“You know what man, I think the Cubs really have a shot at running it back this year,” my Uber driver said when we were about halfway through the 40-minute ride from O’Hare airport to Northwestern University.
He knew nothing about baseball. I knew less.
As that topic quickly lost steam, we transitioned into a riveting conversation about his son’s burgeoning accounting career. I found this slightly more compelling than baseball, but not compelling enough for the conversation to endure for the remaining 20 minutes. My meager 4.6 Uber rating could take another hit. I put my head down and began to scroll through Instagram.
The reason I choose to recall this seemingly banal Uber ride is not to strike up a discussion on the awkwardness of sitting in a car with a stranger or to discuss my social ineptitude. I tell this story because in this Uber ride, I had an epiphany—an epiphany that could either turn out to be a quick fad or perhaps a meaningful life decision.
Scrolling through my Instagram feed, I came across a video posted by a girl with whom I went to high school. I watched a sorority recruitment video in which my friend kisses her sister on the cheek, looks at the camera and says “We’re sisters.” The caption read: “There’s nothing like being sisters in more way than one!” As the video replayed almost demonically over and over again, I sat there motionless, overcome with a singular thought: I need to quit social media.
I deleted Instagram on the spot.
My friend’s soul-draining post is not entirely to blame for this. I had been contemplating an exodus ever since I had become aware of the incredibly mechanical nature of my social media routine. Every morning when I wake up, I automatically pick up my phone to check all of the posts I missed in my slumber. I open my Snapchats, watch my unwatched stories and scroll through my Instagram feed until I recognize the pictures. This process repeats itself periodically throughout the day: when I’m waiting in line, when I’m watching TV, or before I go to bed.
The funny thing is that I’m not really soaking up any of the information that flashes before my eyes, nor do I care in the slightest about the content of the posts I’m seeing. It’s as though years of pictures of brunch, parties, dogs and bathing suits has left me completely lobotomized. Often I’m not even aware that I’ve made the decision to check social media; I find myself pulling up Snapchat completely instinctively. Above all else, my checking habits stem from a compulsive need to not leave things incomplete. Quite simply, they represent an utter waste of time.
This weekend, while visiting my friends at Northwestern for fall break, I became increasingly aware of social media’s grip on the modern college student. On Saturday, for instance, I accompanied my friend Maude’s sorority members as they participated in a Northwestern homecoming tradition. At 8 a.m., they all headed over to a frat house, woke up the frat boys and started drinking as a pregame of sorts for the tailgates—which are really also just pregames themselves for the football game, to which no one seems to go anyway.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “That sounds like it sucks.” But let me stop you right there: it did.
I was the only guy not wearing purple in a sea of sorority girls, all of whom sported their various interpretations of “style meets school spirit,” and I found myself assuming the role of photographer time and time again. Packs of girls squatted in front of various landmarks throughout Northwestern’s campus, in front of frat house signs, atop elevated surfaces and even in a local park where concerned parents looked at them with disgust.
After the tailgates had ended, the girls reconvened in their rooms as they consolidated the photos taken and began the painstaking process of deciding which one seemed worthy of posting. “Scroll through them and star the ones you like best” is a phrase I came to know well.
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An intense, Twelve Angry Men-style deliberation ensued. But with time, each girl came to a photo with which they were content. The deciding factor almost always was whichever photo the girl personally looked best in. This sparked controversy when another girl believed that she looked bad in said photo, but the agreement seemed to be that one must accept when she looks bad in another’s photo. In the future, she has permission to do the same to the friend.
Some girls had brainstormed captions ahead of time and were ready to post. Those who hadn’t faced another long and grueling battle ahead.
At the end of this long day, I was left completely drained. Laying on the blowup mattress Maude had put out for me, I couldn’t help but think about how thousands of people were currently looking at these photos I had taken—commenting things like “Ugh perfection” or “fire emoji x5”—and about how meaningless it all is.
The fact of the matter is, this short life we live has so many amazing things to offer. I can say with utmost confidence that none of these things are found on an Instagram feed.
I’m not saying you need to go all Eat Pray Love or anything like that. You can still sit and stare at a screen—just do so with a purpose. Instead of clicking through Snapchat stories, watch Atlanta or Veep. Nothing your friends are doing or writing about is anywhere close to as cool to the other things that are available at your fingertips.
But most importantly, next time you’re tempted to look down at your phone in social scenarios, resist. Look up, smell the roses and listen to your boring Uber driver talk about baseball and accounting.
Sami Kirkpatrick is a Trinity sophomore. His column, "worms in space," usually runs on alternate Wednesdays.