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I was raised by social media. As I near 30, here's why I deleted them all

I was deeply online before most of my peers, finding community in social networks like Tumblr and late aughties Facebook. In many ways, the Internet raised me. Now, as I round out my twenties, I'm reflecting on the impact of that. Not just impossible beauty standards - that is a given - but my behavior on and offline, my attention span, my impulses to react, and my thought patterns.

Yesterday, I deleted YouTube off my phone. It was my last remaining social network. If you can even call it that - I barely used its social features. Instead, I'd curated a subscriptions list of amateur documentarians and mystery-solving Internet sleuths, historians, victim-focused true crime podcasts, Breadtubers, astronomers, scientists, and still more niche channels. Since this was educational content, I told myself, it was mindful time spent online. Or was it? I was losing hours of my day to my phone, engaging in some of my most destructive habits like dissociating and skin-picking, while I devoted all my attention to the content in front me, ignoring my needs and body.

YouTube is a hub for brand and user-generated content, so I deluded myself into thinking I was supporting indie creators while watching. But these creators don't exist in silos. YouTube manages the algorithm and encourages creators to upload longer videos, increasing revenue and watch time. I wasn't as liberated as I thought, having deleted Instagram and Facebook years prior. TikTok had me in its grasp for a while, but I recognized we wouldn't be compatible early on. The endless scroll, rage-baiting, and privacy issues all made me uncomfortable. It was easy to recognize how this app was preying on me. It's literally designed to keep you online for as long as possible, and that much was obvious. So I deleted it. I didn't yet see how YouTube served the same function: to keep users engaged for as long as possible.

"How do you fill your time now?" a friend texted me yesterday when I shared these revelations. A harmless question, but one that made me realize just how much we've lost. Watching content all day isn't living, so why have we normalized it?

The Internet has trained us to react quickly and often. It has made us impulsive. We think in black and white. Good and bad. But reality is neither; the same is true of people. We should always be thinking critically, weighing and re-weighing the reality before us and responding in ways that serve us. But the Internet, over decades, had trained me to react on first impulse without thinking things through, and that was manifesting in my everyday life: so often, I spoke bluntly and without filter. I was hurting others and judging often.

Social media is catered to you, the individual. Instantly delivering the content you're most likely to engage with, based on your history. It inherently fosters a sense of entitlement, because your perception of the Internet is one that is literally tailored to your particular habits online. You're the main character when you use the Internet. Except, it's not really you: it's a version of you that only consumes, that only serves the corporations who own the apps you use and sites you visit. It is a fragmented version of yourself whose sole purpose is to fund the capitalist machine.

I feel lucky to realize this as I reclaim parts of myself I've lost to the toxic framework of social media.