A great benefit of the 21st century is the ease at which one can access the world of social media; through a multiplicity of tech devices, nonetheless. In fact, it seems bizarre to not own an account on some format of the digital sphere. Due to the heavy reliance on social media in the modern era, erasing oneself from the Internet is a challenging task; once an individual is plugged into this network, it is almost impossible for them to disappear from it without leaving a trace.

Professor Jeffrey Dvorkin, lecturer and director of the Journalism program at UTSC, provides his thoughts regarding whether one can fully disappear  from social media. Dvorkin shares, “It is no longer possible. Content that is posted on any site is ‘cached’: that means it can be recovered if one has enough technical knowhow and access to the right apps. You could disconnect, but going off the grid completely is impossible unless you plan to move to the most isolated place on earth. Even using a payphone can allow someone to track you, although it would be difficult.”

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ELIZABETH LIIU/THE UNDERGROUND

The Internet acts as a catalyst for communication, and a platform for news to all who can access it. Dvorkin explains his connection to social media, and provides insight on what he prefers to do during his leisure time by stating, “I think that as long as I am teaching, I can’t disconnect. I need to be in contact and be available: blame it on my years of being in the news business where journalists need to have a contact number at all times. I did go to a cabin in Algonquin Park a couple of summers ago. No phone, no internet. It was uncomfortable for the first few hours. Once I got used to the lack of contact with the outside world, I enjoyed it, but I don’t feel I can or should get used to it for very long.”

This may be a result of journalism’s ever-tightening embrace of the social media sphere. Wali Ahmed, a fifth-year student in the management program explains his personal experience with social media. “I mostly use Facebook and Instagram to stay in touch with my friends and family. I also recently got into Snapchat.  Even though I don’t like to admit it, I use social media sites more than once every hour. It is very hard to ignore notifications in the fear that you might miss out on the next big thing. I feel like social media has definitely made me less productive. It doesn’t matter whether I am studying or having a long break, I still have to check my phone every five to ten minutes to see if I got any messages or notifications. It can start off with me telling myself that I will use Facebook for maybe two minutes to check people’s statuses, but then I might find something worth sharing. After sharing that post, my friends would comment and while replying to those comments, without realizing it I would just waste half an hour. This happens to me all the time. I feel like if I wasn’t so addicted to social media, I could use that half an hour to do something productive like studying.”

Despite the dependency one has on the Internet, some do consider unplugging at certain periods of their life; however, is that really possible? If an individual truly wants to put in the effort to get off the grid, they would have to go to great lengths. The first step would be to delete all social media accounts: this includes their most frequently used ones such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, alongside Tumblr and/or Pinterest.

The second phase would be to eliminate their names from data collection sites. Almost everyone present online is observed by companies like People Finder and Zabasearch, which gather information about an individual, and sell it to organizations for marketing purposes. In order to remove oneself from such websites, someone could opt for a swift–and less complex–service such as DeleteMe.

The act of wiping out personal information is sometimes necessary, because a lot of places may have access to the user’s bank account number, or other vital personal data. If such delicate material is not removed by the website when one demands so, it is within their legal rights to request Google to have it discarded permanently.

Last, but not least, closing down all email accounts is fundamental in the progress of erasing oneself from social media. Email addresses spread like wildfire: the dispersity is perpetuated by social media sites requesting them upon sign-up, or by stores requesting them upon confirming transactions, along with several other ways.
It goes without saying that the Internet is a tremendously useful resource, that connects individuals from every point in the world, and keeps everyone easily updated. Nevertheless, the drawbacks of daily use of social media can sometimes outweigh the benefits. Whether one’s intention is to completely vanish from social media, or stay away from it for a certain period of time, the steps mentioned can play a vital role in the process of unplugging.