The like-free lifestyle: What it’s like to be a college student without social media

88 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 are active on Facebook, but some Chapman students choose to go off the grid. Illustrated by Kali Hoffman

By millennial standards, Chris Falco is off the grid. With no Instagram presence and inactive Facebook and Snapchat accounts, the sophomore philosophy and psychology major is part of a select group of Chapman students living the like-free lifestyle.

“A lot of people who don’t have social media seem to have something against it. I just don’t see the point of it, and I don’t enjoy it. It doesn’t start a conversation, it is the conversation. It’s the beginning, the middle and the end,” Falco said.

By foregoing social media, Falco is in a minority among college-aged students.  88 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 are active on Facebook, according to Pew Research Center’s demographics for 2016. Instagram comes in at a close second, with 59 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds using the app. Choosing not to participate in such a widespread part of college life may sound isolating, but for Falco it’s the opposite.

“I like talking to people face-to-face. It’s more authentic. You only see the good that everyone deems good enough (on social media). We never see them just content, we never see them mildly excited to go to class. At some point, you kind of forget these people are people, too,” Falco said.

Social media psychologist Sophie Janicke agrees that the lack of authenticity is the main pitfall of social media use among the millennial generation.

“With the passive use of social media, people scroll through this endless stream of content that, to them, seems perfect,” Janicke said. “That’s what people want you to think, but seeing that makes you feel worse when it doesn’t compare to your own life. Someone will always be on a better vacation or have a better coffee than you. To be happy you have to go beyond just liking.”

Students can remove themselves from social media by focusing less on consuming information and more on investing in “social capital” – which Janicke defines as emotional support. People who use social media to actively reach out to others generally have a more positive self-image, Janicke found in her research.

“We think we get those connections (on social media), but unless we reach out, we don’t. There’s a difference between people who actively use social media and others who are just scrolling through it. People who post frequently – and honestly – tend to be happier, while people who use social media passively have a more negative relationship,” Janicke said.

Still, choosing not to interact on social media can have some of the same benefits, granted that newfound free time is spent fostering real-life relationships, Janicke said.

“We’re addicted. We have a fear of missing out, so we are at a point where we can’t make any conscious choice to engage or not engage. You’re never full, you constantly consume. If you’re not using social media, you’ll likely be happier with what you have. You’ll probably be calmer, more peaceful,” Janicke said.

In an effort to de-clutter her online life and devote more time to face-to-face communication, junior public relations and advertising major Caroline Hogan chose to delete her Facebook.

“The friendships that I have are deep and close. I try not to accept friends I don’t know in real life. Maybe I was just born in the wrong decade…but I thought (Facebook) was the biggest waste of time,” Hogan said.

Instead, she tries to “focus her energy elsewhere” by investing in creative interests and close relationships, Hogan said. By not worrying about her online presence, Hogan said she has more time for internships, reading and extracurricular activities.

“I’m doing things for myself instead of refreshing my social media,” Hogan said.

She competes in the National Student Advertising Competition, a challenge in which students run an advertising campaign for a real-life client. Although she admits she sees the irony in being an aspiring advertiser who dislikes social media, Hogan said there is a difference between cultivating a corporate brand and a personal brand.

“Just because I don’t have a Facebook doesn’t mean I don’t know how to use it. I just see all these people who use (social media) to promote their (personal) brand and it’s so phony. If that’s what they want then that’s up to them, but it’s like…are you really using that fit tea?” Hogan said.

A key difference in how students use social media is the divide between personal accounts and professional accounts. Business-oriented sites like LinkedIn and some Facebook accounts do not affect people the same way social sites like Instagram or Snapchat do, Janicke said. Since the focus is on cultivating a professional, not personal, persona, students who avoid sharing details about their everyday lives on social media can still see the benefit in fostering networking opportunities online, Janicke said.  

For Falco, his aversion to personal accounts does not carry over professionally, he said.

“It’s not a reality I enjoy but it’s a reality I accept,” Falco said. “On the job market, it looks odd if you don’t have a Facebook account. It’s a tool to stay in touch.”

Other students who aren’t active on social media also feel pressure to maintain an online presence to stay informed. Sophomore creative writing major Hannah Montante created an

Instagram halfway through her first year at Chapman so she could stay connected after joining a sorority.

“I deleted my account senior year of high school because I felt really self-conscious after I would post stuff. I got one again to stay in the loop,” Montante said. “If I didn’t have an Instagram in a sorority, I wouldn’t know many people.”

Although Montante originally felt Instagram harmed her self-image, after re-creating her account, she found a new confidence, she said. Since her “audience” had changed after starting college, Montante felt like she could start over.

“I don’t feel self-conscious about it anymore. I think I just changed as a person. If you do have low self-esteem though, it can be bad,” Montante said.

It’s how students interact with social media that makes a difference. Ditching the “like” button isn’t the answer for everyone, but being conscious of the role social media plays in cultivating lasting relationships can improve people’s online experience.

“At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself, who’s in control? Me, or the technology?” said Janicke.

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