Juice cleanse, face cleanse, and now social media cleanse? With over 89% of Gen Z using social media platforms daily, it comes as a surprise that Gen Z is unplugging. Why would the most connected generation choose to disconnect?
The doom scroll.
As many of us know, social media can be a great way to connect with others, keep up to date with the latest news, escape reality for a bit, and avoid awkward interactions in public. Scrolling through social media can be exceptionally (and biologically) rewarding, with dopamine flooding the brain with every scroll. It’s no surprise that such a high percentage of Gen Z uses social media on the daily.
However, studies show that the more hours spent online, the more at risk people are for symptoms of anxiety and depression. Knowing this, many of us would cringe at the Screentime reports from Apple or the guy that pops up every so often on TikTok telling us we’ve been scrolling for too long. But how does something that’s designed to entertain us actually harm our mental health?
I interviewed some Gen Z folks to figure it out and their responses sound a lot like Olivia Rodrigo’s song Jealousy: “I wanna be you so bad, and I don't even know you/ All I see is what I should be/ Happier, prettier, jealousy, jealousy”
Gen Zer Monica (20) remarks, “It’s hard to enjoy my feed when every post reminds me of how much more people are doing with their lives.” Similarly, Gen Zer Rosario (19) states, “I’ve had to mute a few people because I literally can’t deal with seeing so many people being so happy all the time.” These types of sentiments are not surprising considering the fact that excessive social media use can increase loneliness, which affects life satisfaction negatively over time, and it can have deteriorating effects on social relationships.
The social media detox.
At this point it’s common practice to take a step back from social media and unplug. Maybe delete the Instagram app or put a time limit on TikTok. Whatever you choose to do in order to prevent yourself from feeling like you’re scrolling your days away.
Many Gen Zs take to social media to announce their break… from social media. As counterintuitive as that may seem, it seems to be working. We get laid back vlogs of people doing mundane things that make them happy (or happier than they would be doom scrolling).
Sometimes avid social media users take a break and come back with a few life lessons. For example, TikTok user, @tomiwarodia, shared: 1. Not every life experience has to be aesthetically pleasing, 2. It’s important to love yourself without filters, and 3. Being a baddie is exhausting (huge emphasis on the last one, don’t we all know it).
While some of the life lessons learned while on a social media cleanse can seem fairly intuitive, they’re definitely not to a generation raised on social media consumption. Gen Zer Brandon (24) shares his struggle saying, “I deleted my account after I realized that all I could think about during an event was taking the perfect picture for my IG. I also hated caring so much about the likes my posts got.” With social media, reality is malleable. People have the power to pick and choose how they present themselves. It is the perfect performance. And people spend their time comparing themselves to an unattainable perfection.
The search for something “real”.
Gen Z has grown up surrounded by flawless filters, perfect angles, artificial lighting, and rampant facetune. And they’re over it. As such, Gen Z has popularized spam accounts, casual Instagram, shitposting, etc. But is this really the countermovement it prides itself to be, or is it simply another elaborate performance? How authentic is Gen Z’s authenticity really?
Is Gen Z disconnecting or simply jumping from one form of social media to another? Much like how many Millennials flocked from Facebook to Instagram, is Gen Z simply following the next fad? Gen Z seems to be moving from Instagram to BeReal, an app where users are only allowed to upload content during a 2 minute window during the day (and there are no likes!). Is BeReal just the next temporary trend or is it a force to be reckoned with by giving Gen Z exactly what they’ve been asking for?
It makes sense that the most connected generation would want to disconnect; they’ve been exposed to the consequences of social media their entire lives. But does Gen Z want to erase their internet self completely, or just find a healthier way to engage with social media? Gen Z wants authenticity. But in a pretty package. But not too pretty. What platform will provide this delicate balance and give Gen Z a reason to stay connected? Is it possible for any social media platform to give Gen Z not just what they want, but what they need?