Stamps student Allison Knoll is getting ready to premiere her Integrative Project (IP) in the upcoming senior thesis show. Allison’s project uses creative work and social experiments to critically examine her own, as well as her peers', dependency on social media. As part of her research and process she has deleted her facebook, instagram, twitter, and snapchat accounts.
Allison, the premise of your project is that our society has become addicted to social media. Tell me a little bit about how you came to this conclusion.
When I first arrived at the idea I wasn’t sure how serious the connection between addiction and social media was. I was approaching it almost satirically. However, after deleting my own online life as part of my research, I realized how completely powerless I had become in controlling the technology because I had been so immersed in it.
Unlike alcohol addiction, social media addiction isn’t something people see as a serious issue. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. have become an unquestioned part of mainstream culture. It has crept into almost every aspect of our lives.
I see you're following a 12-Step Process to address your media addiction?
The first step is the only one that really exactly like the AA but the first step is the most important step, as far as I’m concerned – to admit to being powerless and admit to the consequences of the addiction.
It’s very hard to remove yourself from something that you’ve always known. Before deactivating my Facebook I was uneasy — at the time I had no idea what I would do if there was someone I needed to contact but didn’t have their phone number or what to do if I found an article I wanted to send to a friend or, on a more superficial note, how would anyone see what I did last night? I felt that in deleting everything I would have contact with nothing. Now, I see how comical that thought process was. I truly was powerless over the technology because I was so immersed in it.
What bothers you about the way social media is used?
One important problem I’ve noticed is the way people curate an identity online. The platforms allow people to edit themselves, highlighting their best features and more importantly — delete the undesirable.
My sophomore year was the first time I was introduced to the idea of editing oneself visually online. A friend showed me a picture of herself and asked me if she should make it her profile picture. I said sure, and assumed she was going to change it right away. But, first, she brought it into an editing program I was unfamiliar with. I watched as she made her face skinnier, teeth whiter, eyes bigger, mascara darker, lips redder, and skin tanner before adding it as her new profile picture. Likes and comments flew in complimenting my friend on how gorgeous she was, but I was appalled. I felt like she was cheating everyone.
Tell us about examining your own use of social media in this project.
I went through all of my Facebook friends, almost 1,300 people, and defined each relationship. I tried defining each as meaningful and superficial but there were too many grey areas. I ended up with 13 categories of relationships. It was an odd realization to see that I had over 800 relationships that I considered superficial and only 8 that were really meaningful to me.
I was surprised that I shared so much about my life with hundreds of people I have no meaningful connection with, and a number of people I didn’t even know.
What is most challenging thing about giving up social media? Do you find it difficult to stay 'on the wagon?' so to speak?
I realized I have a lot fewer friends than I thought. There were a good deal of people I interacted with almost every day on social media. As soon as I went offline, it was like those relationships were deleted too.
Now that I’m off social media though, I feel like I have more genuine conversations with people because I don’t have a preconceived notion of what they’re doing or have done recently.
In general, I really like being off social media ... but I have to admit I’ve reactivated a few times for a few minutes to see what pictures my friends are posting.
Sometimes I miss out on things because an event was created on Facebook and nobody bothers to talk about it in real life. But, for the most part, there’s nothing important I feel like I’m missing out on.
Tell me about some of the things you've done to reorient your life from a digital one to a 'natural' or non-digital one?
I’ve been keeping a “physical Instagram” with polaroids. On Instagram I would take a few pictures before getting the “right” shot. With polaroids I only have one chance to get the picture I want and if it doesn’t turn out perfectly ... well I just have to get over it. With Instagram I wanted the perfect picture because I was posting for other people. The journal I’m keeping now is for myself. So the way I use it really changes.
I’ve also really been trying to stay off my devices during idle moments throughout my day. I think a lot is missed when your head is tilted down as you scroll through BuzzFeed on the bus. I’ve found the break from work and my devices during idle moments is really nice. The only thing I don’t like is that without fail, every person surrounding me is interacting with their device in some way.
What do your friends think of your experiment?
What’s really odd to me is that my friends have all been telling me they think my project is interesting, funny, or relevant, but not a single person will remove themselves from the platforms. Everyone has a different excuse but there must be some overarching reason that I’m missing.
Do you really think you will stick with this after your senior thesis project is over?
Yes, definitely. My project isn’t just a project. I have truly integrated it into my everyday life. I’m starting a support group for people who want to break their addiction to social media, but I want to figure out what offline life is really like before I help others do the same. I’m looking at the IP show as the jumping off point for what has become a really big project.