning I can only use social media when I have a wifi connection.

This has proven to be tricky when I am out all day. But it has also been really nice. So far I have thoroughly enjoyed the lack of social media connectedness I have on my day trips and nights out. I’ve been able to see some really cool sights and meet many new people, and I wonder if having my nose in my phone all the time would’ve prevented this.

So here are some pieces of advice I have for anyone trying to limit their time spent on social media, or anyone thinking about studying abroad:

1. Take pictures now, but post later. Take as many pictures as you want. I love, LOVE taking pictures. For sure. But wait ’til you get home that night to upload them. This is beneficial because then you’re not spending your day out editing, cropping, and going through what you took. Instead you’ll be spending it enjoying the scenery for your own eyes.

2. Don’t care. Like, just don’t. Don’t care so much about the amount of likes you get on your Instagram, or the amount of likes on anything for that matter. It doesn’t even matter. I’ve shared plenty of life-altering experiences on social media that received little attention, but at the end of the day it was an important event to me. And that’s all that really matters.

3. Keep perspective. Everyone’s life looks cooler in his or her pictures than it is in real life. You can make anything seem radical with the right Instagram filter.

4. Focus on yourself. People have an easy time adding filters/locations/cliché quotes etc. to make their posts desirable. But who knows if they’re really having that much fun-and maybe they are-but, and this goes back to my last point, don’t strive to emulate anyone’s lifestyle in your posts.

5. Be strategic about when you update. I choose Sundays. Sundays are my days to blog, video chat with family and friends, and upload pictures to Facebook. I get it all out of the way on a specific date rather then doing a little bit each day. It keeps me updated with family from home without taking away from my experience.

6. Try doing something cool and not sharing it online but with someone instead. Don’t tweet about it. Talk about it.

Social media is great for so many reasons; we can easily be connected to people all over and we have the opportunity and privilege of sharing cool pictures and awesome experiences so conveniently. But it is important to remember that all these social posts don’t define you — and don’t define your experience.

Follow Nora on Twitter at @NoraMcNugget or visit her blog

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