Full text of Ryan Thomas’ talk: Live in the Moment: Delete Social Media at TEDxAshburnSalon conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here:
I stand here with a simple offer, an offer that, if accepted, yields instantaneous results and inevitable positive consequences.
My offer is this: the chance to purge yourself of social media and reclaim your personal identity.
I challenge everyone to try going one week without social media, and I guarantee it will change your life. I can attest to this, because I personally have been without any social media for almost a year. And it’s completely changed the way I view the world.
I’m not saying that all social media is bad. Social media can be used for marketing or to spread a positive message to the world.
However, apps like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat are taking over our lives. They’re taking us out of the present moment and causing us to exist only in a virtual world, and nobody should live like that.
Social media has taken over astonishingly quickly. If you think about it, when we meet a new person, the norm is no longer to ask them for their phone number. The norm is to friend them on Facebook or ask for their Snapchat or Twitter username.
In 2008, only 24% of the US population had a social media profile. Now 81% has one. This astronomical growth is because social media’s seen as a “do it all” platform. It’s widely replaced texting and email in a lot of cases, and it’s used as our main source of news. This leads to people spending hours a day with their noses just glued to their phones.
Psychologists at Trent Nottingham University found that we spend twice as much time on our phones as we think we do. And that amount of time is five hours a day — nearly a third of our entire waking lives.
I’m sure you’re familiar with this sight. That used to be me. In fact, I would wake up every morning and immediately reach for my phone. The amount of notifications I had would determine how good my morning was.
“Yay! People want to talk to me.”
I would spend one to two hours thoughtlessly scrolling though all my social media profiles before even getting out of bed. I would check Twitter, then Snapchat, then Instagram, then go back to Twitter to see if anything new had been posted just in the last 30 minutes.
I was an addict wasting my time. And the time that I was wasting was being spent looking at other people’s posts and seeing how I thought other people lived.
This influenced me to shape my life in a similar way, and I took on the values of what I saw online.
In hindsight, I wasn’t living my life at all. I was living society’s life. This is one of the biggest problems with social media. It causes people to live their life based on some “societal” standard.
Humans have always had an instinct to fit in. Collaboration and cooperation were necessary for our species to survive. Because of this, a sense of belonging is one of the most sought-after and rewarding feelings anyone can experience.
Think of the feeling of your favorite sports team winning the big game or finally finishing a group project where each member of the group knew their role and carried it out perfectly.
Successful group interaction triggers the firing of the pleasure centers in the brain and releases amounts of dopamine synonymous with drug use. A feeling of belonging is sought in humans like drug addicts seek their next fix.
And social media is designed to exploit this. All the little features like comments, likes, and being able to share posts are just gimmicks designed to get us hooked by causing dopamine to be released.
I was guiltier of just posting what I thought everyone wanted to see than anyone. I knew that on social media, I was simply crafting an image of myself, but I didn’t care. I loved attention, and I loved the ability to portray myself any way I wanted.
It wasn’t me. I was losing touch with my authentic self. And this problem manifests mainly in my generation. As teenagers have grown up with the internet, we spent our whole lives interacting with our peers online.
We’re more comfortable on our phones than in a face-to-face interaction. And this has catastrophic consequences on our mental health.
Studies have shown that kids who spend more time on their phones have less developed frontal cortexes. And we need our frontal cortex to plan for the future, think rationally, and solve problems.
My generation is losing those abilities because we can’t focus on anything besides our phones. Combine that with the fact that social media is our main source of forming connections with other people, and it’s easy to see why teen depression has skyrocketed 33% just since 2010 and teen suicides have gone up 31% in the same period.
We are killing ourselves just to fit in.
Yet everyone around me somehow thinks they’re better than social media. They tell me, “Oh, I only use it to look at memes,” or, “I just like to keep up with my friends that I can’t see every day.”
Yet the conversation that I constantly hear is gossip and judgement: “Did you see my post? Did you like it?”
“Did you see her posts? Why was she hanging out with him?”
“Why did he say that? He’s so creepy.”
“Why did she post that? She has no self-respect.”
The people around me are addicted to stalking other people — yet maintain the assertion that they are somehow above it all. And all the features that I talked about earlier, the gimmicks, they can’t replace real-life interaction. A like can’t replace a smile or a compliment. But we treat it as if it can.
We allow ourselves to become less social and lose touch with the face-to-face interactions that really matter.
In a study by Pew Research Center, 55% of participants said they interact with their friends online on a daily basis. Only 33% said they interact with their friends face-to-face on a daily basis.
Think about this: How many of you have ever pulled out your phone and stared at it just to avoid an awkward social situation?
I know I see that every day in school. How many of you have ever taken a long video at a sporting event or concert so you can “relive” the moment later or share it with your friends instead of actually making sure that you’re living in the moment and enjoying life as it happens?
Last winter, I was at a crossroads in my life. I’ve always been driven, but I really had no idea what I wanted to do. Track has always been my main sport, but I didn’t really think I wanted to run in college.
I’ve also always had dreams of attending a top-level academic school. But schools like that require true excellence. I had no motivating force and nothing that separated me from the people around me.
I cared more about creating the image that I wanted of myself online than working to secure the future that I wanted. Everybody has dreams of greatness when they are a kid. Nobody wants to live an average and unfulfilling life. Yet so few people are willing to put in the work to developing themselves and unlocking their full potential.
I realized that if I devoted myself to improving on the track, I would have a way of standing out from other applicants and maybe reaching one of my dream schools.
So I began dedicating myself to track more and attempting to spend less time on social media. However, about two weeks into this new routine, I realized that while I was training for track more, I was spending about the same amount of time on social media.
I was simply shirking my academic duties and losing some sleep. I had to decide if running track in college and my future was more important to me than trying to fit in. And it was.
Slowly but surely, I became disgusted with who I was, and I wondered how I’d let myself become so addicted to something that had no value in the long run.
I decided to quit social media cold turkey. Instantly, it was as if a massive weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I began to see the beauty in the world around me. I’ve discovered my passion for life, and I found the sense of individuality and contentment with who I was.
In the week after I deleted social media, I changed more than I have at any other point in my life. I reevaluated not only my actions but my mindset, my goals, and my overall attitude towards life.
I realized that at any given moment, I can be doing anything I want to in the world. I simply have to choose to do what’s best for myself.
And because of this, I’m on my own path now and I’m my own person. I’m not standing up here proclaiming that I’m a perfect person devoid of weakness just because I deleted social media, but I am claiming that I’m in control of my own happiness and satisfaction with life.
I’m also not claiming that by deleting social media, you will immediately become a better person, find happiness, and reach your goals. Deleting social media in itself doesn’t bring anything of a direct value to your life. It’s simply an avenue towards individual thought and freedom.
Everybody spends their life searching for happiness and yearning for fulfillment. Yet most people spend so much of it looking at other people’s lives online.
If you have the super power to be present in the moment and you aren’t so preoccupied with what everyone else is doing, you’ll find that life is a little easier, happiness is always at hand, it’s easier to treat the people around you with kindness and have straightforward but profound relationships.
I think the world would be a better place if everyone possessed this skill.
Resources for Further Reading:
- How College Loans Exploit Students For Profit: Sajay Samuel (Transcript)
- How to Design for Dignity During Times of War: Slava Balbek (Transcript)
- The Next Outbreak? We’re Not Ready: Bill Gates (Transcript)
- Revealing The Lost Codex of Archimedes: William Noel (Transcript)
- The Power of Civil Momentum: Annamalai Kuppusamy (Transcript)