Kim Stolz is no stranger to the internet and social media. Best-known for her appearance on cycle 5 of America’s Next Top Model, the popular reality show hosted by Tyra Banks, Stolz knows she owes some (though certainly not all) of her professional success to her visibility. In her years since ANTM, she’s learned a thing or two about social media, and dissects her toxic-but-evolving relationship with her smartphone in her memoir Unfriending My Ex. Here, Stolz chats with Bookish about smartphone mirages, why exes and social media shouldn’t mix, and internet addiction.
Bookish: In the very beginning of the book, you talk about your social media cleanse. Why do you think this was so difficult?
Kim Stolz: One of the things that makes a social media cleanse so difficult is that every time we log on, every notification we get is an addictive substance. It’s just like any drug. What happens is we get one of these little pings on our smartphones and we get a little hit of dopamine as well. We get excited. We feel anticipation. As we feel this, we want it more and more. So we spend more and more time looking at our phones.
When you go cold turkey, your body goes through a type of behavioral withdrawal. When I’m sitting on my couch and I think I see my iPhone light up to my right, it’s like a mirage. I’m so addicted and used to it that I’m literally seeing flashes of light which I think are new texts. It becomes very difficult for us to adjust to a world without social media because we spend so much time involved with it.
Bookish: Do you think most Millennials would struggle with this, too?
KS: It’s not just Millennials. I think anyone with a smartphone would experience the type of struggle that I did on the cleanse. I was really going through withdrawal in the first few days, where I was experiencing anxiety and feeling antsy. But on days 3, 4, and 5 and on until 7, I began to sort of calm down. I saw the world around me more clearly. I was able to take in conversations and give them my full attention.
Even just walking down the street, there’s so much stimulus that you can absorb that we all miss. On my cleanse, I realized we miss extra bits of knowledge that can add value to our lives. We sort of lack empathy because we’re multitasking all the time. But you get that back for a bit when you go on a cleanse. The first few days are tough, but then that becomes addictive.
Bookish: You come across as being pretty anti-selfie in your book. Can you explain this aversion?
KS: I’ll be honest—I’m not a fan of the selfie. I think it’s at the heart of the narcissism that social media brings into our lives. If I post a selfie and you like it, it’s of little cost to you, but it feels great to me. That becomes addictive, and you see people’s narcissism so quickly. I think that’s a very dangerous thing for us all to be addicted to.
Bookish: You write pretty extensively about people who become self-obsessed and spend too many waking moments thinking about their online presence, which often expresses itself in performing online. With that in mind, what do you think of the whole Catfish phenomenon?
KS: We’re all not exactly the same person online that we are in real life. I am not as happy as my Instagram makes me look. We are all heightening the positives and downplaying the negatives. I wouldn’t say anyone is 100% honest online. I don’t see how it’s even possible.
The catfishes of the world? That depends on how secure you are. If I’m a secure person, my online persona is going to be pretty similar to the person that I am. If I’m insecure, my online persona is probably very different from who I am in real life.
Bookish: What advice would you give to people who don’t want to become reliant on social media? How should people maintain a balance?
KS: That’s one of the questions I try to tackle in this book. I think you have to look deep inside yourself and say, “What about social media is most detrimental to me?” Seeing posts from my ex is a negative experience 100% of the time. And then there are things that I do that are 60-70% negative—having my phone on the table during dinner. If you can pinpoint the moments in social media that are really negative experiences, those are the ones you can cut out. And when you do, you recognize how much better your life is. My wife quit Facebook, and she never missed it. She said her life improved almost immediately. Her anxiety went down, and she had more time in the day to do other things.
Social media has a way of changing your mood. I can see a picture of my ex and it ruins my day. I think there’s something to be said for learning by experience. Each person can achieve balance by cutting a few things out and seeing how it goes. If you cut something out, and it goes well and your life is better, you keep doing it. A cleanse is a good way to jumpstart this process; it gives you more power to begin cutting things out.
Bookish: What’s so dangerous about exes and social media?
KS: Now that we have social media, we can follow our exes. We can find out about their lives and they can find out about ours. There becomes a kind of indelibility in relationships. Back in the day, you put down the phone and didn’t see them or think about them. You could get over it much more easily. Today, even if I unfriend my ex, my friends might still be friends with them and I might see them in my feed inadvertently. It’s too tempting. It makes it very hard for people to be successful in the relationship they’re in, or to be alone for that matter. It breeds pretty intense loneliness.
Bookish: The central issue in your book seems to be one of connection. By being more digitally connected all the time, you say, we are actually forfeiting real, meaningful connections with one another. Is there a way to have both?
KS: Yes—I think there is a way to have both if you work to preserve your most important connections with phone calls and in-person conversations. Is it possible to have a great connection if you only communicate on a device? No. You’ll always be disconnected.
My best friend Amy, she and I talk on the phone for like half an hour three times a week. That preserves a lot of the genuine closeness, the great conversation, and how much we care about each other. When you’re on the phone, you feel the other person’s reactions. When you’re typing on a screen, it’s disjointed and you get distracted; there isn’t a full focus there.
Bookish: Much of your public persona is tied to your experience on Cycle 5 of ANTM, but now you are a vice president at Citigroup. Do you find that the show “follows” you, even as you’ve moved on to a different career? Is this, in some ways, the result of social media?
KS: Yes. It’s funny, I spend time in the book criticizing social media, but I’m also aware that a lot of my success is because of social media. I can broadcast myself and my work to thousands of people that are following me or my friends. I do think that social media can be good for self-promotion.
I think the show gave me a platform. It made me a known person, it gave me a public persona. But I’d like to think that what I’ve done since then has left ANTM where it is, and I’ve built my personality based on the things I’ve accomplished since. I’d like to think I’ve grown past it.
Bookish: What inspired you to write a memoir?
KS: Well, to be honest with you, I wasn’t like, “Oh, I’m going to write a memoir.” I was on a plane flying from New York to L.A., and I had in-flight WiFi. My girlfriend at the time had broken up with me via email because of a social media interaction between one of my exes and I—that got me thinking. I think when you go through something traumatic, we all want to pick up the phone, which is very telling. We want a genuine interaction. But I couldn’t call anyone from the plane, so I started writing this rant about social media and how it had precipitated my breakup and gave me tools I never should’ve had. I sort of wrote [the book] by accident.
Bookish: Have you made any changes in the way you interact with social media since writing this book? Was Unfriending My Ex a wake-up call?
KS: I think it was a wake-up call. I also think I wanted to make more changes than I have. I’ve tried to set some rules. Something as tiny as, I’m going out to dinner with a friend at 7, so I can’t pick up my phone until 8. That way, I have a deadline. I have also unfriended a fair amount of people on Facebook who weren’t adding any value to my life. My wife and I will sometimes have days where we say we’re not going to be on our phones for 6 hours. It sounds so silly, but unfortunately I think it’s the only way because we are so addicted.
I think [making these changes] gives you confidence in other parts of your life. I saw something that was having a negative impact on me, and I made a change. Now my life is better.
Kim Stolz is a former contestant on America’s Next Top Model, MTV news anchor, restaurateur, and current Vice President of Equity Derivatives at Citigroup. She is a graduate of The Brearley School and Wesleyan University. In 2012 she was named one of the 100 Most Compelling People of the Year by Out magazine. She lives in New York City.