Foster Borch, Feature Writer

Ten years ago, Harris Millis Unlimited Dining would have buzzed with casual conversations between strangers. Now, those who eat alone are kept company by their Instagram feeds.

I removed myself from Instagram over a year ago after realizing I spent too much time trying to prove how amazing my life was instead of actually living it.

I was more concerned about virtual likes than real-life relationships.

Instagram caters to a wide range of people looking to digitally socialize. First-year Aidan Cummings, an avid traveller and photographer, is one of them.

“I use it because it is the only visual-exclusive social media app around,” he said. “[Instagram] allows you to speak with images, you can illustrate events and activities in your life solely with pictures.”

The downside is that many Instagram users determine their self-worth based on interactions on the platform, such as senior Emily Piersiak, who said she used to spend a decent amount of time on the platform every day.

“There were always prettier people, and I was like ‘Wow, I want to be like them, but I’m not, and that sucks,’” she said.

Piersiak stopped using Instagram a couple of years ago, she said.

“I realized I was spending a lot less time on it, and it was kind of a relief,” she said.

For Piersiak, it seems that removing herself from Instagram was the healthy choice. Many others can’t bear the thought of missing what’s on their feed.

Leaving isn’t as easy as it sounds. Senior Laura Hirsch said that if she didn’t have Instagram, she wouldn’t know what to do during five minute breaks between classes.

“If I couldn’t hop on my phone …  oh my gosh, it would be so awkward,” Hirsch said.

I had a bad habit of opening Instagram whenever I was bored or had a free moment. I let the app consume all of my free time. It also affected my social life. I had a fear of missing out, which would intensifiy if I saw a post I was not included in.

Every Thursday afternoon in my Votey Hall math class, I see my former habits in my classmates. There is total silence until the professor arrives. Students keep to themselves, scrolling through their feeds until their attention is needed elsewhere.

For first-year Brianna Borch, Instagram has been a crutch on which she can lean on to avoid socializing.

“When I get to class early, I find myself scrolling through Instagram or Twitter to kill time rather than trying to talk to someone,” Borch said. “It’s not very rewarding, and I feel anti-social when I do it.”

A lot of people pull out their phones when they feel awkward or lonely to make it look like they’re busy or have someone to talk to, Borch said.

A February 2017 survey from the Royal Society for Public Health has examined the positive and negative effects of social media on young people’s health.

Instagram was overwhelmingly ranked as the most detrimental, according to the study.

On the RSPH website, CEO Shirley Cramer stated that “social media … is now so entrenched in the lives of young people that it is no longer possible to ignore it when talking about young people’s mental health issues.”

By promoting socialization in a digital space, Instagram has been redefining how we interact in the real world.

It can change human behavior and create an unhealthy relationship between users and the platform. This is evident in the daily lives of just a few UVM students.

A “like” on social media can be a confidence booster. For me, it was an addictive sensation. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the number of likes go up. I would eagerly wait until my iTouch would buzz again, signalling another reaction to my post.

Hirsch said that she turned off notifications because she noticed herself getting anxious about the likes.

She felt she was missing out when she saw friends from her first year posting what they were doing, especially during  the college transition. However, she has not considered removing the app.

For me, removing Instagram was the way to go. The platform intensified my feelings of social isolation, which negatively impacted my mental health.

I formed an unhealthy relationship with social media that had to be broken.

Although it may seem impossible, I’d recommend a conscious attempt to take a break from the digital world to anyone.

Give yourself the head space to step back and re-evaluate your relationship with social media and see where it leaves you.

It made a world of difference for me.