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A phone displaying the Instagram logo falls into a trash can. Credit: Benjamin McAvoy-Bickford

To all the high schoolers who are scorning smartphones, deleting social media, and calling themselves “Luddites”: welcome to college. Best of luck in keeping that up, but there are obstacles ahead. Social media apps, particularly the ever-popular Instagram, are part and parcel of the college experience, and it requires significant conscious effort to eschew social media here.

It’s great that there’s something of an upswing among teens being cautious about their relationship with technology, even if it’s hard to tell how much of a movement it is. Given the evidence against social media, especially how it harms to teen mental health (even though that’s debated), it’s good judgement for people to avoid things they think might be dangerous. I don’t totally abstain from social media myself, largely because I’ve never found it interesting enough to be dangerous, but I do try to keep my usage of it quite low.

In high school, social media usage seemed entirely optional — I eventually got Instagram, but very rarely checked it. People at my high school were certainly active on these platforms, but I never felt any pressure to use them more than I wanted, especially since many of my friends had no presence there whatsoever.

Arriving at college was different. I noticed a number of friends from high school who had long scorned Instagram requesting to follow me. "Class of 2026" Instagram pages proliferated. Acquaintances at New Student Orientation traded Instagram follows.

All this created an environment where there was some — although not overwhelming — pressure to check social media and to acquire yet more apps like Sidechat and BeReal. I could ignore Instagram, but it meant the chance of missing announcements from clubs and messages from friends.

This is at most a minor irritation for people like me, who are concerned about staring at a small screen and not being in the moment. But other Penn students actually find social media addictive. Joelle Mbakogu, a first year neuroscience major, used Instagram for years, but gave it up for good after realizing that it made her spend a lot of time comparing her life to the lives of other people.

“Coming to college, social media, especially Instagram, is a lot. It’s how a lot of people know each other,” Mbakogu said. “So I’ve given up that, but I don’t really see it as a terrible sacrifice because I think it actually makes it easier to have tighter relationships with fewer people, which is less overwhelming.”

So, for all the students out there who don’t want to get back on social media, but also don’t want to miss out on an enjoyable college experience, my advice is to stay the course. There are serious tradeoffs — Mbakogu mentions being out of the loop on pop culture — but, as long as students don’t have unrealistic expectations of never missing out, they can keep living how they wish to.

However, this does come with some caveats. Students who want a very basic “dumb” phone or no phone at all will find that impossible because of Penn’s mandatory two-factor authentication system. Staring at a phone does indeed make the prospect of sitting alone in the dining halls feel less awkward. And far too many organizations on campus communicate principally through Instagram.

Many of these downsides to embracing a less technological lifestyle come from societal forces so vast that Penn can’t stop them; students can’t make Instagram unappealing or ban TikTok. But there are still ways by which the status quo campus environment lets the domination of social media, and smartphones in general, go unquestioned.

To start, clubs need to stop relying heavily on Instagram pages: not only does it exclude those who do not use it, but students on Instagram can easily miss the announcement while scrolling on by. Furthermore, all of us — I’m guilty of this, too — can stop asking that new friend for their Instagram or Snapchat and instead ask for the best way to stay in contact.

A more radical but worthwhile solution is to make it easier for students to take breaks from their phones altogether, which would also help them when their devices break or run out of battery. To start, QR codes, which require phone cameras, are omnipresent around campus, leading to a whole host of issues. Additionally, many Penn-affiliated apps, like the Penn Dining app, lack a web version. Many students rely on phones too much to choose this, but they should be more of an option for tech-apprehensive students.

We’re all complicit in making our era the age of social media, except for the few people like Mbakogu who use no social media. But that doesn’t mean we need to pass on bad social media habits to the incoming classes. For those high schoolers considering the future of their social-media-free life, welcome to college. I hope it’s possible for you to thrive at Penn, sans social media.

BENJAMIN McAVOY-BICKFORD is a College first year from Chapel Hill, NC. His e-mail is