BY ERIN CARPENTER 

 

A few months ago, I had 1200 followers on Instagram, and 0 on TikTok. 

I’d always had a complicated relationship with social media (as I’m sure we all do). For years I had carefully curated my profile. I never had goals for growth, but I wanted my life to be picture-perfect, and I basically wanted to prove to the world that I was not a loser. It was exhausting, and got me nowhere. So last fall, I decided to deactivate all my accounts and disappear for a while. This is what I wrote on that day:

“I feel like I hit a point of truly coming to an end of all the things I don’t want to be. I’ve been posting things on Instagram that were really just versions of all the thousands of stranger’s content I scroll past every single day. I haven’t been saying anything. I haven’t been being anyone. I’ve been a mirror, hiding and reflecting. I’m 30 years old, and my most real version of me is hiding under layers of costumes. Why do I do that? Because I think it’s “correct?” Because I have no idea who I really am, what really clicks with my soul? So one morning after scrolling in bed, I got fed up with the noise and repetition of trending audios, the sameness and the numbness. I deleted it, because I’m not using it as a platform for what I really want to say. I want to make something beautiful, something true. There’s a hole in my phone, but it feels right.”


In those months without social media, I blundered around in my creating. I took lots of pictures and kept them in a folder in my phone. I wrote some blog posts. No one read them (I had nowhere to post them), but I was speaking, and that was the point. 

“Parts of me began to disappear one by one, and all that was left was my writing: a voice with no face or body anymore. I was invisible, but finally loud, speaking consistently into the void. And no one could stop me. I had always hidden my voice behind a loud and false online presence, carefully crafted for the eyes watching. Now my presence had vanished from the internet–my name, my picture, my life was nowhere to be found. Now I hid behind new things: my inner, hidden thoughts, my wildest ideas. All the things I’d painstakingly buried and hidden and edited away my whole life were now the only things about me.”


It was an inner strength that I’d never really cultivated before, because I’d always been so focused on what other people wanted to see from me.

In the new year, our focus shifted to a new project. My husband Jon and I bought a laundromat, and in January we were set to begin the renovation. 

“I’m about to reactivate my instagram, but only because I need to document the laundromat renovation. I don’t know, I feel weird about coming back. It’s felt so nice to hide. If it wasn’t for the renovation, I’d keep hiding. But maybe the next part of my healing is taking back my voice in this way–forcing myself to be proud of who I am.”


On the first day of the renovation, I made a Tik Tok account and began posting in a different way. I stopped caring about the aesthetic of things. I just told stories. I wrote scripts, I ordered a tiny microphone and sat in my closet with my laptop, recording over and over until the audio was perfect. I showed up every day to the laundromat, and found new ways to document the projects we were doing. For the first time in a long time, I was enjoying myself. I didn’t even post to Instagram. 

“Tik Tok loves my silly little videos,” I texted my husband one morning. It felt like a place for my creativity, and there were no rules. It didn’t have to look a certain way. I didn’t have to look a certain way. I showed up to my camera in t-shirts and leggings and the same baseball cap every day. For the first time in a long time, I was having fun creating. I consistently posted my renovation videos for 2 and 1/2 months. And then, everything changed overnight. 

Public speaking makes me shaky and dry-mouthed. I don’t like to be the center of attention (I get nervous and weird). So on that Wednesday morning when I posted the video of the finished laundromat and saw the views rapidly climbing, I started to panic. It’s not at all what I thought going viral would feel like.

At 300,000 views I started thinking about other people’s opinions, over-analyzing comments. At one million views, I wanted it to stop. At 4 million views, then 10 million, then 13 million, it all felt like a snowball tumbling out of my control. I’d posted the same video on separately on my Instagram, and that one began blowing up too. Now, all I wanted was to make all of these new people love me. I wanted everyone to understand me. I watched my follower counts climb, and took on the wishes and opinions of every new follower I gained. My life was suddenly under a microscope, and everyone had something to say. 

I’d set a goal at the beginning of the year when I made my Tik Tok: “Hit 10,000 followers by December 2023.” Jon and I watched my followers pick up, nearing 10,000. We walked to a corner bar to get a glass of champagne to celebrate, and on our way there, I hit the mark. I’d reached my goal. But why did I feel like this? Why did I feel…scared?

I’d always envied those with platforms, but now that I have one, I’ve felt paralyzed. I never imagined I would have so many wonderful people following my page. But I found myself staring at my profile, unsure of what to post. The laundromat renovation was over.  What did people want to see from me? Why did they follow me? Will I annoy them with my photos of every day life? How do I keep them from leaving? 

Life is complex, beautiful, and ever-changing. The idea that we all have to force ourselves into one “niche” forever is claustrophobic. We are not one dimensional beings. We are not an advertisement for a specific thing or idea or kind of life. I’m tired of trying to squeeze life into a niche–of defining myself with one or two words that are easily digestible for an audience. 

And that’s the big question: what do we want to use social media for? What do we want to say? What purpose do we want to serve? The answer is first to live. Once I took the pressure off of the content for content’s sake, I focused back on the things that brought me joy. I took time away from my phone, I journaled and reflected and prayed. I cooked beautiful meals, I gathered around dinner tables with friends. I worked hard on our projects. I invested in the people in our life. And only then did I have something to say. After all, that’s how I got here. Nobody cared when I overthought and curated my life to death. People only started listening when I really started living. 

Our content should be dictated by our lives, not our lives by our content.

I’m still on my way to figuring it all out, but I’m starting by speaking up again. I want to use my social media platform to tell stories, bring value to people’s lives, and foster community. But I can only do if I use my own, real voice.

And what about you? Do you ever feel like this about your social media? What purpose does social media serve for you? What do you have to say? 

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