By Isaac Choi, 16, Oregon.
As one critic of social media observed, “There are only two industries that call their customers ‘users‘: illegal drugs and software,” said Edward Tufte, a computer scientist in The Social Dilemma. According to a 2018 Pew Research Center survey of 750 teens, 97 percent used social media and 45 percent were addicted to it. I was one of those teens. I first tasted the social media world on my 12th birthday. I had nagged my mother for months, and now it was in my grasp. I quickly became absorbed by the features and abilities that social media possessed. In my first few days, social media consumed my mind. I thought about it during school, at dinner, and even in my sleep. Its presence stalked me like a tiger in a forest and lingered like a ghost at night. I fell into an abyss of likes, followers, and posts. From the moment my eyes landed on the scrolling screen, a habit instantly formed, beginning the intoxication of my mind.
About a year after developing my profile, I developed a daily routine. After school, I would seize my phone to browse social media apps. It was supposed to be a positive way to connect to the outside world and join the online community. But that was not the case. Instead, I became obsessed with how many followers and likes I had. It separated me from reality and presented me with a false identity. I had become a salesman and an addict; I thought of ways to appeal to people to follow me, just as a CEO would handle marketing. For example, if I took photos from my chin up, my insights showed deflation in followers, whereas if I took pictures from a head to heel angle, I would experience inflation. I would try to recreate the bios and profile pictures they had. It made me feel invincible, numbing my mind with ecstasy. This kid who never touched social media before was now living the high life.
By the end of next year, I was a living disaster. I was consumed by social media. Instead of spending time with family on holidays, I sneaked into my account, and I scrolled through posts, instead of completing schoolwork. Consequently, my life was full of procrastination and constant fights with my family. I was stressed by the pressure of trying to support my “perfect” reality online. But thankfully, this cycle came to a sudden halt.
It was around seven or eight p.m. on a Saturday when my mother called me to the living room. She wanted to show me a documentary on Netflix. My mother is not a lukewarm parent; instead, she is the total opposite- a “tiger” mom. With that being said, my mother watched my social media addiction with an eagle eye. She saw that I was not able to live with both social media and school, and realized that I needed change; not by a minor fix through small talk but by a dramatic metamorphosis. At first, I had no idea what it was about, but I just stayed until I saw the title.
As soon as I saw the words, The Social Dilemma, sweat droplets rose from my palms and my back. I had heard from a blog that the documentary could turn the lives of addicts completely around. It motivated people to delete their social media apps and renew their lives. But I did not want to be a part of that. I detested the thought of quitting social media and giving up my “perfect” reality. But, my mother insisted that I just watch and listen. So to avoid any conflict, I stayed, but the sweat slowly rolling down my back added to my uneasiness.
The Social Dilemma resurrected me from the gorges of temptation and deceit. As I watched former employees of tech companies like Facebook and Google give their testimonies on how the industry managed social media, everything they said was an explanation for my addiction. One employee said that the companies looked at people’s views on posts and recommended similar content. This led to addiction. Another employee said that companies would send notifications to attract users. This led to distraction. From that point on, I told myself that I would not be brainwashed by money-loving trolls who took advantage of the vulnerable, which led me to believe that social media was not an app, but a drug.
After the documentary ended, my mother asked me how I felt about it. I hid my true feelings and said that it was boring because I still had the desire for social media within me. But suddenly, my mother wanted me to make a decision: either choose social media or my life. I did not want to do this, so conflict was the only alternative. While I was resting my hoarse voice, a calm rushed over me. Instead of resuming the conflict, I suddenly wished for a newer life, full of meaning and purpose. That was when I made the choice that changed my life, one that would influence my future. With that, I quit and deleted all my social media apps and accounts.
The aftermath of this decision led to so many great results. I started a successful club at my school, became number one in my class, and started a new sport. What began as a tumultuous odyssey to becoming an addict eventually evolved into a tour of reflection. I had no sense of reality and most importantly, I was intoxicated by false illusions of perfectness. But I found a light that shines my true self, revealing my potential and purpose.
The first step to any recovery is seeking help. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) helpline combats addictions from drugs to social media. For more information, visit: samhsa.gov. Thus, will you linger intoxicated or refresh into a successful life? Your choice will direct your path in life. Social media may get dopamine rushing all over the body, but there are many other highs in life which we can all embrace.
By Isaac Choi, age 16, Oregon. This was selected as one of the Noteworthy Entries in our 2021 Youth Honor Awards program.